Showing posts with label Eve Babitz. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Eve Babitz. Show all posts

Friday, February 8, 2019

"Miss Bala" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "Miss Bala" as well as DVDs "What They Had" and "Suspiria (the new one)." The Book of the Week is "Hollywood's Eve: Eve Babitz and the Secret History of L.A."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with Fellini's "The Nights of Cabiria (Le Notti di Cabiria)"]

Miss Bala

Cautionary tale: What can happen when you are at the wrong place at the wrong time!

Poor Gloria (Gina Rodriguez).  She was at the wrong place at the wrong time.  But not just once.  It happened over and over and over...First she was in a night club that got shot up during an assassination attempt; then she was kidnapped by a corrupt cop; then kidnapped again by the assassins who are also drug dealers and gun runners; then she was kidnapped by the DEA and forced to work for them; then she was in the middle of a gun fight between the bad guys and the DEA; and if that wasn't enough -- she had to win a beauty pageant!

You had to have been there.

Gloria Fuentes is an L.A. makeup artist who hasn't lived in Mexico for quite some time, but when her friend Suzu (Cristina Rodlo), who lives in Tijuana, asks her to come and do her make-up for the Miss Baja California Pageant, Gloria heads to Tijuana.  It's not long before the two find themselves in the midst of an assassination attempt in a nightclub.  Gloria just happens to be in the ladies room when the gunmen gain access to the club through a window there.  The head bad guy, Lino (Ismael Cruz Cordova) grabs her but then tells her to take off.  She does but can't find Suzu.  She dodges bullets and ends up in a cafe calling and calling Suzu until she finally falls asleep.

When Gloria wakes up alone in the cafe, the dust has settled around the nightclub. She sees a police car so head over there and tells the cop that she can identify the gunmen.  He hustles her into his police car to drive her to the station except he doesn't.  He drives her to a hotel where the bad guys are holed up.  You see, everyone in Tijuana, or in this movie at least, are bent, which is hip talk for on the take, crooked, etc. You can't trust anyone. So now Gloria is a hostage of the bad guys and is taken to the home of that head bad guy, Lino, who had originally let her go. And can I say?  He is one hot bad guy.  And the rich head of a big drug/gun running/you name it cartel.

Anyway, she tells him she just wants to find her friend and he says he will help her if she does one little thing for him. You know how that goes.  Drive a car and park it around a corner.  She does that only to discover that the car was full of explosives and she had parked the car in from of a DEA safe house which Lino and his pals then blow up.

But Gloria manages to escape from hot Lino only to be picked up by the DEA who have had their eyes on her and who are not happy about her role in the explosion which killed a bunch of their guys.  Once again, she says she is a victim and just wants to find her friend.  The head DEA guy, Brian Reich (Matt Lauria), says OK, but now you have to help us.  Go back and plant this tracking device in Lino's phone. So now she has to be a mole for the DEA and...wait for it.... she has to also win the Miss Baja California beauty contest.

Exhausted yet?  Well, you can imagine how Gloria must feel.  Geez.

Will Gloria ever escape all of this bad stuff?  What happened to her friend? Will Gloria ever find her?  Will she win the beauty pageant?

Well, you know she will, but not without going through a bunch of other stuff and then turning all Scarface on everyone.  When she picked up the AR-15, I half expected to hear "Say hello to my little friend." I also expected to hear what Miss Bala meant.  At first I thought it was the name of the beauty pageant but then I looked it up. It means "Miss Bullet" in Spanish, so there you go... That sort of sums it all up. The message in this film is don't mess with Gina Rodriguez.  The other message is here comes a sequel!

Gina Rodriguez is not your classically beautiful Hollywood actress which is probably why she has been doing so well lately. She looks like a regular person.  Us regular persons can identify with her so when she goes through all of this impossible stuff we root for her.  And even if we don't believe in beauty pageants, we root for her to win that as well.

Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who also directed the first "Twilight" movie as well as the poignant "Miss You Already," with a screenplay by Gareth Cunnet-Alcocer, this is a remake of Gerardo Neranjo's 2011 film of the same name, and word on the street is that it's been given the Hollywood treatment and lost much of the message of the original.  I didn't see the first one, but this one screams of Lifetime Movie.  I mean how many sticky situations does this poor girl need to get herself out of?  

This is also the second or third film I've seen in as many months where Mexicans are portrayed as gun-toting members of drug cartels not to mention that practically everyone Gloria meets in Mexico is crooked or corrupt. I am not of Mexican descent nor do I live in Mexico, but even I am getting a bit tired and uncomfortable when I see these constant stereotypes on screen - drug-dealing Mexicans and Mexico painted as a hell hole.

So this film isn't going to do much for Mexico-United States relations, but it's a fast-paced, if sometimes unbelievable, ride, and Rodriquez certainly puts her all into it.

Rosy the Reviewer says...but I don't think it's worth rushing out to the theatre to see.  If this one sounds good to you, wait for the DVD.

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


What They Had (2018)

How a parent's dementia affects the whole family.

This is a really wonderful film, but I need to warn you at the outset that this is probably going to be less a film review than the story of my own experience with my mother's dementia.  However, I hope you will read it anyway as this is something so many of us have dealt with or will deal with.  And I do talk about the film.

Bridget (Hilary Swank), who lives in L.A., has arrived in Chicago with her teenage daughter, Emma (Taissa Farmiga).  She has been called there by her brother, Nick (Michael Shannon), because their mother, Ruth (Blythe Danner), is missing.  She has done a runner in the middle of the night. You see, their mother Ruth is suffering from Alzheimer's and their father, Burt (Robert Forster), is in denial.  When Ruth is found, the family has to come to grips and deal with what will happen next.

When Ruth ran off, she had made it as far as the train and was headed back to her old house in Aurora to talk to her mother despite the fact that Ruth's mother has been dead for years.

Personal story, verging on rant, #1: I can't tell you how close this hit to home for me. I have a personal experience very much like this.

My mother had a stroke at the age of 89, a stroke that caused dementia.  I lived thousands of miles away and my older sister also did not live in our hometown where our mother lived alone.  But I think out mother was losing it even before the stroke.  I am sure that people who experience early dementia know something isn't quite right and they become adept at hiding their confusion. They also come in and out of clarity. Since our father had died almost ten years earlier and our mother had lived alone ever since, only phone calls kept us in touch so things were probably deteriorating for our mother even before the stroke. The first time I realized my mother wasn't doing well was when she asked me if I had children.  What a shock that was since she loved my kids.  

Anyway, the decision was made by my older sister to put my mother in a facility.  I am not going to go into detail about how or why that happened but it happened. So I can totally relate to the tension and disruption in the family in this film as they all try to decide what to do about Ruth.  In my mother's case, when she was in the nursing home, she knew enough that she wasn't at home with her family and she, too, was a runner.  So much so that they put a tracking device on her.  But where there is a will there is a way.  The human spirit hangs in there no matter how the mind gets messed up.  Somehow my mother managed to get some money and to talk the doctor into taking off her tracking device and she, like Ruth, headed out.  She boarded a bus and was heading back home to be with her mother until someone ratted her out.

This film is also an uncomfortable reminder for someone my age.  

It brings back bad memories of what happened to my mother and it's not lost on me that Ruth could be me one day. Watching one's mother or father disappear right in front of you makes you challenge your own life.  That's what happens in this film. Bridget must make some decisions about her unhappy marriage; Nick is upset that his girlfriend dumped him because he is avoiding marriage; Emma suffers from depression and wants to drop out of college; and Bert refuses to let go of Ruth until it is all taken out of his hands in a sad twist of fate.

Based on the lives of her own grandparents, writer/director Elizabeth Chomko paints a sympathetic but unsentimental picture of the experience of watching a parent sink into dementia, and it rings true. Dementia is a strange phenomenon where one moment the person we have known is there and then just as quickly, gone.  Ruth seems perfectly OK and then, like my mother asking me if I had children, Ruth asks Burt and her daughter, Bridget, how they know each other. And like my mother riding the bus to find her own mother, so does Ruth. This is a sensitive portrayal of a family coming to grips with their mother's dementia, having to let go of what they had, while at the same time living their present lives and dealing with all of that.  Life has to go on.  Families either come together at times like these or are pulled apart.

Nick believes Ruth needs to be institutionalized. Bridget isn't sure and Burt is emphatic that she stay with him.  And it doesn't help that the doctors and caregivers are all much, much younger and spouting platitudes about how good old folks will feel hanging out with their peers and how much safer they will feel, especially since they can't leave!  The disconnect between the young and the old is apparent.

Who is going to care for Ruth?

Personal story, total rant #2: Here is how I feel about institutionalizing our old folks.  

I totally understand an adult child's fear that something bad will happen to the parent if he or she is living alone and doesn't appear to be able to cope.  I mean, they might burn the house down or fall and lie there for days. So putting our old parents in an institution takes that worry away, right? Well, folks, after seeing what happened to my mother, who did not go into the institution willingly, I think I would rather die in that fire or lie on the floor of my own home than experience some of what my mother did in the last three years of her life: the loss of privacy, the indignity, the loneliness knowing she was no longer with her loved ones.  But that's just  Perhaps there will come a time when I  will no longer want to deal with life anymore and will go willingly.

But this isn't just a story about Ruth and her dementia.  It's also about Bridget and Nick coming to grips with what is happening in their own lives.  There is nothing like seeing your parents waste away while at the same time maintaining a long-standing love affair to make you examine what is going on in your own life.

The acting ensemble is wonderful. Both Hilary Swank and Michael Shannon are the kinds of actors that disappear into their roles, which could account for why they are not bigger stars.  Swank has won an Academy Award and is a bigger name than Shannon, despite the fact that he has been nominated.  I think the problem for him is that he has played a wide range of quirky characters and disappears so completely you don't recognize him the next time you see him.  I mean, he has played every kind of role from a crazed real estate broker in "99 Homes (for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe)" to Elvis in "Elvis and Nixon" to a nutty, sinister FBI guy in "The Shape of Water (with Academy Award nominations in 2009 and 2017)."  I think nutty and sinister are the key words here.  He does nutty and sinister very well. But I think Shannon can probably do just about anything. 

Robert Forster and Blythe Danner round out the ensemble.  Both have had long, successful acting careers but Danner is probably one of our most underrated actresses.  I mean her own daughter, Gwyneth Paltrow, has won an Oscar, and in Danner's over 50 year career, she hasn't.  Where is the justice?

Rosy the Reviewer says...a wonderful little film that will give some comfort to those of us having to deal with our aging parents.

Suspiria (2018)

Turns out a bunch of witches are running a dance studio. I kind of thought that when I was taking dance lessons, but these are REAL witches!

The film begins in 1977 with a mysterious girl (Patricia, played by Chloe Grace Moretz) visiting her shrink, Joseph Klemperer.  She is strange, indeed, but even more strangely tells him that her dance school is run by witches.  Next the film switches to what looks like a farm of Amish people and the mother is dying.  Finally, we are back in Berlin watching Dakota Johnson in a god awful red wig seemingly new in town looking for an address.

Dakota is Susie Bannion, an American girl, who has come to Berlin to audition for a prestigious dance academy.  Even though she has little experience, Susie quickly becomes the protege of Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). What she doesn't know is that she has become part of a dance company run by witches who are always looking for "new blood," and I mean this literally.  They need the blood of young girls to keep their leader, Mother Marcos, alive. 

As for that girl who was seen early in the film visiting her shrink?  We discover that she has mysteriously disappeared from the school. She had left her journals in Klemperer's office and as he reads them he becomes increasingly alarmed and decides to visit the school to investigate.

It takes forever, and I mean F-O-R-E-V-E-R, for Susie to figure out what is going on and it all ends in an over-the-top orgy of blood and sacrifice and Susie's true identity is revealed, all of which will make you say out loud, "What the hell?"  Well, I did anyway.  Good thing I was home alone and not in a crowded theatre, though I have a feeling I wouldn't have been alone in saying that.

Other than over-the-top stories, which this one is, I also have a problem with actors using accents.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.  Here it doesn't because everyone is so inconsistent.  Sometimes the actors speak German (with subtitles); other times they speak with a German accent; and then some others don't.  I get it, already.  We are in Berlin.  Everyone is speaking German. Yes, they might speak in accented English to Susie, who is American, but I don't need to hear accented English when the Germans are speaking to each other.  If actors are going to speak in accented English, I just ask that it be consistent.

But here is something else I didn't like. The dancing is also awful.  I am not a particular fan of the Martha Graham form of modern dance with the strange gyrations, but here it is even worse than usual.  Lots and lots of writhing.  Speaking of which, is there ever going to come a time when Dakota Johnson is not doing some form of sexual writhing?  However, the dancing is used to good effect in a very disturbing scene. When Olga (Elena Fokina), one of the students, accuses the matrons of being witches, she attempts to leave.  She becomes disoriented and finds herself alone in one of the practice rooms and can't get out.  At the same time, Susie is performing a dance for Madame Blanc and all of her movements physically and violently inflict damage on Olga in the other room, as if she is Susie's voodoo doll.  As Susie dances, Olga's body is thrown around the room and contorted with bones breaking and protruding.  Very disturbing. If that was Fokina doing that, bravo!  Or kudos to the stuntwoman - Wow.

Dakota Johnson plays Dakota Johnson which is fine for this role but it is Tilda Swinton who once again amazes.  Let's just say that all of the speaking roles are played by women.  I was flabbergasted to realize that Dr. Klemperer was Swinton!  She also played Madame Markos and that is a sight to see.

Directed by Luca Guadagnino with a screenplay by David Kajganich, this is a remake of the 1977 film written and directed by Dario Argento. I reviewed it last year as part of "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project," it being one of those films we are supposed to see so we can die happy.  

So, how does this remake compare to the original?

First of all, I have to ask "Why?"  Why remake this thing? Wasn't once enough?  I certainly don't think this one will make the "1001 Movies" book.  And for some reason, Suzy has become Susie.  Again, why?  As per my original review, it takes forever for anything to happen, and for a horror film, that's not good, but in this remake it takes even longer. Also, in my original review, I was aware of the upcoming remake and pondered whether it would be as campy and cheesy as that one, and unfortunately, this new one is not, because campy and cheesy would have been a lot more fun than this movie was. And worse?  This one was two and a half hours long. 

But what do the two have in common?  I didn't like either one of them.  

Guadagnino also directed "Call Me By Your Name," one of last year's Oscar nominees for Best Picture.  I didn't like that one either.

Rosy the Reviewer says...even if you like horror, you can skip this one.  No, let's change that - especially if you like horror, you should skip this one.

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

108 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

The Nights of Cabiria (1957)

An eternally optimistic streetwalker tries to find true love only to discover what most of us women already know: men are scum.

Alright, that's a bit harsh.  But if this film is any indication of the true nature of men, I am right on target.

Maria "Cabiria" Ceccarelli (Giuliette Masina) is a sweet little streetwalker, working the streets of Rome.  She is not particularly thrilled to be a prostitute.  In fact she is rather ashamed of it, but she is a proud, optimistic woman who doesn't have a pimp and has managed to save enough money to buy her own place, though, like most of us, she yearns for love and happiness. However, she isn't a very good judge of character when it comes to men.  When we first see her, she is happily cavorting in a field with her new boyfriend, Georgio, who throws her in the river and steals her purse.  She almost drowns but is saved by some young boys who were hanging out by the river.

But Cabiria is your classic plucky hooker with a heart of gold and is an eternal optimist, who just wants to find happiness and a man she can trust, so when she meets Oscar (Francois Perier), an accountant who seems sincere and who wants to marry her, she jumps at the chance, sells her house and plans to run off with him, only to discover all he wanted was the money she got for her house. 

Directed by Federico Fellini, this is one of his more accessible films.  It has a great story, poignancy, and even humor, though we are left hanging as to what will happen to Cabiria.

He has said that of all his characters, Cabiria is the one he was still worried about, an especially poignant statement considering that Cabiria was played by Fellini's wife, Giulietta Masina, a lovely little gamine of a woman who seemed to be channeling Charlie Chaplin at times.

Fellini also said in 1961:

"I think it would be immoral to present a ready-made solution at the end of a movie."

So now we are left to worry about Cabiria too.

I find Italian Neorealism much more accessible in general than it's French counterpart, the French New Wave. I will take Fellini, Rosellini, De Sica and Visconti over Godard and Bresson any day.  But it is Giuiletta Masina who really makes this film work.  You can tell she was Fellini's wife because he focuses entirely on her.  She is indeed a lovely and charming character. So much so that Neil Simon took this story and wrote the book for the musical "Sweet Charity," which was also a popular film starring Shirley MacLaine.

Why it's a Must See: "Giulietta Masina...justifiably won the Best Actress award at Cannes for her portrayal of ...[Cabiria]...[This film] is--like another of Fellini's masterpieces, La Dolce Vita (1960) -- told from the perspective of the underclass, a glimpse at the proverbial other half gilded with optimistic joy but ultimately steeped in sadness."
---"1001 Movie You Must See Before You Die"

This film also won the Oscar in 1958 for Best Foreign Film Oscar.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this is a charming story with a charming, unforgettable heroine. When it comes to Italian Realism vs. French New Wave, for me the Italians win every time.

***The Book of the Week***

Hollywood's Eve: Eve Babitz and the Secret History of L.A. by Lili Anolik (2019)

A biography of writer Eve Babitz and the Hollywood she inhabited.

Eve Babitz is probably not a name you recognize but in the 1960's and 1970's she cut a huge swath in the pop culture world of L.A. 

However, I only know about her because I read her books, "Eve's Hollywood" and "Sex and Rage," fictionalized memoirs of her life in Hollywood. She was my contemporary, outrageous and hilariously funny and her books spoke to me, so I always remembered her but didn't really know that much more about her.  Turns out she was much more than a writer.  She was a Hollywood icon who first came to fame when she was 20 when she posed for a Julian Wasser photo playing chess - naked - with artist Marcel Duchamp, who had then dedicated himself to chess.

She was that kind of gal.  

Unafraid, in your face, funny, sexually active and loving to talk about it. She was also a troublemaker with an aura of danger, a 1960's femme fatale who made no apologies for her behavior and she was exhausting.  All very L.A. in the 60's.  She went on to have affairs with Steve Martin, Jim Morrison, writer Dan Wakefield, and Harrison Ford, to only name a few of her conquests, and she gained entry into the L.A. music and art world when she designed some iconic album covers, most notably the collage album "Buffalo Springfield Again."

The goddaughter of Igor Stravinsky and a graduate of the infamous Hollywood High, she grew up in a home filled with music and literary folks (her father was a cellist). She was a groupie before we knew what those were, a free spirit and a kind of West Coast Dorothy Parker, her opinions and witticisms legendary. She lived life on her own terms. When she started writing, she was discovered by Joan Didion and, after that, Babitz would go on to write seven books  However, she was also one of those exhausting types who never stopped having opinions and loudly proclaiming them as truths, and eventually she burned herself out, literally.  She overdid it with drugs and accidentally set herself on fire in 1997 while driving and lighting a cigar, causing third degree burns over half of her body.  After that she became reclusive and slipped out of sight.

But Anolik discovered her, became a fan and was able to track her down in 2012 to interview her for a "Vanity Fair" article ("All About Eve...and Then Some"), and Babitz was not exactly rediscovered, but discovered, because as Anolik write, Babitz had never been discovered in the first place.  

After Anolik's article, Babitz had a sort of Renaissance. People wanted to know more about her. She filled the "Sex and the City" void. Her books were reissued and articles were written about her and in 2018 at 74 she became the next big thing. Anolik takes pride in her role in that and now Anolik has turned that article and her subsequent friendship with Babitz into this biography, which beautifully captures Babitz's charm and the charm and excitement of L.A. in the 60's and 70's.  

But this is also as much Anolik's memoir of her admiration for and friendship with Babitz as it is a biography.

"Hollywood's Eve" isn't a biography -- at least not in the traditional sense.  It won't attempt to impose narrative structure and logic on life, which is (mostly) incoherent and irrational, lived moment-by-moment and instinctively rather than by grand design and purposefully; or to provide explanation...or reach conclusions...Here's what "Hollywood's Eve" is: a biography in the non-traditional sense; a case history as well as a cultural; a critical appreciation; a sociological study; a psychological commentary; a noir-style mystery; a memoir in disguise; and a philosophical investigation as contrary, speculative, and unresolved as its is above all else: a love story. The lover, me. The love object, Eve Babitz, the louche, the wayward, headlong, hidden genius of Los Angeles."

It's all that and also just a good old-fashioned enjoyable read.

Rosy the Reviewer need to acquaint yourself with Babitz, especially if you are a Baby Boomer.  Read this, then read her books or vice versa.  You will thank me.

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday


"What Men Want"


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" 

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Go to, 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.