Showing posts with label Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good (Book Review). Show all posts
Showing posts with label Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good (Book Review). Show all posts

Friday, April 24, 2015

"While We're Young" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "While We're Young" and DVDs "The Informers" and "Maps to the Stars."  The Book of the Week is "Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good."  I also bring you up to date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project:  "Killer of Sheep"]

While We're Young

A forty-something couple in a contented rut meet a twenty-something couple, who invigorate their lives and relationship.

Is it really in our forties that we start having regrets and worshiping at the altar of youth?  It seems so from this movie about Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts), a childless married couple in their mid-forties who for the most part are content with the choices they have made, though the burdens of mid-life (arthritic knees and lack of spontaneity) are making them feel old. That is, they are content until they meet hipster couple, Jamie (Adam Driver, who you may recognize from the TV series "Girls" - he is a hot commodity right now) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) whose twenty-something enthusiasm and all things retro make Josh and Cornelia question their contentment.

Josh is a documentary filmmaker and Cornelia is a producer. Her Dad is Leslie Breitbart (Charles Grodin - I remember when HE was young!), a successful documentarian, and though Josh has had one successful film, he has been working on another for the last 10 years. Josh and Cornelia decided not to have children, but now all of their friends have kids and they don't seem to fit in anymore. 

While teaching a filmmaking class, Josh is approached by Jamie and Darby who are "monitoring" his class, something Josh points out is impossible since it's a continuing education class, as in it costs money. Jamie is also a documentary filmmaker and a free spirit and flatters his way into Josh's life.  Right away they go out to dinner where Jamie has no problem letting Josh pay (red flag right there), and Josh is taken with Jamie's and Darby's original enthusiasms for walking through subway tunnels at night, making their own ice cream and furniture, collecting VHS tapes and eschewing technology.  Where Josh is obsessed with finishing his film and gaining the success of Cornelia's more successful father, Josh is impressed that Jamie, despite also being a documentarian, seems to not care about success as a pursuit.  Both Josh and Cornelia fall under Jamie's and Darby's spell of youthful hipster coolness and are invigorated by it.

However, Josh is a purist when it comes to documentary filmmaking.  He believes it all must be truthful.  Jamie, on the other hand, is a little more fluid with the truth, which tests their friendship. In fact, we realize that the different generations have very different ways of looking at things and Josh realizes he "can't go home again."  He can't be young again and he can't be a member of the Millennials. Shades of "All About Eve" abound here as well as an exploration of getting older, our obsession with youth, and the gap, and resentment even, between the generations.  And it's funny!

Ben Stiller has made a career out of playing neurotic and hapless schmoes and his deadpan face is funny all by itself.  He reminds me of a younger Woody Allen when he was acting.  I now forgive Ben for the egregious third installment of "Night at the Museum."  Naomi Watts is always good and not afraid to give a role her all, which she does here, especially when accompanying Darby to a hip hop class.  It's a great ensemble cast with Driver and Seyfried holding their own and Peter Yarrow of "Peter, Paul and Mary" fame playing a cameo.

Writer/Director Noah Baumbach, with whom Stiller has collaborated before ("Greenberg") has made some funny yet thoughtful movies before, most notably "The Squid and the Whale" and "Frances Ha."  This is his most accessible and humorous film yet.

Rosy the Reviewer says...whether you are 25 or 75, you will get this film and enjoy it.


You Might Have Missed
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)
It's Hollywood Week!

The Informers (2008)
Brett Easton Ellis' take on the decadence of Hollywood in the 1980's.

Everyone in L.A. is an actor, even the bellman who says that to make it in Hollywood, you have to do "terrible things."  And that's what inevitably happens. Unfortunately, this film is one of those terrible things.

We have fathers seducing their son's girlfriends, sham marriages, sham friends, a disease that has yet to be named and cocaine as a panacea - all in interweaving stories.

Brett Easton Ellis wrote the screenplay which is based on his 1994 collection of linked short stories so you would think that the screenplay at least would make sense, but it doesn't. You might remember his "Less Than Zero."  This one is sorta like that but not as good. 

It's Los Angeles, 1983 and you know what that means:  Decadence with a capital "D."

Billy Bob Thornton is a movie executive, Wynona Ryder is his girlfriend, Kim Basinger his estranged wife.  Sad that Kim has never lived up to her potential, despite her Oscar.  Here we have her lusting after the pool boy. 

An almost unrecognizable Mickey Rourke makes an appearance (with vestiges of his early foray into plastic surgery) as a redneck, the Bellman's Uncle, who indeed tries to get our Bellman to do something terrible. 

Lots 'o drugs, lots 'o sex, lots 'o boobs that are so full of implants that they don't move, lots 'o entitled twenty-somethings and no one cares about anything.  And you won't care about any of this either.

This is all gritty hopeless trashy stuff and it's not even trashy enough to be good trash.

Rosy the Reviewer says...sad commentary when the best part of a movie are the clothes. Loved the 80's clothes, hated this movie.

Maps to the Stars (2014)

A grasping therapist father, a spoiled child star son, a disfigured psychotic daughter and unhappy wife. Stir in some incest and you have your typical Hollywood family, David Cronenberg-style.

John Cusack stars as Dr. Stafford Weiss, a successful therapist with his own cult status TV show called "Hour of Personal Power," who won't forgive his own mentally ill daughter, Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) who was disfigured in a fire, for being mentally ill and whose son, Benjy (Evan Bird), is an insufferable child star (aren't they all?).

Julianne Moore goes back to her early over the top roles as a nutty, spoiled actress, Havana Segrand, who takes her clothes off a lot (we've forgotten that she did that a lot in the old days) who is worried that she is getting old.  Her own mother was a star but died young and now they are making a film of her life and Havana wants to play her mother.  (See "Still Alice" before you see this or you might have a tough time with "Alice").

The film begins with Agatha taking the bus to LA and hiring a limo when she gets there (at first, we don't know who she is, where she came from or why she is here).  And if you wondered what ever happened to Robert Pattinson after the Twilight movies, here he plays an American limo driver, Jerome, who is also a screenwriter (everyone in Hollywood is hoping for a job in show business), who picks Agatha up. He tells Agatha he might convert to Scientology as "a career move." Agatha appears to be star struck when she asks Jerome for a map of the stars' homes.

But Agatha takes Jerome to a burned out ruin.  She has clearly been here before.  Agatha also gets a job as Havana's personal assistant (Havana calls a PA a "chore whore") and her story unfolds.

Benjy is 13 and already has been to rehab. His attitude and image threatens his "Bad Babysitter" series.  He is one troubled and jaded kid.  He goes to visit a little girl fan in the hospital to help his image and is disappointed to find out she doesn't have AIDS, only cancer.  When she dies, he is haunted by her ghost.

Stafford is not happy that Agatha is back.  He is haunted by her and what she knows.

Everyone is haunted  by their past and has something to hide.

I have always been a big fan of Cronenberg.  No matter the topic and no matter how over the top, I find his films mesmerizing and often enjoyable, but sometimes in a train wreck sort of way.  You know how you know you shouldn't look at a train wreck but you just can't resist?  "Eastern Promises" and "A Dangerous Method" were mesmerizing and enjoyable.  "Dead Ringers" and "M. Butterfly" were mesmerizing train wrecks but still enjoyable.  "Cosmopolis" and "Naked Lunch" were just train wrecks.

Here is has directed a biting satire written by Bruce Wagner that focuses on Hollywood and fame and those who seek it: child stars, aging actresses, and everyone else.  And it falls into the mesmerizing enjoyable train wreck category, despite the usual things that make it a Cronenberg film: strange story, sex, frontal nudity, some disgusting scenes and blood.

Though maps to the homes of the stars is a tourist draw in Hollywood and serves as a metaphor here, this film should not be confused with the 1997 film "Star Maps," where selling maps to the stars' homes was a front for child prostitution.  Here it serves as a metaphor for the road map needed to navigate the crazy world of Hollywood stardom.  And then there is fire, a metaphor for wiping away all of that crazy Hollywood sin.

The last twenty minutes of this film is cringe worthy but nobody does cringe worthy like Cronenberg so enjoy.

Rosy the Reviewer says...typical Cronenberg.  Incest, blood, crazy characters, lots of huh? moments...I liked it!


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


266 To Go!

Killer of Sheep (1978)

It's 1970 Watts and Stan (Henry G. Sanders) is an unexceptional man who works in a slaughterhouse to support his family. 
Written and directed by Charles Burnett, this film arrived on the scene during the Blaxploitation era of "Shaft," "Foxy Brown" and "Sweet Sweetback's Badasssss Song" and before Spike Lee.  And it's influences on Lee are apparent. 
Considered a masterpiece of African American filmmaking, it was chosen for the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress and named one of the 100 Essential Films of the National Society of Film Critics, and tells the story of a family going about their hardscrabble lives, accepting their lots with quiet resignation, and without giving up their values. It's an unsparing slice of life that shows how, no matter how difficult one's life is, it is still possible to find some beauty and moments to savor. Unlike many films on the "black experience," this probably is more true to life as most people, no matter what their race, live quiet, routine, predictable and often hard lives.
However, despite the accolades now, no one saw it in 1977. Filmed by Burnett for under $10,000 as his masters' thesis at UCLA, the film was little seen, mostly because he could not get the rights to the songs used in his soundtrack.  However, in 2007 UCLA restored the film, secured the rights to the music in the soundtrack and released the film (for more information on that journey click here).  And the soundtrack really is amazing.

The actors all seem to be amateurs, or people caught in a documentary, except for Sanders, who went on to have a successful acting career, most recently in the acclaimed "Whiplash."  He only got the role because the original actor chosen couldn't get parole.
Why it's a Must See:  "Shot in raw black-and-white stock... [this film] is astonishing for being an American film in which black characters are not metaphors for something or someone else...Burnett's camera pierces behind facades and public personas of American blackness to show the human beings beneath them...Burnett slows things down, peels back layers, creates settings that are purposely banal...He takes your breath away by not trying to take your breath away, but not trying to dazzle or overwhelm...with a weighty political treatise---and yet his film is an example of the most radical, subversive art.  It forces you to question all else you've seen or heard about blackness; it forces you to see and hear in all new ways."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"
If you are looking for a fast-moving action film or one that is plot heavy, this is not for you.  But if you value a leisurely pace that highlights small, real moments, such as a husband and wife sharing a slow dance in their living room to the Dinah Washington song "This Bitter Earth," and if you seek insight into the real lives of ordinary working class African Americans, then you will appreciate this film.
Rosy the Reviewer says...the soundtrack to this film is astonishing and reason enough to see it.

***Book of the Week***
by Kathleen Finn (2014)

Flinn shares her family history --- with recipes!
Ever since Frances Mayes shared recipes as she took us on a journey of Tuscany in her "Under the Tuscan Sun," we have been awash in travel books, books about remodeling houses in Europe and memoirs -- all with recipes.  And this book is no exception.
Similar to Kate Christenson's "Blue Plate Special," which I reviewed in 2013, Flinn recounts anecdotes of her peripatetic family as they move from the Midwest to open a restaurant in San Francisco and then to Florida interspersed with recipes that help define her family: "Uncle Clarence's Divine Cornflake crusted Fried Chicken, " "Grandpa Charles' Spicy Chili" and her grandmother's special cinnamon rolls.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like Ruth Reichl's books or memoirs featuring eccentric families spiked with recipes, this is for you (though I liked Kate Christenson's book better).

Thanks for Reading!

That's it for this week.

See you Tuesday for

"My Top 10 Movie Scenes
of All Time"


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