Showing posts with label Florence Foster Jenkins. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Florence Foster Jenkins. Show all posts

Friday, July 29, 2016

"The Fundamentals of Caring" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new Netflix exclusive movie "The Fundamentals of Caring" as well as DVDs "Race" and "I Saw the Light." The Book of the Week is "Florence! Foster!! Jenkins!!!: The Life of the World's Worst Opera Singer."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with Orson Welles' "F for Fake."]

The Fundamentals of Caring

A man suffering from loss becomes a caregiver for a young man with muscular dystrophy. 

  • Care but don't care too much
  • I can't take care of another unless I first take care of myself
  • My needs are equal to the needs of the person I am caring for
  • Caregiving is hard
  • All I can do is do my best and maintain a positive attitude
  • Always remember ALOHA: Ask, Listen, Observe, Help, Ask Again

Those are the fundamentals of caring that Ben Benjamin (Paul Rudd) learned in the six-week class he took on how to be a caregiver. Ben is down and out. He is a failed writer whose young son has died and he has been separated from his wife for two and a half years.  His wife is anxious for a divorce but Ben keeps putting her off, telling her he's not ready so he decides to change his life and become a caregiver.

He finds a client right away, Trevor (Craig Roberts), who is from the U.K. Trevor has a kind of muscular dystrophy that will shorten his life.  Trevor is also a smart ass.

When Ben is asked by Trevor's overprotective mother (Jennifer Ehle) why he became a caregiver, he replies that he likes to help people, but we can see that Ben is clearly suffering himself and needs help.  She warns Ben not to get too close to Trevor because he won't be around forever.

We learn that both Ben and Trevor have had emotional trauma. Trevor's father has been writing to him but Trevor has never forgiven him for leaving when he was three, and Trevor is clearly sad about his father's inattention. Ben can't face the divorce and the loss of his son, so they are both broken people who need each other to heal.

Trevor has a routine that is not supposed to be deviated from but Ben slowly tries to get Trevor out of his routine and out of the house.  Trevor is obsessed with TV, especially a girl who reports from various little known tourist roadside attractions around the country, such as The World's Deepest Pit or Rufus, the World's Biggest Cow.

Ben suggests they go see some of those attractions.  Trevor initially says no, but changes his mind and the two go on a road trip to see some of those sights and, of course, have a series of adventures.

Adventure #1 -they go to see Rufus, the World's Biggest Cow.
Rufus is on the second floor and there is no ADA access so Ben makes a scene and threatens the owner and says if they don't get Trevor up to see Rufus they will sue them. So up and down they drag the wheelchair in a funny scene where, after all of that, Rufus turns out to be a bit of disappointment.

Adventure #2 - they pick up, Dot (Selena Gomez) a young female hitchhiker.  She is a stroppy little thing who asks Trevor all kinds of uncomfortable question such as "Does your penis work?"

Adventure #3 - they help a pregnant girl (Megan Ferguson) who is trying to get to her mother's house before she gives birth.  Her car has broken down and she joins their motley crew.

Adventure #4 - Trevor decides he wants to see his father which turns out about the way you thought it would.

Adventure #5 - someone is following them.  Is it a divorce paper server?  Is it Trevor's over-protective mother?

Adventure #6 - The World's Biggest Pit.

When they all get to the Biggest Pit, we discover who has been following them and all kinds of healing takes place.  Trevor faces the ultimate challenge, gets to pee standing up (Ben asked him what was the main thing he would want to do if cured), Dot leaves them to handle her issues but not before telling Trevor he is handsome and cool and gives him a kiss and Ben finally makes a decision and comes to grips with his life.

This film is very similar to "Me Before You," which I reviewed recently except instead of a young female caregiver taking care of a smart ass Brit, we have a middle-aged guy taking care of a young smart ass Brit.  We know they are smart asses because they both do an imitation of Daniel Day-Lewis in "My Left Foot" to scare and test their caregiver's ability to deal with someone with disabilities.
Both films feature a difficult sarcastic patient, an inexperienced caregiver and a healing road trip.  Each patient also had a mission.  In "Me Before You (let's call it MBY so I don't have to keep typing the full title), Will wanted to kill himself.  In this one, Trevor wants to meet his Dad who had been out of his life.  Like, MBY, this film also involves a road trip and both carer and caregiver learning about themselves.  However, there is no romance in this one, though you could make a case that it's a sort of bromance.

Ben learns that the "Fundamentals of Caring" apply, not just to his caregiving role, but to his life.

There are some "Huh?" moments such as getting a motel room and letting Dot, a total stranger hitchhiker, stay with them in their room.  Hey, these days, even picking up a hitchhiker is difficult to believe.

Writer/director Rob Burnett's film (based on a novel by Jonathan Evison) is sentimental and derivative, and I shouldn't have liked it, but I did, mostly because of Rudd.  Paul Rudd has a charm that exudes from the screen.  Add to that Trevor, with his false bravado, and Dot, with her street wise cockiness, and some original dialogue and situations, and it's an interesting combination that results in a satisfying 90 minutes. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...yes, you have seen inspirational life-affirming stories like this before, but this one has some originality and Rudd adds some charm.

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

Now on DVD

Race (2016)

Dramatization of Jesse Owens' triumphs at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin in the shadow of Hitler and his vision of Aryan supremacy.

The film begins in the fall of 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression as young Jesse Owens (Stephan James) heads to college at Ohio State.  He has a girl at home, Ruth (Shanice Banton), and a baby.  He promises to marry her when he gets home.  When Jesse arrives at college, he meets the track coach, Lawrence Snyder (Jason Sudeikis) who is initially unimpressed, and right away we see the racism black athletes had to endure.  He is pushed around in the locker room by the all-white football players and has to listen to a liberal use of the "N-word."  You see, black guys were not allowed to play football. 

As is usually the case with these kinds of films, the coach doesn't know anything much about Jesse, he takes him for granted, and the coach has his own problems, so that we can all enjoy the big reveal when the coach times Jesse for the first time and Jesse blows him away. 

At track meets, the black athletes were booed and sometimes screwed out of their record breaking times by white time keepers. Owens had to not only be good, he had to not only be better, he had to be so far ahead of everyone else that there could be no question that he broke the record, because at that time, if the white world couldn't stand for black athletes to compete, they certainly couldn't stand for them to break records set by whites. 

But success and stardom appears to break the color barrier. Where once Jesse was booed and was a parish, when he starts winning everything, everyone wants to hug him.  So I guess winning has no color - and I also have to add, not sure about that message.

Like "The Natural," a woman screws Jesse up a bit (we women always get the blame), and when Ruth finds out, she breaks up with Jesse but he sees the error of his ways and tries to get Ruth back in a cute scene where he woos her in the beauty shop with all of the ladies looking on.

The film is centered around the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.  Members of the Olympic Committee argued about whether they should go or not in light of "rumors" of what the Nazis were up to.  They decide to compete, but Jesse is pressured by the NAACP not to compete because of Hitler.  What a horrible dilemma. To be held up as the symbol of your whole race and have to make a decision about giving up your dream.

"On the track when I run, I'm free.  In those ten seconds, there's no black or white only fast and slow."

Jesse decides not to go.  He doesn't want to be an example for black people and endure the pressure of standing up for a whole race.  An hour and ten minutes into the film, I was sure there was going to be a little black kid who would look up at Jesse and say something that would inspire him to change his mind and go, but it was actually his rival Eulace Peacock (Shamier Anderson) who gives him a pep talk. 

Jesse tells Ruth, "If I lose, it means those Nazis were right," to which Ruth replies, "Don't think so much, Jesse.  It's not what you're good at."  The wisdom of women.  Let us do the thinking.

He decides to go and we all know how that turned out.  He kicked those Nazi asses and history was made.

Stephan James does a good job as Owens. It's taken me awhile to believe Jason Sudeikis as a dramatic actor because some of his funny bits on SNL are implanted in my brain but he is believable here.

There is a little side plot with Leni Reifenstahl, played by Carice Van Houten, who "Game of Thrones" fans will recognize as The Red Woman, at odds with Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's Minister of Propaganda. Riefenstahl was Hitler's personal filmmaker who he hired to glorify The Third Reich (and I think there was a little hanky-panky going on as well). She famously filmed the propaganda film "Triumph of the Will," and naturally he wanted her to film the games to also glorify Germany (some of her actual footage is included in the film). 

Even though you may be familiar with Jesse Owens' story and you know how it all turns out, you will keep watching this film, because you want to see Jesse prove the Nazis wrong at the Olympics. You also get to have a taste of what it might have felt like for a young kid from Ohio finding himself with the weight of the black community on his shoulders, representing them in front of the world.  And when Jesse befriends a Jewish athlete, he gets a taste of what they were going through too in some nice cinematic moments.

The title is a good one when you think about the levels this film is exploring: Race - running; Race - Jesse pressured to represent the black race; Race - Hitler's vision of a master race.

A good biopic depends on accuracy, but also it needs to show us something new and make us feel something about the subject, or the film might as well be a documentary, and director Stephen Hopkins and writers Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse succeeded.  I not only learned about Jesse Owens, I felt for him, rooted for him throughout the film and felt uplifted by his story of courage against great odds. 

However, his winning at the Berlin Olympics didn't really change that much for Owens at home in regards to racial inequality.  A final scene shows Owens and Ruth attending a banquet at a hotel where he is the guest of honor -- and they are told they must enter by the service entrance.

Rosy the Reviewer says...good family fare but also a good sports film with an inspirational message about a sad time in human history and a reminder that we still have miles to go.

I Saw the Light (2015)

Biopic of country legend Hank Williams.

Hank Williams was one of the biggest stars ever in country music and wrote some of the most iconic songs when he was only in his twenties ("Jambalaya" "Hey Good Lookin," "(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle," "Your Cheatin' Heart," "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," "Cold Cold Heart," "(I Can't Help It If I'm" Still in Love With You," and many more).

Written and directed by Marc Abraham (based on a biography by Colin Escott), the film begins with young Hank (Tom Hiddleston) marrying his first wife, Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen) in an auto repair shop by a justice of the peace.  Audrey and Hank are a singing duo, though calling what Audrey does singing is stretching it a bit.  Hank is only in his early 20's and has a 6:30am singing radio show but his drinking and carousing are already causing problems with his career and his marriage so he goes to rehab.

Hank finally wins his dream and makes it to the Grand Ole Opry, the holy grail of every country singer. He is a big hit, but sadly he starts drinking again and the film becomes a tale of the excesses of success and the pressures placed on him to perform, even though he wasn't well. He was born with a mild form of spina bifida and took pain pills for that but exaserbated his condition with prolific drinking and drug taking. Williams died in the back seat of his car on his way to a concert at the age of 29.

A highly dramatic story, but for the drama that was Hank Williams's life, the film is strangely flat and took an hour to get going.  Though it's easy for a story like this to fall into soap opera, I would have liked a bit more drama and a bit more exploration of why Williams couldn't pull it together. We didn't really learn anything new.  And there should have been more singing.  I'm not sure, but it seemed like Hiddleston never sang a whole song all the way through.

Some of you Baby Boomers out there might remember an early film about Williams - "Your Cheatin' Heart (1964)," starring George Hamilton.  Though his playing Williams seems almost laughable today, I remember him as actually being quite good and I liked the film, though grain of salt time, I was 16 and had probably not yet honed my incredible movie critiquing skills. 

Hiddleston also might seem to be a strange choice to play Williams since he is a Brit and is right now probably more famous with Americans for being Taylor Swift's main squeeze than the excellent actor he is, but he pulled it off albeit he looked way too old to be a 20 something and was a bit phlegmatic. But he did his own singing and he was credible.  Elizabeth Olson is one of our more underrated actresses.  She was believable as the ambitious but talentless Audrey.

One of Williams's last songs was "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive," and he never did.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a nice depiction of the times but I wish the story had been a bit more dramatic and that there had been more Hank Williams music.

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

242 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

F is for Fake (1973)

A free-form documentary or film essay about trickery, magic and deceit by movie genius Orson Welles that focuses on the famous Clifford Irving - Howard Hughes hoax of the 1970's.

You can't beat a film with Orson Welles narrating.  That voice.  I don't care what the film is about or whether I understand what is going on or not, I can't resist that voice.

This is loosely a documentary about the famous hoax perpetrated by Clifford Irving, where he tried to sell a fake biography about Howard Hughes.  This was back when Hughes was a recluse and no one had heard from him in years, so an authorized biography about him was a huge deal back in the 70's.   Unfortunately, it was a fake.

If you didn't know about the Clifford Irving/Howard Hughes hoax, you might be confused about this film because it goes all over the place.  Irving had come to fame when he wrote a book called "Fake," about one of the most famous art forgers in the world, Elmyr de Hory.  It was a bestseller, and it exposed art experts who couldn't tell the difference between a real Modligliana and one that Elmyr had painted.  With the nod of a head, a so-called art expert can make a painting worth thoursands or millions so it was a milestone book where Irving punctured the pomposity of the art world.  There was also an implication that everyone in the art world was complicit and in the end, no one really cared whether a painting was fake or not.  Quite an idea! 

Welles starts the film wearing a huge cape (he was already having weight issues) and a jaunty hat and doing magic tricks for children.  Welles himself had always had a fascination for magic.  He assures us at the beginning of the film that everything he is going to tell us during the next hour will be true.  It's all very free form and Welles is clearly having fun with this.

He starts with a portrait of Elmyr and his story.  Elmyr was the consummate art forger.  His fakes were so good that some probably hang in museums today.  The art world was duped by him and now his fakes are also valuable. He had wandered Europe until settling in Ibiza and that's where we find him in this film.

As depicted in this film, Elmyr is quite proud of his work and implies that his paintings are as good as the originals. That may be true in what the painting looks like, but the difference between the forger and the original artist is that the original artist CREATED the painting, had the idea and created it.  The forger merely RE-created it.  Big difference, in my mind.  But you have to have quite an ego to have a career as an art forger.

So now back to Clifford Irving.  With that credential, his bestseller about Emyr, Irving set out to sell a book that was supposedly an autobiography written by Howard Hughes that Irving had supposedly written for Hughes through personal interviews.  Well, this was the time when Hughes was famously ensconced in Las Vegas overseen by Mormon bodyguards.  No one had seen him for years so Irving probably thought no one could refute it's authenticity but Hughes came out of hiding via a telephone conversation and refuted the book. Irving had created a whole scenario around this scheme with fake names and money being transferred hither and yon. So he had to confess to the hoax and was sentenced to prison where he spent 17 months.  But as these go, he later wrote and published a book called "The Hoax (1981)," so in the end he not only became famous but rich.

So basically, here we have a movie about a guy who wrote a book about a faker who was himself a fake. 

This was Welles' last completed feature film before his death. Welles doesn't just narrate the film in his mellifluous voice, but swans around in his cape, hat and cane. He not only chews the scenery, he gnaws a big hole in it.  But he is always fun to watch, no matter what he is doing. 

And since this film is about fakery, we can't not talk about Welles' own bit of fakery when he made that infamous radio broadcast "War of the Worlds," where it was announced Martians had landed.  Though there was a disclaimer at the beginning of the broadcast, many did not hear that and believed that Martians really had landed and started to panic.  Just imagine - no TV, no Internet, no Twitter, just your radio telling you that the Martians had landed.  You would probably be scared too.

One can't help but wonder if this film has really passed the test of time.  People today probably don't know anything about the hoax, about Irving or even Howard Hughes, for that matter, so if not, this film probably won't make much sense. 

At the end of the film, Welles reminds us that he said he would tell the truth for an hour, but since the film lasts for 88 minutes, when did he stop telling the truth?

Picasso said, "Art is a lie, a lie that makes us realize the truth."

Is Welles saying that movies are also lies and fakes?

So we not only have a movie about a guy who wrote a book about a faker who was himself a fake.   We also have a movie by a faker making a statement about fakery.

Why it's a Must See:  "[This] has been called 'Welles's happiest film.' Yet it's possible to detect in it that undertow of melancholy that tinges all of his work...Yet the ultimate message is one of affirmation.  In the long run, says, Welles, 'Our songs will all be silenced.  But what of it?  Go on singing."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...Orson Welles was a genius who made movies that made us think.  He only had a small body of work so anything he did should be seen and relished. As long as we continue to watch his films his song will not be silenced and he can go on singing!

***Book of the Week***

Florence! Foster!! Jenkins!!!: The Life of the World's Worst Opera Singer by Darryl W. Bullock

When you have enough money and charm, you can buy yourself a singing career -- even if you can't sing!

Florence Foster Jenkins was a turn-of-the twentieth century socialite and wannabe opera singer.  She had the money to back up her socialite status but not the talent to back up her singing career. She couldn't even really carry a tune. However, that did not stop her. She funded her own recordings and concerts and at the age of 76 performed at Carnegie Hall.  Despite her lack of talent, her concerts were routinely sold out. 

How bad was she?  She was so bad that she was good. Her "caterwauling" and over-the-top costumes (a favorite was "The Angel of Inspiration complete with wings and tiara) drew crowds because, as one of her accompanists remarked,

"As usual she was slightly off-key and substituted shrieks for some of the high notes...Everyone wanted to get invited to [her concerts] because it was such fun to try and keep from laughing."

A 1943 Time Magazine article read:

"The audience, as Mrs. Jenkins' audiences invariably do, behaved badly.  In the back of the hall men and women in full evening dress made no attempt to control their laughter.  Dignified gentlemen sat with handkerchiefs stuffed in their mouths and tears of mirth streaming down their cheeks. But Mrs. Jenkins went bravely on."

However, because Mrs. Jenkins was so well-liked and well-connected, no one had the heart to really crucify her in print, though after her Carnegie Hall recital, Richard S. Davis wrote in the "Milwaukee Journal:" 

"The mere appearance of the singer provoked a prolonged wave of titters. She was wearing a pale peach gown that was nothing short of a masterpiece.  Bright gems glittered at her bosom, around her throat and on her fingers, but the sensation of her costume was an immense fan of orange and white feathers.  She waved it coyly at the multitude and laid it on the piano. And then she sang, or whatever..."

Despite the fact that few of her recordings exist today, celebrities such as Barbra Streisand and the late David Bowie were big fans.

See what you think.

It appears that Meryl Streep is also a fan because a movie about Jenkins starring Streep will be released August 12.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this is a slight but well researched biography that will be a quick read before you see the film!

That's it for this week!

Thanks for reading!

See you Tuesday for

 "Why a Woman of a Certain Age Hates Summer"

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