Showing posts with label Documentaries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Documentaries. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Academy Awards 2021: Which of These Films Will Take Home the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature?

I am a huge fan of documentaries.  I think it's something about real life being stranger than fiction. In 2014,  I "documented" my favorites with "15 Must See Documentaries," but since then I have seen others that should make that list and one of them has been nominated for an Oscar this year.

And speaking of the Oscars, the ceremony is this Sunday, April 25th, so I have been busily watching all of the nominated documentary features (those are the long ones, not to be confused with the Documentary Shorts category) in preparation for the annual family competition and to help you out, too, if you are attending an Oscar party or participating in a competition.  It's these categories of often little-seen films that can make or break it for you.  No need to thank me, I consider it my duty to help you out, and as I said, I love documentaries.

So let's get on with it!


My Octopus Teacher



A filmmaker forms an unlikely friendship with an octopus in a South African kelp forest.

I have to admit at the outset: I am not a huge fan of nature films.  I remember as a little girl, when I would watch "The Wonderful World of Disney," I would cry if they showed one of their nature films rather than animation. And as an adult, I don't like that whole Circle of Life thing, where the lion chases the gazelle, catches it and then tears it apart. I don't need to see that.

So I was surpised when I fell madly in love with this movie.  Well, with a little octopus.

South African filmmaker, Craig Foster, was going through a rough patch in his life so he decided that he would just jump in the water and explore, as one does.  He had filmed trackers in the Kalahari so he knews something about filming wildlife and observing their habits.  So he decided to use that experience to go into the water and do some underwater tracking. He went in with no wetsuite so it was cold, cold, cold, but he soon became accustomed to the cold, and as he continued to dive, he came upon an octopus and her den and after daily forays into the water, over time trust was developed.  He would go in the water every day and an unlikely friendship developed between man and octopus, and, people, you are not going to believe what you will see.  The octopus touches him with her tentacles, lets him hold her and she follows him around.  It's uncanny.

Foster likens an octopus to a snail without a shell but a very intelligent one.  Who knew?  The octopus doesn't have many defenses against its predators so must be smart to deceive them and this little octopus comes up with some amazing defenses. When those mean old sharks come around, you root for her to evade them.  You will learn everything there is to know about octopuses (it's not octopi, I looked it up).  For example, did you know they only live for a year?  They give birth and then die.  We women always get a raw deal!

Written and directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed, the photography is amazing and the filmmakers created an environment where you will feel a part of the place, not just a visitor.

You have to hand it to awards shows for highlighting films like this, documentaries and foreign language films, for example, movies we would never know about were it not for them, so thank you, Academy Awards, I just saw a movie that touched my heart, and I am adding to my list as a favorite documentary.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a delight.  And I will never eat octopus again!
(Now streaming on Netflix)


Time



A woman, whose husband is serving a 60-year sentence for a bank robbery, documents her fight to get him released from prison.

Using home movies, hand-held cameras and cinema verite, this film tells the story of Fox Rich's marriage and what happened when she and her husband were down on their luck and decided the best course of action was to rob a bank.  For that, they both went to prison: she took a plea deal and received 12 years and was out in three and a half, but Rich's husband, Rob, didn't take a plea deal and was sentenced to 60 years with no chance of parole.

Directed by Garrett Bradley, I understand what he was trying to do here, but I had a difficult time with the execution. It is certainly an indictment of the criminal justice system in the United States, humanizing those who must suffer in prison with outrageous sentences often handed down to people of color and telling the story of those left behind.  It is presented in a series of vignettes and home movies that Fox (real name Sibil) has shot over the years, showing time passing as she gets her life together, raises their six boys, matures and continues to fight to bring Rob home. She is a compelling subject. All of that is good. However, the film jumps around in time with little context or narration, so it is often difficult to follow.

Time: the time spent in prison but more importantly, the time that is lost and what you missed while you are away.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I liked the content, just didn't like the presentation.  It was not a satisfying film experience for me.
(Available on Amazon Prime)






A private investigator in Chile hires an old man to go undercover for his client who suspects her mother is being abused in a nursing home. 

The daughter of a woman in a nursing home in Chile worries that her mother might be experiencing elder abuse so she hires a private detective who in turn hires a mole to go undercover, live in the nursing home for three months and to try to discover anything bad that might be going on.  The mole is 83-year-old Sergio Chamy.

There is plenty of humor here: from the P.I. interviewing men aged 80-90+ who don't understand technology to Sergio's popularity with the ladies in the nursing home. It wasn't lost on me that the number of women in the nursing home far outweigh the number of men.  But there is also a serious theme:  our old people are being warehoused and it's happening all over the world. When people age, they lose relevancy and it's just easy for family members to put them somewhere where they don't need to be reminded of them, even when they are still lucid and lively. One of the women running the nursing home said it made her sad when family members brought their aging relatives there when they could stay in their own homes. No sadder words spoken. One woman in the nursing home had been there for 25 years! You can't help but wonder if the client cared so much about what was going on with her mother, why wasn't she visiting her and finding out for herself?

After watching this film, you can't help but become an advocate for our elders being autonomous as long as possible. And the people we meet who are living in the nursing home are charming and lovely...and lonely. They deserve something better. You can tell this all makes me mad. I talked about my own mother's experience in my review of "The Father," which deals with similar issues. And yes, I am mad. What we are doing to our old people is a crime. We tuck them away out of sight and leave them there just waiting to die. You can imagine what I have told my own kids about that!

But there is hope. 

Here, in this film, written and directed by Maite AlberdiSergio finds purpose in his "investigation," and you will be surprised by what he discovers. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...an interesting investigation into one resident's condition that turns into an advocacy for many.  But let me tell you, watch this with "The Father," and if you are a person of a certain age, you will say "Lord, take me now!"
(In Spanish with English subtitles, available on Amazon Prime)





A team of newspaper journalists investigate health care fraud in Romania.

After a horrific fire in a nightclub where many people were killed, it comes to light that 12 days after the fire, more died in the hospital recovering from their burns and an indictment of the entire health care system ensues.  There are protests and a full-blown investigation is undertaken by writers at the Sports Gazette, an unlike newspaper to take on such a task, and it is discovered that there is hospital-wide fraud and incompetence, most particularly disinfectant that has been diluted and a government cover-up.

The newspaper publishes an investigative report about how the hospitals are using diluted disinfectants and it was killing people, and because of the expose, some government officials were forced to resign. If that fire had never happened, none of this would have come to light.  But then it all becomes a much bigger issue of corruption in the hospital system: neglect(think maggots crawling around in open wounds); inacurate blood transfusions; fake invoices; and it is discovered that schools are being bribed to issue hospital management degrees to just anyone, so a new, young Minister of Health tries to right the wrongs.  His name is Vlad and I couldn't help but think of Vlad the Impaler, but then I thought, no, he is going to be Vlad the Healer. I had high hopes for him.

The film shows how far Romania has come since its dictatorship - I mean, a newspaper exposing this scandal is a big deal - but, sadly, this film shows that the political scene is still corrupt, hospitals have been politicized, and there is only so much our Vlad can do.

Written by Alexander Nanau and Antoaneta Opris and directed by Nanu, this was a serious and interesting story about the power of the press and what an unfathomable maze political corruption can create.  It all unfolds in real time - no narration or talking heads - and this story is one that we can easily extrapolate to our own country, but, for me, it was too long.

Rosy the Reviewer says...an interesting foray into Romanian corruption that reminds us of our own issues. 
(In Romanian with English subtitles, now streaming on Hulu or available from Netflix on DVD)





A camp for teens with disabilities transforms their lives.

Camp Jened was a summer camp for disabled kids that started in the 1950's and became a springboard for the disability rights movement as many of the kids who attended went on to become activists, probably because the camp was an unusual one.

Just down the road from Woodstock, New York, in the 1960's and 1970's, Jened was itself a kind of Woodstock for disabled kids. The camp was heavily influenced by the hippie counterculture, which was a good thing. It became a sort of Utopia for the campers, where their disabilities were secondary to their personal freedom. Able bodied people sometimes forget that handicapped people want to be treated like everyone else, want everything everyone else wants and to do everything that everyone else does and the camp recognized that. Even if kids were in wheelchairs, they could play baseball, swim, and, yes, make out!

"There was a romance in the air if you wanted to experience it.  I never dated outside of camp.  But at Jened, you could have make-out sessions behind the bunks and different places like that." - Judith Heumann 

The camp was also a place where the kids were encouraged to express their feelings and many discussions about what it meant to be handicapped and how that affected them in the real world ensued and from that many activists emerged from the camp, kids who went on to work for social change for the disabled.  The camp empowered the kids to express their feelings about life as a disabled person which led them to take action as adults. It's a perfect example of how good and empowering childhood experiences can shape someone's future.

Written and directed by James Lebrecht and Nicole Newnham (Barack and Michelle Obama were executive producers), the film is a combination of grainy, black and white footage of the kids at the camp and talking head interviews with them as adults where they reminisce about their time there and how being at the camp affected their adult lives. The film also follows several of the campers, such as Judith Heumann, as they make a name for themselves in the journey for disability rights.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a well-meaning and important film, inspiring even, but not one of my favorite documentaries.  



So which film should win Best Documentary Feature?

VERDICT: "My Octopus Teacher" should win, but "Time" was the darling of the 2020 Sundance Festival and the critics love it so that film could spoil it for my little octopus!




See you this Sunday at the Oscars!

Good luck and thanks for reading!



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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 IMDB.com, 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.

Monday, December 21, 2020

What I Have Loved Watching So Far During Lockdown

In these terrible times, thank god for Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Apple+ and HBO Max (did I miss anything)?  They have been my best friends off and on for the last nine months but especially during this latest lockdown.  

If you have been following my Facebook page, you will recognize some of these recommendations but, if not, here are some movies and TV series I have enjoyed while sheltering at home.  And even if you do follow me on Facebook, these are expanded reviews that might get you to watch if you haven't already.


1.  The Flight Attendant (HBO Max)



So...ever wonder what flight attendants get up to as they travel around the world? Well, my oh my, according to this, A LOT! Drinking, sex...AND MURDER? (Dateline fans, do Keith Morrison's voice when you read the word "muuurder").

Kaley Cuoco plays Cassie Bowden, a flight attendant who often finds herself waking up from a night on the town and not remembering what happened or who that guy is in bed with her. She's a bit of a party girl, well, actually not a bit of a party girl, a BIG party girl, and she has no problem entering the Mile High Club with customers. But when she wakes up the next morning in Bangkok after hooking up with Alex Sokolov (Michiel Huisman), a handsome passenger and finds him lying next to her, covered in blood, yes, dead, she decides to do a runner. Maybe no one saw her with him? Not likely. Bad choices and chaos ensues...and believe it or not, at times it's funny because Cassie is a cross between Goldie Hawn and Lucy Ricardo!

There are some side plots revolving around Cassie's brother (T.R. Knight) and her fellow flight attendant, Megan (Rosie Perez), who has gotten into some shady stuff herself but this is really all about Cassie and her crazy life.

Created by Steve Yockey (adapted from the novel of the same name by Chris Bohjalian), this is very entertaining and addictive, and Kaley Cuoco carries us along as Cassie tries to find out who killed Alex. There is a strange little hook with dead Alex turning up every so often to try to help Cassie figure his death out, which I rather liked, because did I say that Alex was handsome? But you know how I am with these elaborate spy movies. After many twists and turns and double-crosses, I often have trouble figuring out exactly what is going on - who is doing what to whom? So the last episode? Kind of didn't get it, but all-in-all, this was an enjoyable romp and maybe I was left a bit hanging because it looks like there will be a sequel.
Rosy the Reviewer says...a series that is both stylish, delicious and binge-worthy! And a lot of fun!



2.  A Teacher (Hulu)


A teacher and her student have an inappropriate relationship.

Meet Claire Wilson (Kate Mara), the new high school AP English teacher who has a handsome husband and a seemingly happy marriage. I mean, c’mon, they are trying to have a baby. But then enter Eric Walker (Nick Robinson, who starred in teen hits “Love, Simon” and “Everything, Everything), a handsome Big Man On Campus, who is hot for teacher. Both have issues. We learn early on that Claire is not your average teacher when she shoplifts some lipstick. We see some rebellion and entitlement there. And our young Eric? Who isn’t entitled when they are 17? He is the soccer team captain and wants to be a doctor, but he needs some help with his SATs. Claire conveniently steps up. And yes, they embark on a sexual relationship, and yes, they think it's love.

I know, there is a certain "ick factor" here, especially for you teachers out there. But the series offers some perspectives on this teacher-student phenomenon which we all watched play out most spectacularly and sadly with the Mary Kay Letourneau story, and believe it or not, teachers crossing the lines with their students is not as unusual as you might think. Google it. The title tells it all. It’s not “The Teacher,” it’s “A Teacher.” Teenaged boys want to be adults and young women teachers maybe don’t want to be and there you go. In this story, one bad decision leads to another and we know nothing good will come of it.

Mara is vulnerable and poignant as Claire, even as we shake our heads at her decisions. She is very believable and Robinson is the next big thing. I see a long career ahead for him.

Created and directed by Hannah Fidell (who also directed a feature film on which this TV series is based), this is a serious look at a gender stereotype that is often overlooked - the male sexual victim.
Rosy the Reviewer says…watching this, teachers and parents may cringe and be thankful school is not in session but this is a compelling series. You can’t take your eyes off of it. You know, like a train wreck? But it's a beautiful train wreck.
(The final two episodes air December 22 and December 29)


3.  The Prom (Netflix)


A group of Broadway stars on their way down head to a small Indiana town to give their lives some relevance by taking up the cause of a young girl who has been told she is not allowed to bring her girlfriend to the prom as her date.

The Great White Way may be dark right now but thanks to Netflix we can still enjoy Broadway with this film version of the groundbreaking musical “The Prom.” It’s kind of like “Footloose,” but instead of an uptight town banning dancing, this is about an uptight town canceling Prom because two young lesbians want to go as a couple.
Four narcissistic Broadway stars (Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells and James Corden) need a cause to make themselves relevant. Their show closed due to bad reviews, so they grab onto this story of these two Indiana teen girls who want to go to Prom together and think they can help. But despite a sympathetic principal (Keegan-Michael Key), the PTA headed by the uptight Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington) says no, so our fish-out-of-water, clueless Broadway stars show up in Indiana to try to save the day.
If you are familiar with Broadway musicals, you know that people will break out into song and dance in malls and other odd places and there will be sentimentality and seemingly bad people will see the error of their ways and become good, but suspend your disbelief. It’s a musical. It’s meant to make you feel good and this one does just that.
But don’t think this is one of those fluffy musicals. This one has substance because it takes on the struggles of LGBTQ teens and is actually based on a true story. Yes, in this day and age, a school tried to keep two girls from going to Prom together. And "the prom" itself is also a metaphor for everyone's teenage angst and subsequent neurosis, right?
Once again Meryl kills. Who knew she could sing like that? And she shows her comic chops too. And James? Who knew he was so light on his feet? And Nicole? Well, actually, not sure why a star of her stature was in this because her part as a Bob Fosse chorus girl is small, though she has one of the great lines.

“When your hands are shaking, turn them into jazz hands!”

But still, I am glad she hooked her star to this because it’s a great show. And thanks to Ryan Murphy's direction and a wonderful screenplay by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin, they are all hilarious and the young lovers are engaging.
The show opened on Broadway in 2018, was nominated for seven Tonys and ran for almost a year with a planned tour, but, well, you know how that went. But in the meantime, you can catch the show on Netflix and, I guarantee if you love musicals, you will love this (but remember, it’s a musical).
Rosy the Reviewer says…a feel good show where the Midwest meets Broadway. It shines a light on the struggles of the LGBTQ community, but it’s also an homage to the theatre, a reminder of what we are missing.


4. The Bee Gees: How Do You Mend a Broken Heart (HBO Max)


The extraordinary story of the Bee Gees, one of the best selling artists of all time, with sales of over 120 million records.  But what was most extraordinary was how they were able to keep reinventing themselves to stay relevant with the times over a 45 year career.

The brothers Gibb, Barry, the oldest, and twins Robin and Maurice, formed the Bee Gees in 1958 and performed for 45 years and had a major impact on pop culture from the 60’s through the 90’s. Through a series of interviews with Barry, the sole surviving brother (teen idol Andy is also gone) and archival interviews with Maurice and Robin, the story unfolds.  Yes, this is an homage to the band and doesn’t go into too much detail about some of the issues they faced, though In the “Never-Before-Seen” category we see Robin attempting a solo career and at a performance in New Zealand the crowd is so incensed that it’s only him and not all three of the Bee Gees that they throw things at him, attack him and run him off the stage.

Written by Mark Monroe, and directed by Frank Marshall, this is a fascinating story of some brilliant singer/songwriters and it’s a brilliant film, so evocative of the times, a time captured so completely that it can be emotional for us Baby Boomers.  I actually cried…because I was that young 60's girl who loved the Bee Gees. 


Rosy the Reviewer says…not to be missed!




5.  Murder on Middle Beach (HBO Max)


A young filmmaker tries to solve the mystery of his mother's murder.

If you are a true crime aficionado, as I am, you will be intrigued by this four-part HBO documentary, “Murder on Middle Beach,” where a son tries to find his mother’s killer.
Madison Hamburg directs his first film in an effort to solve the death of his mother, Barbara Hamburg, who was brutally murdered March 3, 2010 at her home in Madison, Connecticut. After the case went cold, Madison interviewed his family members and others to try to gather evidence to solve her murder. As he did so, he uncovered many family secrets and long-term resentments and the thought that perhaps one of his own family members had killed his mother.

Did Barbara's ex-drug addict sister, Conway, kill her? Or Madison's entitled sister, Ali? What about his Dad who had some shady business dealings that Barbara had uncovered and who was due in court regarding their contentious divorce? Or was Barbara's involvement with Gifting Tables a reason for murder?
This is one of those crime stories made all the more ominous because of the setting – a beautiful serene little New England town where nothing bad could ever happen, right? – and a seemingly close-knit, normal big family that murder could never touch, right? And yet...

Rosy the Reviewer says…a spell-binding story full of twists and turns made all the more poignant because it’s also the personal story of a son trying to not only find his mother’s murderer but a son trying to understand who his mother really was.




6.  Big Sky (ABC)


A private detective and an ex-cop try to solve a kidnapping. 

Cassie Dewell (Kylie Bunbury) and Cody Hoyt (Ryan Phillippe) are private detectives searching for two sisters who were kidnapped by a truck driver on a remote highway in Montana.  But when Cody goes missing, Cassie joins forces with ex-cop Jenny Hoyt (Katheryn Winnick), Cody's estranged wife, an uneasy alliance since Jenny discovered Cody had been having an affair with Cassie. But that's the least of their problems when they discover that those are not the only girls who have discovered missing.

From the pen of David E. Kelley (best known for "L.A. Law" and "Chicago Hope" and "Big Little Lies" - he's also married to Michelle Pfeiffer), this is a little bit thriller, a little bit mystery and very character driven by, shall I say, odd characters? There is a twisted cop (John Carroll Lynch), a nerdie truck driver (Brian Geraghty), who not only lives with his mother but sometimes sleeps with her, prostitutes working truck stops and more. The series reminded me a bit of "Twin Peaks," and well, yes, "Big Little Lies," without the Monterey landscapes, because all of these characters are not just odd but have, shall I say, "issues?" And the first episode had a shocking ending! Enjoyed it in a perverse sort of way. Looking forward to its return.

Rosy the Reviewer says...check it out and let me know what you think. It's a bit over-the-top but stylish and intriguing and surprisingly out there for mainstream TV (or maybe I just don't watch enough mainstream TV).
(Currently on hiatus on ABC until January 26 but you can get caught up on Hulu and On Demand - and yes, it will leave you hanging)


7.  Dash & Lily (Netflix)


A boy with a broken heart and a naive but optimistic young girl embark on a series of dares via a notebook they hide around New York City.

Now that we’ve all seen “The Queen’s Gambit (see below),” we needed another bingeworthy Netflix show, and thank you, Netflix for “Dash and Lily,” which will be the next big thing, and it’s here just in time for the holidays to take our minds off of lockdown.

“The Queen’s Gambit” was about chess, “Dash and Lily” is about books…well, a notebook... and romance. Based on the young adult series "Dash & Lily's Book of Dares" by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, the series plays out in eight 25+ minute episodes (totally bingeworthy), we meet Dash (Austin Abrams), a handsome New Yorker, who is nursing a broken heart and is humbug about Christmas. Lily (Midori Francis) is his opposite. She loves the holidays and is looking for love but she is also socially shy and awkward. She has planted a notebook in the famous NYC Strand Book Store with a series of dares for anyone up to the challenge. Dash finds the notebook and embarks on the dares and then dares Lily. They leave the notebook in places around NYC with new dares for each other. Will they meet? The anticipation is half the fun and you care because these are two engaging young actors. And, yes, it’s a rom-com and it’s about young people but all ages will enjoy if you remember what falling in love is like.

Filmed prer-Covid, this is a love letter to New York City, too, showcasing its delights as Dash and Lily dash about the City, and it will put you in the holiday spirit.
Rosy the Reviewer says…it’s quirky and funny and utterly charming and isn’t charm something we sorely need right now?


8Emily in Paris (Netflix)


A young American girl from the Midwest gets a chance to live and work in Paris.

Emily (Lily Collins, yes, Phil's daughter) is a driven 20-something from Chicago who gets an unexpected job opportunity and moves to Paris. She is supposed to bring an American point of view to a French marketing firm. However, the Parisiens she works with not only don't think much of her Midwestern upbringing, they don't think much of America either. Emily is a fish-out-of-water, but there's a twist. She doesn't know it.  She thinks she is cool and swans around Paris like she owns the place. Her colleagues make fun of her behind her back and put roadblocks in her way, but this girl has pluck (don't you just love the word "pluck?") and some handsome suitors.

Created by Darren Star, this is a sort of Parisien version of "Sex and the City," and it's just as much fun. It's frothy, Lily Collins is a delight and so is Paris. So sit back and do some armchair traveling as Emily takes Paris by storm in some great clothes! Ooh la-la, the clothes!

Rosy the Reviewer says...rom-com fans rejoice and, ah, Paris, armchair travelers will also enjoy. Une délicieuse petite aventure.


9.  The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix)



The true story of the Chicago 7 arrested for protesting at the 1968 Democratic Convention.

And the wheels go round and round.

Don’t think writer/director Aaron Sorkin, the creator of “The West Wing,” doesn’t draw some connections between the trial of the Chicago 7 and the protests of the late 60’s to present day events. He does.

What became known as "The Chicago Seven" was a disparate group of organizers and protesters: Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), John Froines (Danny Flaherty) and Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins), who along with Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the current President of the Black Panther Party, were arrested and tried for crossing state lines to incite riots during the 1968 Democratic Convention when in fact they were there protesting the Vietnam War. They all had their own issues and causes and what they deemed appropriate protest. I mean, Abbie Hoffman was a Yippie who liked to plan over-the-top theatrical protests, Dellinger was a pacifist who promoted non-violent change and Hayden was one of the founders of the SDS - Students for a Democratic Society - and not particularly against violence but what they all had in common was a shared hatred of the Vietnam War. However, despite their differences, but they were rounded up and treated as one entity - The Chicago Seven.

Mark Rylance plays their attorney, William Kunstler, and Frank Langella plays Judge Julius Hoffman as rather senile, which would explain why the trial was such a circus.

Ah, 1968, the year that Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, racism and political corruption abounded and the draft lottery sent 35,000 young men to Vietnam, some of whom were my friends. Hell, my ex-husband was sent there six months after we got married. Some of that from 1968 may sound familiar, except we Baby Boomers had Vietnam and now this generation has Covid. Both wars and still lots to protest.
And the wheels go round and round.
Rosy the Reviewer says…it’s a star-studded cast and a compelling story that resonates today. And next time you Gen-X-ers and Z-s sigh and say “Okayyyy, Boomers,” to your parents or grandparents, and blame us for where we are today, think twice. We had our own stuff. We tried to change things. Now it's your turn.




10.  The Queen's Gambit (Netflix)


Young orphan Beth Harmon becomes a chess prodigy and learns that success has a price.

This has been the hit of quarantine.

First there was "The Tiger King (remember that one? - we weren't quite as evolved then as we are now!)," and then there was "The Queen's Gambit." They actually have nothing in common except "The Tiger King" was a Netflix phenomenon and so is this one. In fact, "The Queen's Gambit" has become the most watched scripted series of all time for Netflix.

Beth Harmon has not had a good life. Orphaned in the 50's at a young age, sent to an orphanage and lonely, she befriended the janitor who taught her how to play chess. She quickly proves to be a prodigy at the game and starts entering competitions.

And then the older Beth (Anya Taylor-Joy) takes the chess world by storm, something that was the world of men, and now there is Beth and she is crushing everyone. But here's the thing. Beth has some major emotional problems and a drug and alcohol addiction.

Speaking of taking the world by storm. That is what Anya Taylor-Joy has done. Not just with this, but her early foray into feature films was "The Witch," a film I didn't really like but I liked her. And in just five short years, she has a long resume that includes her most recent film, "Emma," which by the way was the very last film I saw in a theatre. She is a beautiful, talented actress who really shows what she's got in this incredibly mesmerizing series.

However, I also have to give a shout-out to Marielle Heller, who played Beth's foster mother. She went from an unsympathetic character who drank a bit, okay, a lot, and didn't understand her adopted daughter to become a lynchpin and huge supporter of Beth's career. Heller is also the writer/director of "Diary of a Teenage Girl" and the director of "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" and "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" - three movies I loved. So she is a successful writer and director and now we know she can also act. Keep your eye out for her!

Anyway, yes, this film is about chess, but don't let that turn you off.

It's about chess, but so much more. I mean, c'mon, "The Tiger King" was about big cat zoos, and you watched that one. This miniseries, which is not a documentary, by the way, but a dramatic series, might just make chess the next big thing! But this is so, so much better than "The Tiger King" and so much more than just about chess. Let's just say, chess is a metaphor here. And Beth Harmon is our new kick-ass woman!

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you don't want to be the only one who hasn't seen this show, better get out the remote! Trust me, you won't be sorry!

NOTE: You might notice one obvious series that is missing - "The Crown." Duh. Yes, I binged on that one too but hasn't everyone?

Thanks for reading!

See you again soon!



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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 IMDB.com, 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.

Friday, October 25, 2019

"Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the documentaries "Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story" now streaming on Amazon Prime as well as the documentaries "Maiden" and "The Biggest Little Farm," now on DVD.  The Book of the Week is Demi Moore's memoir "Inside Out."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "The Bitter Tea of General Yen."]



Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story


The aftermath of comedian Kathy Griffin posting a picture of herself holding the bloody likeness of Donald Trump's severed head.

I wanted to review this film because of what happened to Kathy Griffin after that picture came out back in May of 2017.  You all have probably forgotten the picture right after it was posted, but Donald Trump didn't and he didn't like Kathy Griffin for posting it. And when Donald Trump doesn't like someone, he goes after that person with full force, and in this case, he had the full force of the United States Presidency. 

Whether or not you thought her putting out that picture was funny or in good taste or not, this is a free speech country and it's pretty shocking what happened to Kathy.

Almost immediately after Kathy posted the picture on May 30, 2017, her career was ruined. First, she lost her New Year's Eve gig on CNN, then all of her upcoming comedy shows were canceled and no one would take her calls, which is death to the career of a performer.  Even though she apologized for the picture, almost overnight, she basically could not make a living in the U.S. So she had to leave the country and tour overseas, which was also a problem, since she was put on the no-fly list and was hassled by Homeland Security going through customs in every country. She was also accused of being a member of ISIS and inciting people to kill the President. She endured death threats and was plagued by the Department of Justice. She even had a ketchup bottle thrown at her during a concert in New Zealand by a Trump supporter (there's a Trump supporter in New Zealand)?  

Her life turned into a version of hell and this film is her side of the story.

Since that so-called horrible picture was merely Kathy holding a mask of Donald Trump covered in ketchup, I thought what happened to her was very unfair and the reaction overdramatic, so I wanted to review the film.

Written by Griffin, directed by Troy Miller, and shot using a cell phone (because Griffin doesn't quite have the resouces she once had), the first part of the film is a rehash of what Griffin has been through since posting the picture followed by one of her comedy performances since then.

Now, I have to say that I have always been a Kathy Griffin fan.  I have seen her live in concert two times and she is funny and amazine.  She is the Bruce Springsteen of comedians.  I mean, she has the energy of a rock star and stands up there for three hours and riffs on everything and everyone from what's happening in the news to pop culture to politics.  She is especially fond of making fun of Kim Kardashian. Kathy has no boundaries (even her mother tells her that!), but I have always thought she was very, very funny.  But I also understand that she is not everyone's cup of tea.  Women comics have it rough, because to make it in show biz, especially the mostly male world of stand-up comedy, you have to be tough and tough women are not often popular with audiences.  

But popular or not, Kathy Griffin did not deserve what she got for posting that picture.

This is an important reminder that we live in a free speech country and what happened to Kathy Griffin should not have happened.  That said, it pains me to say that this film would have been better off without the concert footage. She reads some of the death threats she received and rants about Donald Trump, Anderson Cooper (who turned his back on her), Andy Cohen (who was given her New Year's Eve gig and pretends to not know her), Sarah Huckabee Sanders (who is just generally a pain in the ass), and everyone else who played a role in her being outcast.  

She is really, really pissed off and she deserves to be, but I fear that Kathy has been cursed with the same curse that plagued Lenny Bruce at the end of his life, when he started ranting about the unfairness of his arrests for obscenity and stopped being funny.  Now Kathy is ranting about what happened to her in the guise of comedy, but sadly, it's just not that funny. I miss the old Kathy, but I know that what she has been through has wounded her and bitching about Kim Kardashian doesn't really seem very important or relevant anymore.  But I hope she doesn't go off the deep end like Bruce did, and I'm not talking about a drug overdose.  I'm talking about giving up on what she does best. I know she has to do this now, but I hope she eventually finds a balance between her more light-hearted stuff and her mission to protect the First Amendment.

But that said, this film is still important and needs to be seen.  

Griffin is now dedicating her life to protecting the First Amendment so I applaud her for that.  Making this film took courage, so I want you to see this film, because we need to support the fight for free speech in this country, especially in the political climate we are now in.  Kathy had every right to say and do what she wanted. She held up a mask with blood on it, for god's sake. Why was she targeted when so many other people, especially men, have said and done much worse things when it came to Donald Trump? Comics play a real role in free discussion and should not be gagged, pardon the pun.

Rosy the Reviewer says...what happened to Kathy Griffin was historic and unprecedented, and for that reason, whether you are a Kathy Griffin fan or not, you should see this film. It's also a reminder that this kind of hell should not happen to anyone in our free country. You could be next.



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


On DVD



Maiden (2018)


The true tale of Australian Tracy Edwards and her 1989 bid to win the Whitbread Round the World Race with an all female crew.

I especially like the title of this film because it's so meaningful.  It was the name of the boat that entered the race, it was its maiden voyage and the crew was a bunch of maidens. Well, not exactly maidens.  They were young unmarried twenty-somethings, but they were all bad ass women too.  But here is my first question: Since one person said in the film, "The ocean is always trying to kill you," why would someone want to do this? Well, this film tells you why.

"It wasn't a choice, it was just the sort of thing I had to do."

The Whitbread Round the World Race (now known as The Ocean Race) is the longest race on earth - 33,000 nautical miles and nine months of sailing, not to mention the cost of fitting out a boat, hiring a crew and the danger involved.

Written, produced and directed by Alex Holmes, this documentary tells the story of Tracy Edwards, a twenty-something young woman who was compelled to enter this male dominated race.  Raised by parents who instilled a sense of determination and adventure in her, Edwards learned to be strong after the death of her father when she was 10.  She learned a lesson about male dominance from her mother who tried to run her father's business after his death but was forced out by the male contingent who didn't want to take orders from a woman.  She then remarried an abusive alcoholic and sailing became a way for Edwards to leave all of that behind.

When Edwards got herself a job as a cook on an all-male sailing vessel in the Whitbread, she witnessed again that male dominance when it was made clear to her that she was only there to cook and clean. No woman could be part of the crew for the Whitbread. She was treated like a servant, but that helped her make the decision to put an all female crew together for the race.  She mortgaged her house to buy an old boat that didn't look like it could make it across the English Channel let alone around the world, but when it came to getting a sponsor and the funding needed to enter the race, she met resistance at every turn, until eventually, after two years of frustration, an unlikely source appeared: King Hussein I of Jordan who Edwards had met some years before.

Edwards and other members of the crew narrate the film. 

No one had any faith in the women and misogyny ruled, partly because the men couldn't stand to think they might be bested by women.  And the press was just as bad, treating the men as seasoned sailors but asking the women about fashion and makeup.  But after the women won the first leg of the race, the men started taking them seriously and the women knew they were contenders.  In the end, they knew they had done something very special, something they were all told they couldn't do.


This is a compelling story and moves with breathtaking speed and excitement.  You root for these women.  My only complaint is I wish there had been an epilogue so I could have found out what happened to each of the women after the race, but that's a minor complaint about an amazing film about some amazing women, most notably Edwards who became the first woman to be named Britain's Yachtsman of the Year.

Rosy the Reviewer says...who knew I would love this film?  I can't even swim let alone sail!  But I did!




The Biggest Little Farm (2018)


Filmmaker John Chester and his wife Molly struggle to develop a sustainable farm on 200 acres outside of Los Angeles.

"This all started with a promise he made to a dog."

John and Molly Chester lived in a tiny apartment in Santa Monica.  He was a wildlife cameraman and she was a healthy food blogger, but they had promised each other they would build a life of purpose together and they decided a farm was the answer, a farm where they would grow their own food in perfect harmony with nature.  Easier said than done.  This is the story about how they went from having no money and living in a small apartment in Santa Monica to a 200 acre sustainable farm.

But back to the dog.

John was shooting a film about an animal hoarder and he rescued one of the animals, a little border collie who he and Molly named Todd.

"Todd filled us with purpose."  

And they made a promise to him that his home with them would be his last.  However, the problem was he barked all day long when they were at work and they were eventually evicted from their apartment.  But they were not going to give up on him because they had made him that promise so they decided now was the time to get that farm.

But they had no money.

But several investors who believed in their vision came along and Apricot Lane Farms in Moorpark, California, two hours from Los Angeles, was born.  But the soil was dead and there was a long road ahead to find that sustainability they were after. So they came up with the idea of opening up the farm to young people from all over the world to come and work and by year three there was a 500% improvement.

Chester's skills as a photographer are evident in this beautifully shot film that he also wrote (with Mark Malone) and directed.  You would think a film about a couple starting a farm would be boring, but it's not. It draws you in and is a relaxing, almost soothing experience.  It's almost like a "you are there" experience as they tackle daily life on the farm.  We see bees, a little lamb whose mother died finds a new mom, a pig gives birth (I may never eat bacon again), ducks, and we witness the symbiotic nature of life on a farm.  Everything that dies also brings life.  But a farm is also ripe for disaster.  There is wind, drought and fire to contend with.

I've always been a city girl but even I was drawn into this experience. This film made me realize that we are all part of something much bigger than our individual selves.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you ever dreamed of going back to the earth, this film will take you there.


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


(Author's note:  If you have been following my progress on this project, you will probably notice that the book cover for the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book has changed.  Yes, my peeps, this book comes out in a new edition every couple of years and each new edition adds titles and deletes titles. As of last week, I had wittled my project down to 57 movies to go but decided to update myself and compare the book I had been working on with this new edition. Since I have been using the 2015 edition for this project, I thought I needed to update.

BUT I WAS WRONG!  

Why?  Because all of the movies added are ones I have seen! And basically all of the movies up to the last few years remain and only some fairly recent movies were eliminated to make room for the newer films. So my list of what I still need to see remains.

However, I have to take issue with what was eliminated vs. what was added.  Eliminated from this new edition were Oscar-winning films like "The Theory of Everything," "Life of Pi," "Slumdog Millionaire," "Black Swan" and "Lincoln" with absolutely no explanation to make room for the newer films "Hereditary," "Sorry to Bother You," "The Favourite" and "Phantom Thread," mostly good films but lacking the pedigrees of those that were eliminated.  And to add insult to injury, they kept such horrors as the egregious "Salo," the incomprehensive "Wavelength" and the ridiculous "Blonde Cobra," to name just a few of the films I had to endure during this project. The mind boggles. Just goes to show that one man's "Wavelength" is another woman's "Black Swan."

So the bottom line is this:  if you see a lot of films and have an edition of this book, you probably don't need to update your copy for another ten years. I am still stuck with the same number of movies I need to see and didn't get any off my list that I do still need to see, so I paid $35 for nothing!)



57 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?




The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1932)


A chinese general and a Christian missionary come together during the Chinese Civil War and an unlikely love affair ensues.

Megan Davis (Barbara Stanwyck) has just arrived in China to marry her sweetheart, Robert Strike (Gavin Gordon).  Both are missionaries and their wedding has been planned for that day.  But as soon as Megan arrives, Robert is called upon to save some orphans who are in the midst of the fighting so the wedding is postponed and both head out on their mission of mercy.  You see, our Megan is one of those plucky heroines we loved so much in those old movies.  But the two become separated in the melee and Megan is rescued and taken to the home of General Yen (Nils Asther), a Chinese warlord, where the two become close. 

Directed by the legendary Frank Capra, who was more famous later in his career for his light comedies, this was a melodrama with some mystical elements.  It was also one of Stanwyck's early films and the story had a kind of "The King and I" vibe - the proud General learning a thing or two from the plucky heroine.

An uncharacteristic bathing scene and even the idea of a white woman and a Chinese man falling in love was pretty heady stuff for 1932.  However, characteristically, Yen was not played by a Chinese man but rather a Danish man made to look Chinese in some very overdone makeup, though thankfully he played it straight and avoided cringeworthy stereotyping.  And to the film's credit, the rest of the cast playing Chinese people appeared to be Asian.

Why It's a Must See: "The unlikely love story that ensues is not only Capra's unsung masterpiece but also one of the great Hollywood loves stories of the 1930's: subtle, delicate, moody, mystical and passionate."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like the old Hollywood movies from the 30's, you will enjoy this.



***The Book of the Week***



Inside Out: A Memoir by Demi Moore (2019)



Actress Demi Moore shares her story.

I have to admit that one of my guilty pleasures is celebrity memoirs, the juicier the better and Moore does not disappoint.  Like celebrity gossip, these books are safe.  We can indulge in our darker impulses without hurting anyone.  I mean, I will never meet these folks so it's OK for me to gossip about them, unlike when friends gossip about each other which hurts in real life.

Anyway, Demi, once the highest paid actress in Hollywood, finds herself older, divorced, and convulsing on the floor after puffing on some synthetic pot:

"...How did I get here?  After all the luck and success I'd had as an adult.  After all the running I had to do to survive my childhood.  After a marriage that started out feeling like magic, to the first person I ever really tried to show my whole self to...And, most importantly, after I'd raised three daughters and done everything I could think of to make myself the mother I never had.  Did all of that struggle really add up to nothing?...How did I get here?  This is my story."

Moore puts it all out there: her difficult childhood, her marriage to Bruce Willis, with whom she had three daughters, and her marriage to the much younger Aston Kutcher, who broke her heart and who is now happily married to Mila Kunis and father to their kids. He is supposedly not happy at all about this memoir, especially Demi talking about their threesomes and other personal details. Along with her celebrity, Moore struggled with childhood trauma and her parents' disfunctional marriage, drugs, body image issues, her insecurity about motherhood and the feeling that she really didn't belong in Hollywood.  She talks candidly about all of that and other intimate details, but more importantly, she is now able to reflect on her life and have some peace.

"Everyone scattered for New Year's Eve, and I stayed there at the house by myself.  There was a full moon in the sky that night, and I felt like a full person looking up at it.  I didn't need to jet off to a party.  I didn't need a date.  I felt I had everything I needed.  I belong here.  Here, in myself, in this house, on this planet."

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like juicy celebrity memoirs, this one will not disappoint.  She spills the juice!



Thanks for reading!



See you next Friday

for 


"Maleficent: Mistress of Evil"


and


The Week in Reviews
(What To See and What To Avoid)


as well as


the latest on


"My 1001 Movies I Must See


Before I Die Project" 





If you enjoyed this post, feel free to 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 https://www.facebook.com/rosythereviewer 





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 IMDB.com, 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.