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

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

What I Watched (and Liked) While on My 2021 Summer Stay-cation: Part 2 - Some Good Movies You Might Not Know About

 [I review "Summer of Soul," "Georgetown," "The Last Letter From Your Lover," "Honest Thief," and "Supernova."]


"Summer of Soul...or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised"


A documentary of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival that celebrated African-American music and culture and black pride.

The what?

Who knew that, musically, 1969 wasn't just the year of Woodstock but the year of the Harlem Cultural Festival that also drew hundreds of thousands. Except Woodstock became famous with all kinds of coverage and a feature film and the footage from the "Black Woodstock" languished in a basement for 50 years...until now. Questlove (Ahmir Khalib Thompson) has rescued it and makes his directorial debut with this feature film streaming on Hulu.

After the losses of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and police violence, The Harlem Cultural Festival was a chance to heal and celebrate black music and culture by bringing together some of the most famous black artists to perform in Mount Morris Park. Black Panthers were hired to provide security so that there wasn't a huge police presence.

Forty hours of footage was shot by producer Hal Tulchin but unlike Woodstock, nobody wanted to turn it into a film or show it on TV, so the footage sat dormant in a basement for decades until rescued and made into this wonderful and inspirational film. And after seeing it, one has to wonder why this got no coverage at the time or since. Mmmm, one does.

See a 19-year-old Stevie Wonder come into his own: Sly and the Family Stone kicking the usual proverbial ass; along with Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Fifth Dimension, Hugh Masekela, the stars of gospel and more. A particular moving and controversial segment shows Nina Simone reading a poem by David Nelson that is clearly not flattering to white folks.

She asks the crowd:

“Are you ready, black people? Are you ready to do what is necessary? Are you ready to smash white things, to burn buildings, are you ready? Are you ready to build black things? Black people, are you ready?"

Fred Hampton was killed later that year, and still today, continuing police brutality and deaths of young black men...At the end of the film, I cried, because so little has changed.

But thankfully, the music hasn't changed and is a positive that endures...and this film is a musical extravaganza!

Rosy the Reviewer says...you missed it in 1969 but now you get to be there!

(Now streaming on Hulu)



Georgetown


An ambitious social climber marries a much older but well-connected woman in order to be somebody.

What is it with old ladies who think a handsome, much younger man wants anything to do with them except money?  Don't they know that once they hit 50 they are invisible?  I know, I'm being cynical, but if you have ever seen some of those TV shows about older women being catfished by young men on the Internet, you would be cynical too.

So anyway, that's what this is about and, of course, it's based on a true story, an article "The Worst Marriage in Georgetown."  It's a pretty bad marriage - well, the worst, really - when the husband kills his wife, right?

Ulrich Mott (Christoph Waltz) has arrived in Washington, D.C. from...not sure where.  He has a very mysterious past but so far he has landed a job as an unpaid intern, though at the age of 50, an intern is not how Ulrich sees himself.  The congressman he works for also doesn't see it so he lets him go ("Not a good fit"), but that doesn't stop Ulrich from getting himself invites to "in" parties and attaching himself to the rich and powerful D.C. society.  And it's at just such a party that Ulrich meets Elsa Breht (Vanessa Redgrave), a rich and famous journalist who knows everybody. When they first meet, Elsa is married but Ulrich so charms her, that when her husband dies, they connect again and ultimately get married, he 50 something, she 40 years older.

When the film begins, Ulrich is hosting a dinner party and Elsa's daughter, Amanda (Annette Bening) shows up.  It is clear that Amanda dislikes Ulrich but her mother dismisses her.  After the dinner, Elsa also dismisses Ulrich telling him not to smoke in the house so he goes out for a walk to have a smoke.  When he gets back home, 91-year-old Elsa is dead.  As Keith Morrison says on "Dateline," "Could it be murrrr-der?"

Well, duh.

So in flashback we see how Elsa and Ulrich meet, how he courts her and how she helps open doors for him in D.C. society. She enjoys helping him make a name for himself in D.C.  However, realizing her mother is being woo'd by a gigolo, Amanda tries to intervene but Elsa is one of those old ladies I mentioned earlier.  She thinks she still has it.  She doesn't.  Ah, vanity. But Elsa eventually catches Ulrich in his lies. Turns out our Ulrich not only doesn't like old ladies, he doesn't like girls! 

But for a time, he manages to cast himself as a player, starting The Eminent Persons Group (I mean, who doesn't want to be an "eminent person?) and parlaying his life into that of a kind of diplomat, getting credit for a peace-making mission when in fact he just took credit for what others did.  Ulrich had a knack for being at the right place at the right time and playing whatever cards he could get. Georgetown is a metaphor for social climbing and hanging out in the corridors of power and that is what Ulrich was all about.  He was a genius at sucking up and giving the rich and powerful what they wanted and needed to hear.  

Written by David Auburn (based on Franklin Foer's aforementioned New York Times article) and directed by Waltz, the film captures the wheeling and dealing that goes on behind the scenes in our Capitol, the jockeying for position, the posing, the posers.  It's great to see Waltz, Vanessa Redgrave (who at 84 still looks great, by the way) and Annette Benning chewing that proverbial scenery. I just wish there had been a bit more background on Ulrich. What was his life like before he came to Washington?  What motivated him? Who was he really?

Rosy the Reviewer says...but all-in-all, a satisfying, old-style melodrama brought to life by wonderful performances.

(On DVD and for rent at Amazon Prime)



The Letter from Your Lover



Two parallel love stories 56 years apart.

Ellie Haworth (Felicity Jones) is a journalist who has broken up with her long-time boyfriend. She is tasked to write an article about the recently-deceased editor of her newspaper and while searching the newspaper archives runs across a love letter to someone identified as "J" from "Boot." Intrigued, Ellie is determined to learn who "J" and "Boot" were and what happened to them.

So begins this romantic film starring Felicity Jones and Shailene Woodley.

Flashback to the 1960's, we learn that "J" is married socialite Jennifer Stirling (Woodley) who meets foreign correspondent Anthony O'Hare (Callum Turner) who has arrived on the French Riviera to interview her husband, Laurence (Joe Alwyn). Laurence is called away and Jennifer and Anthony end up spending the summer together. They write little letters to each other signing them "J" and "Boot" but it's all platonic until Jennifer tries to kiss Anthony. He pulls away and rejected, she returns to London. But Anthony contacts her, asking to meet, and thus begins a clandestine love affair and the two decide to run off together. But wouldn't you know, as Jennifer rushes to meet Anthony at the train station she gets in a car crash resulting in amnesia. Yes, it's one of those where the lovers almost get away but one of them doesn't quite make it. I think that storyline started with "An Affair to Remember."

In the meantime, Laurence has found the last letter Anthony wrote Jennifer, the one where he asks her to meet him and he hides the letter. Jennifer desperately tries to regain her memory and finds several letter from "Boot" hidden around the house which in turn leads her to a post office box that Laurence has closed. When Jennifer confronts Laurence, he reveals that he knew about Anthony but that Anthony has died. And that's that. Or is it?

In the present day, Ellie has a sort of relationship with Rory, the newspaper archivist, as they get to know each other while looking for more love letters but she is down on romance because of her recent break-up.

So...will Jennifer and Anthony ever see each other again?  Will Ellie and Rory hook up?

Again, duh.

This is one of those big production, old-fashioned, romantic feature film soap operas that we came to expect from producter Ross Hunter and director Douglas Sirk during the 50's and 60's. Great sets, lavish costumes, exotic locales. Think Lana Turner in "Imitation of Life" or "Portrait in Black." It's all here: lovers thwarted, amnesia, love letters, the lovers trying to reunite but just missing each other - you know, one walks into an elevator while the other walks out, making you go "Noooo!" 

Yes, well-known potboiler tropes but I loved those movies so I loved this film too.  

I have to say that I was rather put off at first by the casting of Shailene Woodley for this, because I think of her as more of a teen action character, not a sophisticated London socialite. She is certainly no Lana Turner.  But she grew on me.  And I always like Felicity Jones. Her charm is her fidgety sweetness.

Written by Nick Payne and Esta Spalding, based on the book by JoJo Moyes and directed by Augustine Frizzell, the film beautifully recreates the mid-60's where we were still wearing hats and gloves.  A side note: Everyone thinks the 60's was all about hippies but that's not true.  I graduated from high school in 1966 and we were still dressing up with hats and gloves to go to church.


Yours truly with her mother, circa 1966.  

It wasn't until the end of the 60's and the early 70's that the hippie ethos really kicked in. 


Yours truly with a friend circa 1971.  I rest my case!


Rosy the Reviewer says.. it doesn't matter that this is predictable and that you know how it will end.  It's an old-fashioned romance and we need a satisfying ending, preferably with some tears attached - mine - and that's what I got. I enjoyed it and if you like romantic dramas, you will too.

(Now streaming on Netflix)

 



Honest Thief




A bank robber (Liam Neeson) falls in love and tries to go straight -- but it ain't workin' out.

I can't resist Liam Neeson movies. His ability to remain stoic in the face of adversity is a thing to behold. I mean who can forget these lines from the first "Taken" movie:

"...what I do have are a very particular set of skills...skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it...But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you."

Liam has made an entire career out of movies and lines like that, and this one is no exception, though I hate to say it's not as good. But if you like to see Liam work his way out of a sticky situation in his usual deadpan way, you will enjoy this.

Liam plays Tom Dolan AKA "The In-and-Out-Bandit," so-called because he has been robbing banks for six years. He gets in, he gets out. But now he is in love with Annie (Kate Walsh) and wants to get his past behind him. He wants to turn himself in, do his time and then get on with this life. But not as easy as it sounds. He calls the FBI to make a deal. He will turn himself in and hand over the money for a minimum sentence. However, here's the problem. THEY DON'T BELIEVE HIM! They have heard too many false confessions before. But when two of the cops finally decide to check his story out, they find the money and decide to keep it! So now poor Liam has to STEAL THE MONEY BACK!

Okay, I know. Implausible? Yes. But entertaining. Yes! It's Liam bloody Neeson. He always delivers.

So we have bent cops, car chases and over-the-top dialogue.

"I will never see you again."

"I promise you will."

"Because I am Liam bloody Neeson!"

I made that last line up but you get the drift.

Written by Steve Allrich and Mark Williams and directed by Williams, it's all very B-movie with lots of "Huh?" moments, e.g. I couldn't figure out how a guy could be stabbed in the scrotum with a pair of scissors and just keep going. But, you know, if you can suspend disbelief and all of that, this is fun.

Rosy the Reviewer says...it's kind of a cartoon but, hey, we love cartoons, right? And it's Liam Bloody Neeson!

(Available on Amazon Prime)



Supernova


Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth play a married couple dealing with dementia.

Sam and Tusker are a married couple who have been together for years, but two years before, Tusker was diagnosed with dementia and now he is declining quickly. The two decide to go on a road trip, one last one, to say goodbye to friends and family but more importantly to spend time together.  Just like a supernova - a star running out of fuel and exploding - so is Tusker's life.

So Sam and Tusker rent an RV and head out to travel around England's Lake District to see friends and family but when Sam discovers that Tusker has a suicide drug, that changes everything.

Written and directed by Harry Macqueen, this is a tender, quiet film that explores how dementia affects not just the person dealing with it, but that person's loved ones as well.

There is a quote highlighted in the film: 

"We will not starve from lack of wonders, but lack of wonder."

 And this film does not lack wonder. Tucci and Firth are wonderful in this, creating a completely believable, loving relationship between these two characters, often without saying a word.  This is probably their best work to date.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you enjoy seeing two consummate actors at the top of their games at work, then this is for you.

(On DVD and available to rent on Hulu, Amazon Prime, Apple+ and Vudu)

Thanks for reading!

See you soon!



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 

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 (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)!

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain (Review)


I have been a huge fan of
Anthony Bourdain's ever since he wrote "Kitchen Confidential," a best-selling and scathing account of what goes on behind the scenes in restaurants.  Because of him, I would never order fish in a restaurant on a Monday. 

After studying at The Culinary Institute, Tony worked himself up to head chef at Les Halles restaurant in New York City and in his forties wrote "Kitchen Confidential," which in turn led to several TV shows where he traveled the world sampling international culture and all kinds of strange food.  It started with "A Cook's Tour" on the Food Network, followed by "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations" and "The Layover" on the Travel Channel and finally "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown" on CNN, which was more travelogue than food show.  He was also a judge on a cooking competition called "The Taste" for three seasons and wrote several other books and articles.  

And I watched and read them all because I loved Tony. He had a certain combination of dark humor and sensitivity that oozed warmth from the television that made me feel like he was my friend. He was also down-to-earth as he toured the world, hanging out with the locals, showing us out-of-the-way spots and teaching us how not to act like tourists.  And he seemed to be at the top of his game.

And then he hanged himself in France while filming "Parts Unknown."

But don't think this is a downer movie.  It is not.  It's all about a life well-lived.  

Through film archive footage and interviews with those who knew him - his second wife, Ottavia Busia, his brother, Christopher Bourdain, friends, colleagues and fellow chefs David Chang and Eric Ripert (Ripert was filming "Parts Unknown" with Tony when he died and found him in his hotel room), a portrait of Tony emerges that covers his life and career and it pulls no punches. He had a heroin habit at one time that he kicked, he had a dark side but he was also a talented writer as well as being a talented chef. Before his success, Tony sent emails to a publisher friend who was blown away by his eloquence and so "Kitchen Confidential" came into being and all that followed.  Success at 43.

But did Tony enjoy being successful?  Did he like being a Food Network star?  No.  He never wanted to be an Emeril or a Bobby Flay.  In fact, he had disdain for the Food Network.  And despite Tony's elan, he was quite self-deprecating and shy. His 30-year-relationship with his first wife fell apart and, even though he found happiness with his second wife, Ottavia Busia, and the birth of a daughter, life on the road - 150 days at a time - took its toll and he started to suffer from agoraphobia. And then a third relationship fell apart.

Does any of that explain why he did it?  

There are no easy answers and this film directed by Morgan Neville (who also directed the wonderful film about Mr. Rogers - "Won't You Be My Neighbor?") doesn't offer them. This is more about Tony's life than his death.  But there seems to be a theme: a smart, charming, sensitive guy who fought demons gets caught up in the fame machine and it chews him up and spits him out.

Hubby and I had the pleasure of meeting Tony.  We attended his one man show in Seattle and had VIP passes to a reception afterwards.  





He autographed his books and took pictures with us.


  

Here I am having my picture taken with Tony, something he must have done with fans hundreds of times.

I remember saying to him how much I enjoyed "The Layover" and he laughed and said he HATED doing that show. He was just so kind and down-to-earth, nary a bit of celebrity preening. He was a superstar who didn't act like one. He oozed warmth and self-deprecation and meeting him, I felt just like I did when I watched him on TV. He felt like a friend.

But now look at this picture. This is a less "official" one. 

You can see how happy I am to have met him, to have an autographed copy of his book, but then look over to the right at Tony.  Look how happy he looks.  He looks happy for ME being happy!  That picture says so much.  He made others happy, but, sadly, it seems he couldn't make himself happy.

So why did he do it? Was it the stress of life on the road? Was it his divorce?  Was it losing his latest love?  Did he feel unlovable?  We will never know.  But one thing I do know.  I loved him. 

Someone says in the film that Tony was always in pain and he tried to outrun it.  I guess he couldn't.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a brilliant documentary about a brilliant life well-lived that burned out too soon. I predict this will win the Oscar for Best Documentary at next year's Academy Awards. (In theatres and available On Demand and from Amazon Prime)

(Note:  I chose not to address the controvery surrounding director Neville's decision to use A.I. to replicate Tony's voice at certain times in the film because I don't really care.  It's a wonderful film.  But I hope it doesn't affect his winning an Oscar).


Thanks for reading!

See you soon!



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 

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 (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)!

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!



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 


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.