Showing posts with label Cult Classics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cult Classics. Show all posts

Friday, December 8, 2017

"Wonder" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the movie "Wonder" as well as the DVD "The Dinner" and the documentary "Elaine Stritch - Shoot Me" now streaming on Netflix.  The Book of the Week is my new favorite cookbook - "Dinner: Changing the Game."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with Russ Meyer's cult classic "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!]


Based on the best-selling book, this film tells the story of young Auggie Pullman who was born with facial differences and who, after being home-schooled for the last five years, begins fifth grade at a mainstream school for the first time.

Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) is a young boy living in Manhattan with his parents, Isabel (Julia Roberts) and Nate (Owen Wilson), his sister, Via (Isabela Vidovic) and his dog.  He has been homeschooled by his mother for the last five years because he was born with Treacher Collins Syndrome, a facial disfigurement that has caused him to have many surgeries over the years which created their own facial differences. When going out, Auggie wears an astronaut's helmet so he doesn't have to endure stares from both kids and adults.  Fearing that he would be bullied at a public school, his parents had decided to home school Auggie, and Isabel had given up her career to teach Auggie, but now, as the film begins, they have decided it's time for Auggie to attend a regular school.

When Auggie arrives at school, the principal, Mr. Tushman, played by a warm and believable Mandy Patinkin, arranges for Auggie to have a tour of the school by Julian (Bryce Gheisar), Jack Will (Noah Jupe) and Charlotte (Elle McKinnon), and despite Julian's rather rude questions to Auggie, the tour goes well, but as these things go, later Julian becomes Auggie's biggest antagonist. Actually, that's a nice way of putting it.  Julian is actually a bully and he and his bully friends make Auggie's introduction to a real school a real nightmare.

Auggie has facial differences but other than that he is a regular kid who loves "Star Wars," video games and science, so despite the bullying that he endures, he makes friends with Jack Will and a little girl named Summer (Millie Davis) and, with courage, a sense of humor and a sweet personality, he eventually overcomes what is thrown at him and comes to terms with school.

Meanwhile, Auggie's sister, Via, has issues of her own.  She loves Auggie, but it's not easy having a brother who gets all of the attention.  She's a good kid but we are reminded that everyone has their own issues, some of which may not be apparent from the outside.  When Via returns to school after summer break, her best friend, Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell), ignores her, preferring to hang with a cooler crowd, and since Auggie and his issues seem to take up all of the oxygen, Via doesn't share her problems with her parents.

The film takes a tangent from time to time to show the viewpoint of some of the other characters. We see that everyone, even those without a disability or physical differences, is fighting some kind of battle.  Sound familiar?

Yes, that is the main message here.

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

Whenever the subject matter of a movie involves a disabled child, or in this case, a child with a facial disfigurement, it's very easy to fall into sentimental clichés meant to manipulate the heartstrings so I have good news and bad news. 

Which do you want first?

I actually liked this movie so let's get the bad news out of the way first.

  • I could have done without the whole side plot about Miranda and the reason why she stopped being friends with Via.  Totally far-fetched.

  • Owen Wilson's nose.  It's not really his fault but there was an SNL sketch once about how Owen Wilson's nose looks like a penis, and at a certain angle, it totally does, so now whenever I look at him I can't stop thinking about that.  So even though he does a credible job as Auggie's father, I couldn't take my eyes off of his nose.  But he also didn't really have that much to do in the film, either, except throw out the occasional bon mot or some incredibly wise advice for Auggie.

  • The story was told from a couple of different viewpoints - Via's, Miranda's, Jack Will's - but the film was not consistent in using that device and because of that, the device was jarring and distracting. If the writers were going to use that as a way to show that everyone is fighting some kind of battle, then I would have liked to have seen it carried out throughout the film with other characters such as Isabel and Nate. 

  • It all wrapped up just a bit too neatly. I'm not a huge fan of stories where everything turns out perfectly and the bullies change into good people, not because that's not a good message, but just because I don't believe it really happens in real life.  Bullies tend to stay bullies.

OK, that bit's over.  Let's get to the good news.

  • This is a good film that actually did manage to avoid the sappy sentimentality and emotional manipulation that usually accompanies movies about children with differences.

  • Julia Roberts.  That's all I need to say.

  • Though Tremblay and Roberts were fantastic and the rest of the cast were also excellent, that was kind of expected when you examine the pedigrees of most of these actors.  But the wonder here was young Isabela Vidovic, not just because she was a poignant and luminous presence, but because the story actually ventured to the issue of how siblings might view a brother or sister who gets all of the attention because of a disability. Yes, they feel love and compassion for their brother or sister, but there is also the accompanying hurt and neglect they feel when the sibling seemingly gets all of the love and attention which then leads to guilt for feeling that way.  The film did a very good job of showing that side and Vidovic was one of the reasons it worked so well.

  • The message:  Choose kindness.  You can't argue with that.

Directed by Steven Chbosky with an adapted screenplay by Chbosky, Steven Conrad and Jack Thorne based on the book by R.J. Palacio, this is a good movie - not a great one - but a heartwarming family film with a good message, though it's a sad commentary that we humans need to be reminded to be kind.

Rosy the Reviewer says...should be part of school curriculum.  Oh, it already is.  Good.

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

On DVD and Streaming

The Dinner (2017)

Two sets of parents get together to discuss a crime their sons have committed.

Paul (Steve Coogan) and Stan (Richard Gere) Lohman are brothers and their sons have gotten into trouble. Not just a tiny bit of trouble, either.  Some big bit of trouble that was all caught on video camera so Paul and Stan and their wives, Claire (Laura Linney) and Katelyn (Rebecca Hall), meet to try to figure out what to do about it before what the boys did is discovered.

They meet in a fancy exclusive restaurant that is difficult to get into.  Stan, a Congressman is running for Governor and is the more successful brother.  Because of that, he was able to get them into this exclusive restaurant and makes sure everyone knows it. That establishes the brothers' relationship early on. Stan is the more successful brother and Paul is very resentful of that.  But ironically Paul is happier in his marriage to Claire.  Stan is more interested in his career than his wife.  Paul is a teacher in a public school and he has always felt less than around Stan, but he also thinks that Stan is elitist and self-serving. Paul is a troubled man on the verge of mental illness. None of that is a good menu for a nice meal.  In fact, it all devolves into a dinner from hell.

Speaking of which, like a nice, or should I say, extravagant, meal, the film is divided into courses: Aperitif, Appetizer, Main Course, Cheese Course, Dessert and Digestif (like I said, this is a fancy restaurant), and through a series of flashbacks, we see how the relationships among the four have unfolded over the years; we see the crime that their sons have committed; and the simmering resentments that have piled up which keeps them all from taking responsibility for their sons or their own lives.

How far out of the range of morality will people go to protect their loved ones?

Richard Gere has always been a good actor.  I remember his first big role in "Looking for Mr. Goodbar."  OK, he wasn't just a good actor, he was also a hottie but now he has matured into one of our venerable actors.  That's what you get called when you can't play romantic leads anymore though he is aging nicely and certainly still could.  Men seem to get away with the romantic lead roles long after we women have aged out of them. But I don't think Gere wants to go that route anymore, and he is playing it right.  He is choosing age appropriate roles he can sink his teeth into and this film is a good example.

But Coogan, who in the past has been more identified with comedies, is the real star here as the jealous, sarcastic and dark brother who through the course of the film has a breakdown.

However, despite an interesting premise (which very much reminded me of the play "God of Carnage" and its subsequent movie version "Carnage"), excellent performances by seasoned actors and a good first half, the film, written and directed by Oren Moverman (based on the novel by Herman Koch), this is yet another American remake of a film that has already had Dutch and Italian versions, and sadly, it falls apart by the time the cheese course arrives. The film just goes on too long, and I wanted that dinner to end.

Rosy the Reviewer says...many revelations unfold throughout the course of the meal but unfortunately, by the time they got to the cheese course, I didn't care anymore.

Streaming on Netflix

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (2013)

A documentary on the life and times of Elaine Stritch, a true Broadway Baby.

Elaine Stritch is one of those actresses that you recognize but probably don't know her name.  But she was a Broadway icon, a New York City institution, who died in 2014 at the age of 89.

This film captures the last year of her life and is pure cinema verite with the camera following her around as she prepares for her upcoming one woman show and continues to work on the TV show "30 Rock."  The film is also interspersed with her TV, Broadway and movie performances over the years.

Stritch was one of those tough cookies who not only didn't mind being called a broad but actually called herself that.  She never made the transition from Broadway to the movies in a big way, though she did star in some films playing the wise-cracking friend, and she had a successful TV career culminating in her role on "30 Rock."

She of the smoky voice was a belter. She was also known as a scene stealer and her signature performance was Stephen Sondheim's "The Ladies who Lunch" in "Company" for which she was nominated for a Tony.

She also often forgot lyrics, especially when singing Sondheim, because as we all know, his songs were wonderful but wordy, but, in true "The show must go on fashion, she would carry on. 

Sondheim famously sent her a telegram that said: 

"I won't be there so feel free to make up your own lyrics!"

Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Hal Prince and others comment on Stritch's show- biz influence and it was substantial.

Stritch was a recovering alcoholic, sober for 25 years but once she hit her 80's felt it was OK to have one drink a day.  She was married once but her husband died of brain cancer and she never found love again.

The last year of her life, she wanted out of New York City after having lived there almost 70 years to which her nephew humorously observed, "You can't say you didn't give it a chance."

Born in Detroit, she maintained a home in the Detroit suburbs and that's where she died on July 17, 2014.  A year before she died she felt her time had come and she said, "It's gettin' there.  I hope I can at least be amusing about it."

I have always been a huge admirer of Stritch.  In fact, I love her!  And this documentary captures her perfectly.  She was at that age where you don't give a damn anymore and say what you think.  I'm almost at that point myself.

Sondheim's song "I'm Still Here" was also a signature song of Stritch's and pretty much sums up this remarkable woman's life.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you love New York, if you love Broadway, this is not to be missed. An amazing journey with an amazing broad. 

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

163 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1963)

Three busty go-go dancers kill a guy, take his Gidget-like girlfriend hostage and plan to rob an old man and his mentally challenged son who live on an isolated ranch in the desert.  However, turns out these three don't know what they are getting themselves into.

And that's about it.

Except the getting there defies description.

Director Russ Meyer was known for his campy sexploitation films that featured big-breasted women and dialogue with lots of sexual double entendres.  He was also a fixture on late night TV in the 60's and 70's with his thin mustache and conversation rife with sexual innuendo.

Varla (Tura Satana), Rosie (Haji) and Billie (Lori Williams) are go-go girls who have to endure the leers and jeers of their male audience yelling at them to go faster and faster as they gyrate.  That would make any girl mean and these girls are mean.  Varla is the leader and is adept at karate. She is so adept at karate that she can break bones with her bare hands and they does. The girls also like to race their cars in the desert. 

As they are racing around the desert in their souped-up sports cars, and for some reason, laughing maniacally as they do that, an unsuspecting couple come upon the ladies and the guy makes Varla mad.  Must have been those black socks he was wearing with his white sneakers and Bermuda shorts.  Not a good look and not a good idea to make Varla mad.  She breaks his back with her bare hands and the three take his girlfriend, Linda (Susan Bernard), hostage. 

When they all stop for gas, the attendant makes small talk about seeing America while ogling Varla's breasts, and she replies, "You won't find it down there, Columbus!"  He tells them about a nearby ranch where an old disabled man and his musclebound and dimwitted son live, and when the women discover that the old man has some money, they decide to rob him.  Unfortunately the old man is as evil as these girls and it all goes badly for everyone involved.

None of the stars are anyone you have ever heard of.  Tura Satana and Haji were both exotic dancers before starring in this film - geez, that's a stretch.  Tura's idea of acting was to yell every line and I guess Haji's was to have an Italian accent, and not a very good one.

Meyer's films are cult classics mainly because he was one of the first to give soft porn films actual plots.  His films were also notable for snappy dialogue (see Varla's comment to the gas station attendant above), having a sense of humor, creative editing and big boobs.  Lots and lots of big boobs. 

Why it's a Must See: "The film enjoys it's place at the top of many cult lists in part because of its several inherent delights - creative and flashy editing, smart black-and-white cinematography, a jazzy score, and plenty of innuendo - and in part because it is a fascinating barometer of the shifts occurring during the 1960's, especially with respect to cinema itself."
--"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

John Waters has called this film the best movie ever made.  But then John Waters is John Waters.  Let's just say that this was the kind of movie that was fun to see at the drive-in back in the 1960's.  The women also have a feminist bent if you equate tough women beating up men with feminism, but it's really not anything you can take seriously. These characters are like something out of a pop art comic book.

Rosy the Reviewer says...all I can say is that this movie left me speechless, but barring a drive-in to go to, it might be fun to get some friends together and be speechless together.

***Book of the Week***

Dinner: Changing the Game by Melissa Clark (2017)

We go from the dinner from hell (see review above) to some heavenly dinner ideas. My new favorite cookbook!

"[This book is] designed to help you figure out what to make for dinner without falling back on what you've eaten before.  It's about giving you options, lots of options.  Are you a vegetarian or just a vegetable lover? I've got you covered.  A die-hard meat lover?  A fish enthusiast?  A pasta aficionado?  A culinary explorer ready to take on a challenge?  Or the kind of cook who wants to revel in the comforting and familiar, but with a twist...In these pages, it's all here for you."

And boy is it.  And I am a bit of all of those people that Clark describes.

Clark is a staff writer for the New York Times where she writes a column called "A Good Appetite."  She has put together some exciting and delicious recipes that will bring you back to this cookbook again and again.  Just randomly opening the book to a page led me to a recipe I wanted to try.  I'm going to try that again right now.

Mmm, "Japanese Omelet" highlighted by brown sugar, soy sauce and mirin served with rice and edamame. See? I'm going to make this for dinner tonight!

Beautifully illustrated, there are whole chapters devoted to chicken, meat (including a whole chapter on ground meat), tofu, fish and seafood, eggs, pasta and noodles, beans and legumes, rice and grains, pizzas and pies, salads and, dips and spreads, everything from Thai Lettuce Wraps to Seitan Enchiladas to Chilled Cucumber and Corn Soup.  No need to always have the same boring protein, a starch and a vegetable for dinner anymore.

Clark really has changed the game when it comes to dinner.

Rosy the Reviewer says... I haven't found a cookbook like this in ages, one where I want to try every recipe from cover to cover.

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 

for my review of  

"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri"  


 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."


If you enjoyed this post, feel free to copy and paste or click on the share buttons to share it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn, email it to your friends and LIKE me on Facebook at

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).