Showing posts with label Being Mortal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Being Mortal. Show all posts

Friday, June 8, 2018

"Book Club" and "The Week in Reviews"

[I review the comedy "Book Club" as well as DVDs "The 15:17 to Paris" and "Wonderstruck."  The Book of the Week is "Being Mortal (not for the feint of heart if you are over 65)."  I also bring you-up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with Luis Bunuel's "The Young and the Damned."]

Book Club

The lives of four long-time friends, who have kept in touch through a monthly book club, get shaken up when the book of the month is "Fifty Shades of Grey."

Diane (Diane Keaton), Vivian (Jane Fonda), Sharon (Candace Bergen) and Carol (Mary Steenburgen) have known each other since college and, ever since then, they have gotten together every month for their book club.  Each month one of the women gets to choose the book they will all read and when Vivian chooses "Fifty Shades of Grey," it throws everyone's lives into a tizzy.

Jane Fonda has recently reported that, at 80, she is no longer interested in having sex and that she has "closed up shop down there."  That is not uncommon for women of a certain age and some of that is going on here with these characters, so when they start reading a book about sex it stirs things up a bit "down there," especially when some handsome men also come into the picture.

However, unlike Jane's real life, Vivian is interested in sex but only the casual type.  No sleepovers and no relationships.  She owns and runs a high-end hotel and is doing very well without a regular man, thank you.  But then some old feelings are rekindled when she runs into Arthur (Don Johnson), an old flame.

Carol is married to Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) and their sex life is on the wane.  Reading the book perks Carol up but she is having a difficult time bringing up the subject with Bruce so, hey, why not just put some Viagra in his beer?

Diane is the mother of two grown daughters, Adrianne (Katie Aselton) and Jill (Alicia Silverstone in a very small role) who live in Arizona, and they are trying to get her to move there.  One of the daughters has fixed up her basement. Oh, goodie. Diane gets to live in a basement.  NOT!  The two girls can't help but constantly remind Diane that she is getting old and might fall down or have some other calamity befall her (just because she's old), so she had better move closer so they can look after her.  Well, Diane doesn't want to move, especially when she meets Mitchell (Andy Garcia), a handsome airline pilot.

And finally, Sharon.  She is a federal judge who is fine living alone with her cat until she discovers that her ex-husband is engaged to a much younger woman, so she decides to get herself out there and try online dating to humorous effect.

So as you can see, lots of plot lines there and opportunities for some laughs, right?

Well, they don't call me the Curmudgeon of Comedy for nothing!

OK, there is no "they."  I am calling myself that, and before I say something unkind, I have to say that I was really looking forward to this film.  I mean, what's not to like?  Four veteran and award-winning actresses getting together to show their stuff, and I am certainly the demographic this film was made for.  But though I enjoyed the film more than most comedies, I didn't love it.  So I was a tat disappointed.

But let's break it down and I will start with what I liked because as you know I am trying to stay positive:

Candace Bergen

She was the best thing about this film and her droll sense of humor saved it.  Of course it doesn't hurt that she got all of the best lines.  It was like seeing Murphy Brown again but at 72. 

OK, that's pretty much what I liked except for when I saw Don Johnson and Andy Garcia, I went "Damn!"

So now on to what I didn't like so much. 

Jane Fonda

First of all, I want her plastic surgeon's phone number.  She is 80 years old and looks about 50 but without all of those signs of having things done, such as overly exaggerated lips and cat's eyes, you know, what you get after a facelift when the face is pulled back and stretched so thin.  But though she looks great, it seemed like she was just recycling her uptight Grace character from "Grace and Frankie," and with Jane, though she has grown on me, I always felt I could tell she was acting.

Mary Steenburgen

I think she's had some work done too but should probably also ask Jane for her surgeon's number.  Mary has the unfortunate trait of having a very annoying, breathy, child-like voice which makes it difficult to take her seriously.  And here, along with her voice, her character was also annoying, making little sexual innuendo comments to her husband hoping he would get the message that she wanted to get it on.  I wanted to shout at the screen - "Just ask your husband for some sex!"

Diane Keaton

Though I admire her for letting herself age without benefit of plastic surgery, I have about had it with the Annie Hall thing. You know, the hat, the odd fashion choices and her fidgety, flustered and giggly mannerisms.  Diane, "Annie Hall" WAS OVER 40 YEARS AGO!  And if it's possible, I think she has gotten worse.  If you have ever seen her on the Ellen Show, she comes out wearing the widest belt you have ever seen cinching in a gigantically full skirt, the ever-present Annie Hall hat and untied COMBAT BOOTS.  C'mon, Diane.  That was cute when you were 30 but at 72 it just looks like you are trying too hard.  And then there are all of those nervous Annie Hall mannerisms where she seems to be saying "Aren't I so cute?"  Just way too much, and though she toned it down a bit in this film, it was still very distracting. There was even a scene in the pool with Don Johnson where she had on that damn Annie Hall hat, just in case we might forget about Annie Hall, I guess. But in a pool?  Hard to believe she ever played those dramatic parts in "The Godfather" and "Reds."

I know I am picking on the actresses here but since the whole film is based on their characters and how they react to reading "Fifty Shades of Grey," I think that's only fair.  But I have to say that my main criticism of the film is with the direction by Bill Holderman and the screenplay by Holderman and Erin Simms.  First of all, a man and a 42-year-old woman writing about what life is like for women in their 60's and 70's is a stretch.  The dialogue was very unrealistic.  Every time the women got together their conversations were a series of set-ups and punchlines. Badda boom (set up).  Badda bing! (punchline)! Over and over and over again. That's not like any conversations I have had with my women friends or what has gone on in any woman's group I have ever attended. Nor would I want that. I want heartfelt discussions with my friends, not comedy routines.  It just didn't ring true.  Would this film have been better if it had been directed by a woman?  I wonder.

I'm also wondering how this film would resonate with someone who didn't know what "Fifty Shades of Grey" was about. If you are one of those people, I guess it's enough to know it's about sex, but you might also want to crawl out from that rock you live under.

I know. I am awfully grumpy when I am disappointed in a comedy. But you should see me when I run out of wine!

But there were some laughs.  I am not telling you to not go see this because women of a certain age should support movies aimed at them. It's just as a woman of a certain age myself, I expected more.

Rosy the Reviewer says...
Seeing these veteran actresses at work is worth the price of a ticket, but I just wish this had been more realistic and funnier.

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


The 15:17 to Paris (2018)

A dramatic recreation of the 2015 terrorist attack aboard a high-speed train bound from Amsterdam to Paris.

Many of you probably remember this 2015 terrorist attack, an attack that was thwarted by three young American men who had been backpacking around Europe.  It was a very dramatic episode that culminated in all three men being awarded the highest honor that France can bestow - the Legion of Honor.

I've been on that train and watching a film like this, I couldn't help but wonder how I would have reacted if confronted with a situation like that.  Clint Eastwood not only chose to direct a film about the attack but chose to have those three young men - Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler - play themselves in the film. The real life heroism of those men was amazing, and all three did an admirable job of acting and the actual event, which takes place mostly at the end of the film, was exciting and dramatic, but sadly everything else leading up to the event was quite boring.

Based on a book by the three men (with Jeffrey E. Stern) written after the event and adapted for the screen by Dorothy Blyskal, the film spends most of its time on the childhoods of the three who all met in middle school.  Alek and Spencer were raised by single moms and would get in trouble at the Christian school they attended. Both supposedly had ADD. Both were religious. Stone's dream was to be in military special forces, but his lack of depth perception scuttled that. The film seems to be mostly Spencer's story and in the final scene on the train it's Spencer who rushes toward the terrorist first.  But that's about it.  It felt like the writer was having to stretch to get out enough content about these guys lives to make a movie.

This film was just not up to the standards we expect from Clint.  

The film is almost entirely a backstory about the three men meeting and interacting when they were boys. I know the early scenes and the experiences the men had as boys were all supposed to be a set up for why they reacted heroically on the train and an implication that there was some divine intervention at work - that everything that had gone before led them to be the three right guys at the right place at the right time. But despite the fact that there was much talk about Spencer feeling that he was destined for greatness and Alek's mother likewise having a premonition that he would do something special, their childhoods didn't really necessarily add up to their later heroism. And in case we didn't get that those guys were supposed to be on that train, when the three were backpacking around Europe, I can't tell you how many people they ran into in Europe who told them not to bother with Paris.  What?  You would go to Europe and not see Paris? But Clint and the writers wanted us to be sure to know that those guys were supposed to be on that train. 

It was a noble idea to have the heroes play themselves and ironically as untrained actors they were not the weakest parts of the film.  The weakness lies in the story itself.

But much of the film did not ring true, especially the scenes with the men as boys.  The dialogue was stilted and unrealistic and the film seemed amateurish, much like those reenactments you see on the Investigation Discovery Channel. In fact, there just wasn't much of a story leading up to the terrorist attack, which by the way, was an exciting part of the film, but it just took too long to get there.  Halfway through the film, I was thinking, "This is boring."  Not what we have come to expect from Clint Eastwood films. All in all, the film feels more like a curiosity than a full-fledged film.

Rosy the Reviewer says...not one of Clint's best. 

Wonderstruck (2017)

Two stories 50 years apart: in 1927 young Rose goes to New York to find a silent film star she worships, and in 1977 Ben runs away to New York to find his father.

Yawn. Speaking of boring (see review above)...

Based on the novel by the same name, this film, directed by Todd Haynes, means well but was a real slog for me to get through and I usually love his films ("Carol," "Far from Heaven").

Young Rose (played by Millicent Simmonds who wowed me in "A Quiet Place") is deaf (Simmonds is also deaf in real life) and not only worships the silent film star Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore), but lives in a world of silent movies herself because, of course, she is deaf.  But in case we missed that metaphor, all of her scenes are silent and in black and white, because, with an abusive father and a mother who doesn't want her, I guess her life is very black and white too.  Kind of like Dorothy's life before she got to Oz.  Turns out Rose's mother is Lillian Mayhew and when Rose runs away from home to find her, Lillian is not happy that she has run away so Rose takes refuge in the American Museum of Natural History (her brother works there) where she experiences a sense of wonder and magic. 

Fifty years later, young Ben (Oakes Fegley) lives in Gunflint, Minnesota with his Aunt and Uncle. He also has a sad dramatic life but when his story unfolds, the film is in color.  His mother has died in a car crash and a freak accident causes him to go deaf.  He runs away to New York to find his Dad and also ends up in the American Museum of Natural History where he, too, experiences a sense of wonder and magic - and makes a friend.

What do you guess that these two kids are related in some way.

Julianne Moore plays Lillian and we see her again at the end of the film but geez.  Good thing she didn't live in the silent era.  When it shows her acting in a silent film she is TERRIBLE.

The film takes forever to get into and it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  There is one scene in the hospital after Ben is struck by lightning and loses his hearing when the nurse is trying to tell him what happened and she draws a picture of a stick figure being hit by a bolt of lightning.  I thought, what?  Ben is 12.  He may be deaf but HE CAN READ!  Why did she draw a picture for him?

I had high hopes for this film, but it was just all over the place and it just took too long for something to happen.  Based on the book by Brian Selznick, this might have made a good book, but it didn't translate well as a film.  And I kind of feel like a bad person for not liking it, because it is very earnest and well-meaning but earnest and well-meaning does not a good film experience make.  In the last 25 minutes something actually does happen, when everything intersects and we discover just what the hell was going on before that, but it just took too long to get there.  The film was just an overly sentimental and maudlin slog that seemed to go on forever. I have a problem with a film that keeps you in the dark for 90 minutes and then tells the entire story in a narrative in the last 30 - well, at least a film that isn't an Agatha Christie mystery.

I know I rant about the visual importance of films but watching this film I realized something about myself. No, not that I am full of it. I realized that if the film is silent and mostly visual, I do need something to happen. However, I give Haynes props for his unfailing eye for period detail and recreating a vivid New York City 50 years apart.

And I have to also say that, I, who usually does not enjoy child actors, found that the kids were really good considering what they had to work with.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I don't think you will have the patience for this one either.

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

140 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

The Young and the Damned (1950)
("Los Olvidados")

The lives of several juvenile delinquents living in the slums of Mexico City in 1950 are portrayed.

This could be the title of a movie about what our children have to look forward to if things continue as they are, but this film is actually about juvenile delinquents in the 1950's slums of Mexico and the significance of this film is that it's an early work of auteur Luis Bunuel, who was considered the "Father of cinematic surrealism."  His first work, the silent film "Un Chien Andelou" is a staple in every film class (I have never gotten over the scene with the razor and the eyeball), and his career spanned 50 years, crossing many genres from satire to erotica to musicals and everything in between.  Nine of his films appear in "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die."

For some reason everyone was concerned about juvenile delinquents in the 1950's.  Remember "The Wild One" and "Rebel Without a Cause?"  And Bunuel was no exception.  This film starts out as a cautionary tale emphasizing that if kids are malnourished and neglected they are the criminals of the future. And the film depicts some already jaded and criminal young men. 

The film focuses on two boys:  Jaibo (Roberto Cobo), who is not the leather jacket wearing punk we have come to associate with juvenile delinquents from the 1950's but rather he wears denim overalls that make him look more like a farmer.  But Jaibo is a mean dude.  He is the ring leader of a group of kids who live on the street and one of those kids is Pedro (Alfonso Mejia), who also doesn't look like our standard 1950's juvenile delinquent but more like a kid from "Our Gang" with his beanie cap.  Pedro has been rejected by his mother because it appears he was the product of a rape.  When he returns home, she won't even give him any food.  Pedro ends up in reformed school where one of the officials says "We are all better people when we are fed." 
The message rings loud and clear in this film: hungry kids turn into criminals.  Bunuel could be right. 

Jaibo and his gang rob a blind old street performer and things just go from bad to worse.  Pedro tries to go straight but is pulled back in and it all ends in tragedy confirming the fact that when kids don't eat well and are rejected things turn out badly.

This is a grim and unsentimental film, but it was mesmerizing and reminded me that I actually do have some classic film cred after all.  I was starting to question myself since I didn't like the films of two greats of classic film - Godard and Bresson.  Because I do like Bunuel.  Maybe it's a French thing.

Why it's a Must See: "A crucial factor that elevates [this film] above other social-problem films is its aggressive discomfiting of the viewer...[it] discourages the viewer from settling into the position of noble-sensitivity commonly cultivated by liberal message films...In addition, Bunuel neatly sidesteps a veritable catalog of message-film cop outs, including the use of a surrogate-figure to guide our feelings...[This film] has been criticized for callousness and a lack of constructive solutions, but Bunuel is an artist, not a legislator, and the compassion of this remarkably honest film might be difficult to recognize only because it isn't cushioned with sentimentality."

---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...very, very grim but in a good "must see film" kind of way.

(b & w, in Spanish with English subtitles)

***The Book of the Week***

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande (2017)

As we age, how modern medicine helps us and hinders us.

Named one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post, The New York Times Book Review, NPR and the Chicago Tribune, this book talks about how medicine has helped us live longer, but also the down side to living longer. As we age and are no longer able to look after ourselves, and we start staring at the prospect of living in a nursing home or even an assisted living situation, we are also staring at the possible loss of freedom and dignity that such living situations often entail.

Gawande, a physician, surgeon and professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public health, discusses the triumph of medicine, how advances in medicine have overcome the dangers of childbirth, cured diseases and repaired injuries.  But when it comes to the realities of aging and death, medicine often lets us down.

He shares stories of his patients and family members who have grappled with aging and death.  Doctors, uncomfortable discussing death with their patients, often give them false hope and treatments that prolong life but not its quality, and aging family members may have to consider nursing homes where residents are safe but often lose their freedom and dignity, where they are treated like children and feel like they are in prison just for being old.  He paints a grim picture.

"Whatever the limits and travails we face, we want to retain the autonomy -- the freedom -- to be the authors of our own lives.  This is the very marrow of being human...The battle of being mortal is the battle to maintain the integrity of one's life -- to avoid becoming so diminished or dissipated or subjugated that who we are becomes disconnected from who you were or who you want to be.  Sickness and old age make the struggle hard enough.  The professionals and institutions we turn to should not make it worse."

Gawande wonders why people have not rebelled and "burned the nursing homes to the ground," but he says we haven't because we can't believe there is anything better or possible when we are so weakened that we can't care for ourselves. 

How do we "make life worth living when we're weak and frail and can't fend for ourselves anymore?"

Gawande offers alternatives.  There are communities and assisted living options sprouting up around the country where the residents are not patients but tenants and are treated as such.   The caregivers understand that they are entering someone else's home and that changes the power relationship.  

"The residents had control over the schedule, the ground rules, the risks they did and didn't want to take.  It they wanted to stay up all night and sleep all day, if they wanted to have a gentleman or lady friend stay over..."  

You get the picture.  But that is the exception, not the norm.  Here in Washington State, there are services to help people "age in place," which helps them stay in their own homes as they age, but again, there are often expenses related to those services or there still comes a time when one becomes too incapacitated to remain on one's own.

In the best of situations, family members step up to care for the aging. Gawande asserts that "having at least one daughter seems to be crucial to the amount of help you will receive."  Do you hear that Ashley?  But in many cases, parents do not want to be a burden to their children and will often reject these
offers of help.

As for how the medical world handles old people with incurable diseases, Gawande says:

"People with serious illness have priorities besides simply prolonging their lives...their top concerns include avoiding suffering, strengthening relationships with family and friends, being mentally aware, not being a burden on others, and achieving a sense that their life is complete."

Gawande goes on to say that the medical field has failed to meet those needs, but instead prolongs suffering and expense to keep us alive no matter what, rather than building "a health care system that will actually help people achieve what's most important to them at the end of their lives."  And Gawande believes that if people are told the truth about their conditions - that they are going to die - that doctors will be giving them a gift of knowledge, the knowledge that life is precious and to make the most of what time they have left.

So what is the answer?

Gawande doesn't have the answers, only ideas for us to think about so...

Rosy the Reviewer Bette Davis famously said, "Old age ain't no place for sissies," and as I am now going to un-famously say, "If things don't change, those of us heading for old age are basically screwed!"

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 

for my review of 


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). 

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.