Showing posts with label Damien Chazelle. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Damien Chazelle. Show all posts

Friday, January 13, 2023

"Babylon"...and More!

[I review the new movie "Babylon" as well as "The Invitation" and a book! - Geena Davis's memoir "Dying of Politeness"]

Babylon (2022)

The not so golden side of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

After "La La Land," which I loved, I said in my gushing review that I couldn't wait to see what writer/director Damien Chazelle would do next.  Well, here it is and, for me, it is a shocking addendum to "La La Land."  Where "La La Land" was a love letter to Hollywood and the movies, this film is like a Dear John letter, as in the romance is over. It is for me, anyway.

Like I said, I loved "La La Land," but I am sad to say, I did not like this movie.

This is all about the Golden Age of Hollywood, but the part that wasn't so golden - the unglamorous, dark side of Hollywood, with the price of fame and its ephemeral nature and the drudgery that sometimes accompanies the making of films so that we in the audience can be entertained.  It's also about the effect talking pictures had on Hollywood.  According to Chazelle it was a big party during the silent movie era, but as soon as sound came to town, everyone had to shut-up and take movies seriously.  Careers fell when audiences didn't like the sound of their favorite actors' voices or tried and true storylines that worked well with no sound suddenly seemed silly with dialogue.

The story is told in part through three characters: Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie), a young woman who has come to Hollywood in the 20's to become a star; Manny Torres (Diego Calva), another Hollywood wannabe who will do anything to get ahead in Hollywood; and actor Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), the handsome but aging leading man.   

When Nellie meets Manny early in the film, she tells him "It's written in the stars.  I am a star."  And she manages to make a name for herself in silent films by being able to not only cry on demand but manage her tears one by one, but sadly, when sound arrives, her voice is considered annoying and she finds her career in trouble. 

Manny makes himself useful to powerful people like Jack Conrad and works his way up the ladder. Manny's story is all about the American dream, and Manny's American Dream is to make it in La-La Land. All of these characters intersect at various times during the 1920's and 30's as their careers go up and down.

So that's the basic story, but to tell that story, Chazelle seemed to feel he needed to go very dark and shocking.  

If you remember the movie "Singing in the Rain," which also told this same story - the advent of talkies and the actors who struggled with it - this is almost a remake of that, and Chazelle gives it a big nod at the end of the film, and there are many other nods to Hollywood movies and actors of the past. You can figure that Brad Pitt is playing a John Gilbert character, a silent movie idol who struggled when the talkies came along.  It's fun to try to match the characters with real life actors from back in the day, to catch the allusions to other films and recognize the faces of many actors doing cameos. 

But that's where the fun ended for me. I understand Chazelle wanting to show us that Hollywood can eat people alive and making movies can sometimes be hard, tedious and even boring work but for some reason he felt the need to add the shock factor. The film starts with a cringeworthy scene featuring elephant poop and continues with projectile vomiting and a man eating live rats.  And there is more, but I choose not to remember the rest, because as the movie progressed, it seemed to be just one unpleasant situation after another.  

This film was just trying too hard to be shocking and what shocked me the most was that this was where Chazelle went after the beautiful, delightful and uplifting "La La Land."

I know the movie industry has been in a slump since the Pandemic, and watching this, I couldn't help but wonder if Chazelle, and/or the movie industry in general, has decided they need the shock factor to get us all off our couches and back into the theatres. If that's the case, I am going to stay home.  

And speaking of trying too hard, I have always been a big fan of Margot Robbie, but I just didn't believe her as the "wild child," Nellie LaRoy.  I could feel her trying too hard to be this out-of-control woman who has come to Hollywood to become a star. But no doubt she will get nominated for her performance because there was a lot of ranting and raving and crying going on. 

Sadly, this was just was not an enjoyable movie experience for me nor was it a satisfying one.  That is how I judge a film.  Was it an enjoyable or at least satisfying movie experience?  And it makes me sad to say it because I loved "La La Land" so much but for this film the answer would be a no.

And here's the thing.  Maybe if this movie hadn't been so long I would have enjoyed it more.

This movie was THREE HOURS and eight minutes!  That is just uncalled for.  Chazelle could have easily cut an hour off of this film without it making any difference and probably would have made it better.  PLEASE...filmmakers, if you want us back in the theatres do not make us sit through three hour films!

Okay, rant over.

However, there is a positive.

I have to give a shout out to Brad Pitt.  He almost saved this movie for me.  I have been wanting him to flaunt his handsomeness and here he does that, but he also shows his acting chops.  As the handsome matinee idol whose career takes a turn for the worst, he is funny but also poignant.  A wonderful tour de force and he certainly should have won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor, though I question whether his part was a supporting role. In my book, he was the star. Let's hope the Oscars do better because he deserves one for this. 

As I was watching the film, I was thinking that Chazelle was mad at the movies because he paints such a cynical picture. But then he gives Jean Smart, who plays columnist Elinor St. John, one of the best moments in the film, when she sets Jack Conrad straight about his career.  In a brilliant speech, she tells him that the spotlight is fleeting, but he can take comfort in the fact that his movies will live on after he has gone. He will come alive for future audiences who see his films. And though Chazelle goes dark to make us appreciate what it takes to make a movie, I think he ends on a positive note by saying that movies matter because of what movies can do. They bring a disparate group of people together who are all enjoying the same experience.  For a few hours, it's a community.  

And I agree, but if he wants me to continue to be a part of that community, he shouldn't make a three hour movie and he needs to leave out the elephant poop!

Rosy the Reviewer says...all in all, though there were moments I enjoyed and this film will no doubt get many award nominations, because it's the big, boisterous, epic kind of movie that gets nominations, for me this was a huge disappointment (in theatres).

The Invitation (2022)

A young woman is invited to a wedding in England but it turns out to be much more than she a bad way.

The film begins with a suicide and then fast forwards to Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel who you might recognize from "Game of Thrones"), a New York City hospitality worker, who attends a self-help event with one of those "find-your-relatives" DNA tests in her swag bag.  She decides to try it and wouldn't you know?  She discovers a cousin she didn't know about and he's a charming Brit named Oliver L. Alexander (Hugh Skinner).  Since both of Evie's parents are dead, she is keen to find family.  Oliver invites her to join him at the wedding of a rich friend in England, an offer she can't refuse since all expenses will be paid.

The wedding is at the estate of the DeVille family and there she meets Walter - "Walt" - the handsome Lord of the Manor (Thomas Doherty).  And can I say that Evie is a bit over incredulous at the luxury of the place and actually acts like an Ugly American and is a big klutz? Not a good look. She is an accident waiting to happen and her behavior makes a bad impression on the scary butler (Sean Pertwee). But she appears to make a good impression on the handsome Walt.

But like I said, she isn't a very good guest. On her first night, Evie goes for a jog. Who does that?  Who goes for a jog at night in an unfamiliar place? And she goes into a room that she was particularly told to stay out of. But okay, let's see what will happen. She starts to see things and also starts to have nightmares that relate to that suicide I mentioned. What's going on?

Written by Blair Butler and directed by Jessica M. Thompson, this is a gothic thriller with the requisite gotcha moments (I counted five), but despite the gotcha moments, it takes over an hour before "the secret" is revealed and what is really going on at the DeVille mansion and this so-called wedding. It's a bit slow but I enjoyed the female empowerment theme.

Nathalie Emmanual does a fine job as Evie, but I was distracted by how much she looks like Meghan Markle, except with a nose ring.

Rosy the Reviewer step above a Lifetime movie but, hey, I have been known to do the occasional Lifetime movie.  A fun gothic diversion (Netflix, Prime).

And if you aren't up for a three hour movie in the movie theatre and you are not in the gothic mood, why not read a book?

"Dying of Politeness" by Geena Davis

Actress Geena Davis shares her life and accomplishments in this candid and self-deprecating memoir.

Who knew that Geena Davis and I had so much in common?

  • We both wanted to be actresses from a young age, studied acting in college and our Dads encouraged us.
  • She was an exchange student in Sweden and I have visited my Swedish relatives there.
  • We grew up with no shower and everyone used the same bath water on Saturday nights (I know, ew)!
  • And it was important to be polite at all costs

We are so alike except the main difference: she became famous and I didn't. Ha!  

Davis tells her story that starts with her knowing she was going to be an actress from a very young age.  She shares her romantic interests including her marriage to actor Jeff Goldblum, who it seems from reading this she never got over.  She also talks about finding a sort of second career as an Olympic archer as well as her lifelong fight for women's rights.

There are also behind-the-scenes anecdotes from the many movies that she has made such as "The Fly," "A League of their Own" and, of course, the iconic "Thelma and Louise."  She met Susan Sarandon on set and they became besties in real life. Total opposites in their approach to the world, Geena says that Susan helped her speak up and give up on some of that politeness. It's all told in a breezy and, shall I say? A very polite way.

Rosy the Reviewer says... it's a funny, candid and touching memoir, and if you are a fan or even just a celebrity maven, you will enjoy this. (check it out from your local library)!

Thanks for reading!

See you again soon!

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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)!

(NOTE:  If you are looking for a particular movie or series, check out this cool site: JustWatch.  It tells you where you can access all TV series and movies)