Showing posts with label Christmas Movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christmas Movies. Show all posts

Saturday, December 23, 2023

"Maestro" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "Maestro," the new Bradley Cooper biopic about Leonard Bernstein as well as "Pain Hustlers," an expose of some bad practices in the pharmaceutical industry, and Eddie Murphy's holiday film, "Candy Cane Lane"]

Maestro (2023)

Not just a biopic about conductor/composter Leonard Bernstein, it's also a complicated love story.

The film industry is strange right now.  Movies open in "limited release" in theatres, and then open big on streaming platforms like Netflix.  A good example is this film.  I kept waiting for it to show up in my town, because I have a standing date with a good friend to see movies in the theatre, but it never came.  But now here it is, only a few weeks after it's so-called limited release in the movie theatres, on Netflix.  I am not complaining.  Except for not seeing it with my friend, I could watch it in my jammies with a glass of wine. And I did.

Leonard Bernstein was an American conductor, composer, pianist, teacher, author and activist. Considered to be one of the most important conductors of his time, he was the first American-born conductor to lead a major American symphony orchestra, the New York Philharmonic. He wrote music in many genres - classical pieces, scores for movies and Broadway shows, most notably the music for "West Side Story." He died in 1990, and despite his fame during the 50's,60's and beyond, I am wondering how many people of the younger generation even know who he is today.

But I am not a member of the younger generation, and I have personal memories of Bernstein. First as a little girl, when my mother wanted me to get out of her hair on a Saturday and go out and play, she would tell me, if I stayed inside, I couldn't watch cartoons, I would have to watch Bernstein's Young People's Concerts, a part educational show about music that included performances by the New York Philharmonic.  I went outside.  I was not a particularly sophisticated ten-year-old.  But when I was 12, I saw "West Side Story" and was obsessed with not just the film, but the music.  I bought the record and played it over and over and over.

So I couldn't wait to see this film.

It begins in color with Bernstein (Bradley Cooper) as an old man remembering his wife, Felicia Montealegre Cohn (Carey Mulligan), who had passed, and then the film switches to black and white with Bernstein as a young man getting his first break in 1943 as a conductor to fill in for conductor Bruno Walter at Carnegie Hall.  He was a success and his career took off. The film follows his career, his entanglements, meeting his wife and then the film switches back to color as Bernstein matures in the 60's and 70's.

However, this film is less a biopic and more of a love story and the story of a marriage.  It's as much about Bernstein's wife, Felicia, as it is about Bernstein and the personal journey they found themselves on.  Bernstein was a homosexual in a time when that was not accepted and many closeted men married and had families, especially those in the public eye. But that doesn't mean he didn't love his wife, Felicia.  He did. Though preferring men, Bernstein had affairs with both men and women.  He loved Felicia and they mostly stayed together until her death, though she knew of his desires for men and put up with dalliances taking place right in front of her.

Bradley Cooper is quite wonderful as Bernstein and, I say that as someone who was never particularly a big Cooper fan. Though named People Magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive" in 2011, I always thought he looked nerdie.  But nerdie or not, here he embodies Bernstein, and it's not just the prosthetics. And speaking of which, there was a big flap about those prosthetics. People were upset that he enlarged his nose because Bernstein was Jewish and Cooper was not.  I didn't find that distracting because Cooper really looked like Bernstein, and my feeling is that if Bernstein's family was not offended (and they supposedly were not), then get over it. But though Cooper was made to look like Bernstein, his embodiment of him wasn't just the make-up. Cooper had the mannerisms and voice cadence down, and he is spectacular in a scene where he conducts the orchestra in a Mahler symphony and captures Bernstein's dramatics, something he worked on for six years! It's a  tour de force performance and, I think, the apex of Cooper's acting career so far. That conducting scene is about as dramatic as you can get.

But like I said, this film is as much about Felicia as it is about Bernstein and Carey Mulligan is amazing as Felicia.  Just watch her eyes.  They tell Felicia's story as she goes from love struck wife to one who has to accept her husband's desires.  Both Cooper and Mulligan are nominated for Best Actor Golden Globes, and I expect Oscar nominations in their future.

Directed by Cooper (he also wrote the screenplay with Josh Singer), this has the feel of an old style film from the 40's and 50's.  It is a fairly linear tale, it has lush production values, with Bernstein's music punctuating the plot and a certain amount of melodrama, which I enjoy.  Though Cooper's directorial choices were odd at times, this film evokes a time gone by, when artistic people got together at parties, and instead of looking at their phones, performed for each other, told jokes, talked about their creative processes and smoked and smoked and smoked.  But the film is also a very human story, a linear love story about a man struggling with his sexuality and the woman who loved him.

I can't help but wonder, though, why is Bernstein's story being told now?  He died 34 years ago and few probably remember him today.  But don't get me wrong, his story deserves to be told and his music and achievements remembered because he was a very special man. This is clearly a labor of love for Cooper as well as the other executive producers - Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg - and maybe that's all the reason needed.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fascinating film about a man who deserves to be remembered and performances that are a tribute to him. (Netflix)

Pain Hustlers (2023)

An expose of some criminal shenanigans in the pharmaceutical industry.

Based on a true story chronicled in the 2022 book "The Hard Sell" by Evan Hughes and adapted for the screen by Wells Tower, this is the story of Liza Drake (Emily Blunt), a stripper who has fallen on hard times but suddenly finds herself making tons of money as a pharmaceutical rep until it all comes crashing down.

In 2011, Liza Drake is a struggling single mother living out of her sister's garage in Florida with her epileptic daughter, Phoebe (Chloe Coleman). When working as a stripper, she meets Pete Brenner (Chris Evans), who works for Zanna, a pharmaceutical company, and he offers her a job as a pharmaceutical rep at his company.  Hey, stripper?...pharma rep?...sure, why not?

When things get even worse for Liza and her daughter's health worsens, she takes Pete up on his offer but since she is a high school dropout, Pete writes her a resume, giving her a degree in biochemistry.  In her interview with Dr. Jack Neel (Andy Garcia), the company founder, she impresses him and gets the job only to discover that Zanna has also fallen on hard times, finding it difficult to break into the pharma market. Neel gives her five days to convince a doctor to prescribe their drug, Lonafen, a pain medication for cancer patients. The "fen" part of Lonafen should give you a hint on what this drug is all about.

After some missteps, Liza manages to convince a Dr. Lydell (Brian d'Arcy James) to prescribe the drug, and it snowballs, giving Zanna a foot into the market and Liza is promoted to National Sales Director and Pete to COO. Things are looking good for Zanna, but when sales flatten, Neel gets greedy and he pressures the sales staff to market Lonafen for all types of pain, not just cancer. Now people are in lines outside of pain management clinics needing the drug.  And then bribery, illegal speaker programs and other criminal activities join the mix.

The U.S. Attorney's office eventually gets involved, and when people start dying from Lonafen, one of them Liza's friend's husband, Liza starts feeling guilty and agrees to testify against the company. And yes, Lonafen is basically fentanyl which is why non-terminal patients became addicts and often overdosed.

There is a reason why those pharma reps waiting outside your doctor's office are good-looking and dressed to the nines.  It's all about sales, and it seems back in the day some doctors could be charmed into prescribing certain drugs or even bribed, at least according to this film. Similar to the TV series "Dope Sick," which I thought was one of the best series of 2021, this film, directed by David Yates, is not as good but also exposes the dark side of the pharma industry, especially the unscrupulous methods that some used to get opioids into our health care industry.

Emily Blunt plays against type as a sort of Erin Brockovich character and Chris Evans eschews his "Captain America" uniform and heroic persona for a suit and tie and a sleazy attitude. Blunt is especially good.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this movie should make you a good way. (Netflix)

Candy Cane Lane (2023)

It's Christmas and Chris Carver (Eddie Murphy) is determined to win the big prize for best decorated house on his street.

Let me just say from the start, my little town has a Candy Cane Lane so we are used to over-the-top house decorating. Christmas Eve, it was a family tradition to have our Christmas Eve pizza, get in the car and sing Christmas carols as we toured our Candy Cane Lane and then returned home to open presents.  So I relate to the Candy Cane Lane concept.  However, I just could not relate to this movie. Remember that Rosy the Reviewer says "I see the bad ones so you don't have to?"  Well, you are welcome. It's bad.

Chris Carver needs to win the $100,000 prize for best decorated house because he lost his job and his wife, Carol (Tracee Ellis Ross), may not get the promotion she deserves. Their daughter, Joy (Genneya Walton), a high school track star, doesn't appear to want to attend USC, their alma mater, and son, Nick (Thaddeus J. Mixson), enjoys playing his tuba more than getting his math grades up.  So Chris needs a distraction, not to mention that hundred grand, so the race is on to find the perfect decorations. Oh, I forgot to mention the precocious younger, daughter, Holly (Madison Thomas).  There is always one of those in these kinds of movies. You know, the little kid who sees what the adults can't see?  And did you notice the names?  Chris, Carol, Joy, Nick, Holly.  That should give you some idea of what is to come and it ain't pretty.

One can't help but compare this movie to "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" and Chris to Clark Griswold, but I am sorry to say no real comparison. Not even close.  Even with the element of magic that is introduced, it just doesn't work. 

Chris, looking for Christmas decorations, takes a strange detour and ends up in a building under the freeway and a store run by Pepper (Jillian Bell), who turns out to be an evil elf. Of course, he doesn't know that.  She sells Chris a "Twelve Days of Christmas" tree that Chris is certain will win him the contest, but in order to buy the decoration he must sign an agreement, that, of course, he doesn't read.  

When the big night arrives, Chris lights up the tree and the decorations are spectacular until...all of the characters on the tree come to life and terrorize the neighborhood.  So now Chris must spend the rest of the movie reeling in the seven swans a swimming, the six geese a laying...well you know the drill...and he must find the five gold rings before midnight or he will turn into a teeny-tiny version of himself, a Christmas figurine. Remember that agreement he signed that he didn't read?  And remember I said that Pepper was an evil elf? Oh, didn't I tell you...when he was in the shop he met three other miniature humans (Nick Offerman, Robin Thede and Chris Redd) who had been turned into figurines by the evil Pepper (they didn't read their agreements either), and they just happened to hitch a ride over to his house, so they become part of the story as well.

Enough said.  Written by Kelly Younger and directed by Reginald Hudlin, bad jokes and cliches abound - even that over-used slo-mo power walk that we always see when some butt kicking needs to happen is in this.  I am fairly certain this movie was supposed to be funny and stir up some happy holiday memories.  But it isn't and it doesn't.  As a longtime Eddie Murphy fan, I had such high hopes for this film. What is it about these comedians who stop being funny when they get old and they fall into the sentimentality trap?  It happened to Richard Pryor, it happened to Chevy Chase and now it's happened to Eddie.  He's just not funny and neither is this movie.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this is one holiday chore you can skip. (Amazon Prime)

Thanks for reading!

See you next time!

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to like it and share it on Facebook, Twitter, or other sites; email it to your friends and/or follow me on Facebook at 

And next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database). Go to, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll over to the right of the synopsis to where it says "Critic Reviews" - Click on that and if I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list (NOTE:  IMDB keeps moving stuff around so if you don't find "Critics Reviews" where I am sending you, look around.  It's worth it)!

Thursday, November 30, 2023

What's the Deal With Those Hallmark Holiday Movies? - Rosy the Reviewer Weighs in - Which Movies Will Make Your Holiday Bright and Which Movies Will Turn You Into the Grinch?

It's that time of year again.  Hallmark holiday movies abound, and I have to admit, I have not really fallen for them in past years, but I decided to do my duty for you, do a bit of bingeing to see if any of them would get my holiday bells ringing and to help you decide which ones you should watch. You are welcome.

Now we all know that all Hallmark holiday movies are pretty much the same.  The most common storyline involves an overstressed, overworked woman who returns to her sweet small hometown and meets a farmer/storekeeper/ widower (fill in the blank) and falls in love while at the same time finding a more meaningful life either by winning some home-spun competition or by saving the town when some corporate bad guy wants to foreclose on the hotel/store/farm (fill in the blank). 

Other tropes involve:

  • Man and woman " meet cute" or "meet ugly" - Meeting "ugly" - you know, the opposite of "meet cute." "Meet cute" is some adorable way a couple meets - he knocks her over in a park and they bond over their love of Jerry Lewis movies (look it up) or some other oddity. "Meet ugly" means they immediately hate each other.
  • Boy meets girl, boy loses girl...girl meets boy, girl loses boy...they find each other know the drill.
  • There is often a dog, a well-meaning older person, magical entity or device or an overly precocious child who brings our couple together (don't get me started on overly precocious children in movies)!
  • Sometimes someone dies or royalty is involved (usually the boyfriend turns out to be a prince) 
  • Often starring mostly unknown actors or ex-child stars needing a career boost
  • Someone sings a Christmas song
  • Often filmed in Canada but pretending to be in the U.S.
  • Always a message
  • And, of course, it snows. 

All of the movies have some or all of those components.  

So why do we watch if we know how they are going to turn out?  We watch because the predictability is comforting and all of these movies end with some important message that reminds us of the meaning of the holidays - be kind, show grace toward others, be generous, love your family and find the courage to live a meaningful life.  Or something like that.

So let's get in the mood. Put on your Santa hat, start a fire in the fireplace, cuddle up under a fluffy blanket, get a glass of wine and cozy up to the TV with me for some holiday cheer.  And remember, I do this all for you.  

Happy Holidays.

The Santa Summit (2023)

Liam (Benjamin Hollingsworth) and Jordan (Hunter King) meet at a "Santa Summit."

What's a "Santa Summit?"

It's a holiday celebration where everyone in town goes bar hopping dressed like a Santa.  Liam finds and returns Jordin's wallet that sports an adorable embroidered house on it that she designed herself.  It's her dream house. You see, she never got to live in a nice house.  Fittingly, turns out Liam is a builder. There is an instant attraction, even though they are dressed as Santas and never take off their beards. Something in the eyes. But then they get separated and since they forgot to share their info, how will they find each other in a sea of Santas?

Well, we know they will, but remember, it's the journey.  And is this an enjoyable journey?  Well...yes it is, thanks to an engaging cast: Liam and his brother, Mac (Dan De Jaeger); Jordin and her friends - the grumpy, Stella (Stephanie Sy), and Ava (Amy Groening), the "Lord of the Rings" fan - both of whom are looking for love; and others they meet along the way.

Written by Russell Hainline and directed by Jeff Beesley, there are many of those "just missing each other set ups" and little adventures as the two run around town trying to reconnect. Do we care if they find each other?  Of course, it's Christmas!  Don't be a Grinch!

King and Hollingsworth are engaging actors as are the rest of the ensemble and they create a fun holiday atmosphere.

Only a few of the usual Hallmark movie tropes are in evidence here -

  • The two "meet cute" and bond over their love of tacos and the movie "Casablanca" - check
  • Liam is a builder who has just moved to Jordin's small town to get away from a job he didn't like and to find meaning  - check
  • By meets girl, boy loses girl and vice versa but they find each other- check
  • Someone sings a Christmas song - check
  • Filmed in Canada with unknown actors - How did I know it was filmed in Canada?  When one of the actors said the word "about," it came out "aboot." - check
  • And there is a message: "You don't become happy because you find love.  You find love because you are already happy."  And here much of the happiness comes from friendship - check and check.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fun little romp that will warm your heart and make you look for some mistletoe.

A World Record Christmas (2023)

Based on a true story, a young Washington State autistic teen attempts to break a world record by stacking Jenga blocks.

Charlie (Aias Dalman) wants one thing for Christmas.  He want to break a world record.  And that's actually not an odd thought because he lives in a town known for breaking a Guinness world record every year (this year the town is going for wrapping the most presents in an hour).  So what does Charlie decide to do?  He decides to break the world record for stacking Jenga blocks onto one vertical block. The record is 1400 blocks! He also gets the idea to get the town involved by making his attempt a fundraiser for autistic kids. Decorate a Jenga block and help a kid.

But Charlie is also hoping his breaking the record will get the attention of his  absent biological Dad, Peter (Matt Hamilton).  He believes his Dad is absent because he is ashamed of him. Considering his Dad lives nearby, no, Charlie, he's just a jerk.  Charlie also wants the attention of his friend, Amy (Daphne Hoskins), whom he is starting to have feelings for. Meanwhile, Charlie's mother, Marissa (Nikki Deloach), and stepdad, Eric (Lucas Bryant), are very supportive parents but they are struggling with a bad patch in their marriage.

Written by Mark Hefti and Antonio Cupo and based on the real life story of Aulden Maxwell, who in fact broke the world record for stacking jenga blocks and who makes a cameo appearance, this is a refreshing break from the usual Hallmark holiday movie fare. It feels natural and real.  And yes, Charlie is autistic but that is not portrayed as a limitation nor is it necessarily the centerpiece. He's just a kid who wants his Dad to be proud of him. Directed by Jason Bourque, this movie is all about family.  And did I say it's heart-warming?  Well, it is. And I mean that in a good way. No cheese here.

The actors are wonderful - believable and real, especially Aias, the young autistic actor who plays Charlie. And much of the action takes place in a library, of which I approve.

Yes, it's supposed to be Washington State and was filmed in Canada, but that's the only predictable trope. Well it snows, too, but this Hallmark holiday film is able to avoid the often cheesy tropes to give us a film about acceptance, about family, about community, and one that focuses on a mature romance. It also reminds us that one doesn't need to be a biological Dad to be a real Dad.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this is what the holiday season is supposed to be about.  Do yourself a favor and see this film. It's destined to be a classic. It will make even the most Grinchiest of you shed a happy tear or two.

A Biltmore Christmas (2023)

A screenwriter is hired to rewrite a classic 1947 holiday movie and finds herself transported back in time to the set of the original film.

Lucy Hardgrove (Bethany Joy Lenz) is a screenwriter and gets her dream job - writing the script for a remake of a beloved 1947 holiday movie, "His Merry Wife!" (think "It's a Wonderful Life.") "His Merry Wife!" was filmed at the historic Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina, so when the head of the studio doesn't like the ending that Lucy has written for the remake because it deviates from the original's happy ending (she is a bit of a cynic about happy endings and doesn't believe people really makes sacrifices for those they love), he sends her to the Biltmore Estate for inspiration and to rethink her ending.

While there, Lucy is transported back in time to the original 1947 set of "His Merry Wife!" thanks to a magical hour glass and she meets the star of the film, Jack Huston (Kristoffer Polaha) and they fall in love. She is able to hop back and forth with the help of the hourglass and Margaret (A.K. Benninghofen), a goofy woman she meets there, and Lucy actually finds herself in the movie but you know what happens when you travel back in time, right? When you do it, you run the risk of changing the future so Lucy must stay back in 1947 to make things right before she can return to the future.

Directed by John Putch, the film starts out in black and white with a bad Jimmy Stewart impression featuring the filming of the original movie, which is how I knew this was a bit of a send-up of "It's a Wonderful Life." The Jimmy Stewart thing. But surprisingly, this movie is a also a bit of a parody of Hallmark movies themselves, which I found refreshing. The actors were fun, and written by Marcy Holland, this was a nice departure from the usual Hallmark holiday movie.

The Biltmore is a lovely setting for a film and, I guess there was too much of an opportunity to resist to promote the Biltmore and Asheville and, boy, do they, but you can set your DVR and fast forward through the ads if you want.  But also refreshing that this movie was actually filmed there, not in Canada, not that I have anything against Canada.

This one is not that trope heavy but there are some constants here:

  • Magical device helps Lucy travel back in time and meet the leading man - check
  • Someone sings a Christmas song - check
  • It snows - check
  • And there is a message: Cynical writer discovers that people do really give up what they want to make someone else happy.

Rosy the Reviewer says...cynical reviewer enjoyed this one.


A Merry Scottish Christmas (2023)

Out of the blue, estranged siblings Leslie (Lacey Chabert) and Brad (Scott Wolf) are summoned to a Scottish castle by their mother, Jo (Fiona Bell).  

Turns out their mother had some secrets. She was born in that castle and is a Duchess! They always thought she was a hippie! Not wanting to fulfill her destiny, Jo ran away with an American and made up lies about herself. All news to her kids.

Brad is married and he and his wife are having trouble getting pregnant so are doing IVF.  Leslie is single, a doctor, and married to her work, frustrated by the fact that there is so much administrative work.  Of course, Leslie meets Mac (James Robinson), a handsome Scottish fellow and romance is in the air, but what this movie is really focused on is the relationship between siblings, Leslie and Brad, and what will bring them back together.  Written by Audrey Shulman, Andrea Canning, and Dustin Rikert and directed by Rikert, this is a nice departure from the usual Hallmark movie romance. 

But you are not home free does this film fulfill the usual Hallmark Holiday Movie tropes?

  • Scott Wolf needed a gig - check
  • Leslie doesn't marry a prince but there is royalty involved - she is a Duchess - check
  • At least it wasn't filmed in Canada (but it wasn't filmed in Scotland either.  It was filmed in Ireland)! check - non-check
  • And there is a message - Family is important - check.

Rosy the Reviewer says...the brother/sister angle is a nice departure from the usual Hallmark rom/com and it all takes place in a beautiful location with a great message.

Thanks for reading!

See you next time!

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to like it and share it on Facebook, Twitter, or other sites; email it to your friends and/or follow me on Facebook at 

And next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database). Go to, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll over to the right of the synopsis to where it says "Critic Reviews" - Click on that and if I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list (NOTE:  IMDB keeps moving stuff around so if you don't find "Critics Reviews" where I am sending you, look around.  It's worth it)!