Showing posts with label Heaven and Earth Magic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Heaven and Earth Magic. Show all posts

Friday, March 13, 2020

"The Way Back" and the Week in Reviews

[I review the new Ben Affleck movie "The Way Back" as well as DVDs "Queen & Slim" and "Married Life." The Book of the Week is a novel: "The Turn of the Key" by Ruth Ware.  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Heaven and Earth Magic."]

The Way Back

An alcoholic ex-high school basketball star who walked away from the game is asked to come back to his alma mater and coach the team.

Jack Cummingham (Ben Affleck) was a high school basketball star, leading his team at Bishop Hayes catholic high school to the championships four years in a row.  But he walked away from the game, turning away from a college scholarship, and now works construction...and drinks...A LOT!  So much that he keeps a beer in his shower. Jack is an unhappy man whose life has taken a bad turn. So when he is asked to come back to his high school and coach the struggling basketball team, Jack has a chance at redemption.  Will he rise to the occasion?

Bishop Hayes is a small Catholic high school with a small losing basketball team. The team consists of quiet but talented Brandon Durrett (Brandon Wilson), who has an unhappy home life; Kenny Dawes (Will Ropp), the school lothario who tells every girl he is thinking of her when he shoots baskets; cocky Marcus (Melvin Gregg), who has a chip on his shoulder; Chubbs Hendricks (Charles Lott Jr.), so named because, he's well chubby; handsome Bobby Freeze (Ben Irving); and team captain, Sam Garcia (Fernando Luis Vega).  None of them has much discipline or game, but when Jack takes over the team, he slowly but surely teaches them that it's the small things, doing the small things well every time that will lead to victory.  So Jack is a good coach but he has a problem keeping his anger and swearing in check, something that doesn't go over well with the team chaplain. I mean, it's a Catholic high school, after all. But despite Jack's edginess, slowly but surely the team starts coming back. And Jack has an impact on each of these boys' lives.

In the meantime, though, Jack has to deal with his alcoholism. We learn that he has demons in his past that are tormenting him. He is a damaged guy but a good guy. He helps each of the boys, but can't seem to help himself. Watching this film I was reminded how we so often have no idea the impact we are having on others through small acts of kindess, and despite how much Jack is suffering, his humanity and empathy wills out.

Written by Brad Ingelsby and directed by Gavin O'Connor, one can't help but compare this film to "Hoosiers," or many other sports films.  A flawed coach with a dark past, small school with an underdog basketball team, the team overcoming odds, the winning point at the buzzer, etc. But despite the sports film tropes we have all come to expect, this film rises above them. O'Connor's direction of the basketball games gives the viewer a you-are-there feeling.  They are real and exciting.  I was all in and I don't even really like sports!

However, the heart of this film is Ben Affleck, and I would think this film is a bit of redemption for him, too, as he has famously struggled with an addiction of his own. He pulls no punches when it comes to Jack's alcoholism.  But I was also reminded what a good actor Affleck is.  It's his ability to show vulnerability and realness that elevates this film above other sports films. I think it's one of the best performances of his career.

Rosy the Reviewer says...predictable sports film but Gavin O'Connor's direction and Ben's performance make it one of the best.

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


Queen & Slim (2019)

A Tinder date gone very wrong.

Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) is a young attorney who has just lost a case and her client got the death penalty.  So what do you do when you are depressed?  Why, you go on Tinder and find a date.  Queen finds Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) and when we meet them they are on their first date at a diner.  Queen isn't that impressed with Slim, especially since he prays before he eats and makes noise when he chews.  She is indeed a Queen and acts like one. These two are not well-suited to each other and will probably never see each other again.

But then...on their way home, Slim is stopped by a racist police officer.  Slim complies to all of his orders, but Queen is not having it.  When the cop opens the trunk to search it, Queen asks him if he has a warrant, and when Slim asks the cop to hurry up because he is cold, that really pisses the cop off and he pulls out his gun. Queen demands his badge number and when she reaches for her cell phone to film the incident, the cop shoots her in the leg. Slim and the cop skuffle and one thing leads to another, with Slim grabbing the cop's gun and shooting him.  And there you have it.  The misery of driving while black in the United States of America. And knowing what their fate will probably be - living while black in America - Queend and Slim, two young people who have just met, take off and go on the run, knowing they can now never turn back.

Quite a first date. Quite a way to get to know someone.

The two head to New Orleans to Queen's Uncle's house.  Not a good feeling about this.  We have two good kids caught in a bad situation exacerbated by one bad decision after another.  This is one of those frustrating films that you know is not going to end well with each bad decision leading to another bad situation to yet another bad decision and on and on.  It's one of those films where you want to yell at the screen, "No, no, no!"

  • First they run out of gas and are picked up by an off duty sheriff.   No-o-o.
  • When the sheriff figures out who they are, they kidnap the sheriff. No-o-o.
  • They accidentally hit a guy and take him to the hospital.               No-o-o.
  • They stop at a bar.  Slim doesn't drink but then he does.              No-o-o.
  • They decide to go to Cuba and trust a guy to get them there.       No-o-o.

Queen and Slim are on the run with a $500,000 reward on their heads but as they make their way from Cleveland to New Orleans to Florida, and eventually, they hope, to Cuba, the dash cam video of the cop altercation is made public and their story hits a chord with the public.  They become folk heroes, a modern version of Bonnie and Clyde.

Kaluuya made a big splash in "Get Out" and has proven to be a reliable actor. Turner-Smith is a newcomer to feature films, having spent the last couple of years on TV, but this film has made her a star.  The two have screen chemistry and incredible presence.

Directed by Melina Matsoukas and written by Lena Waithe, the current darling of the screenwriting world, this is clearly an indictment of not just driving while black in America but being black in America.

Rosy the Reviewer intense, special film about race in the United States that is also a reminder to stay away from Tinder.

Married Life (2007)

Who knew that "married life" involved lying, affairs and plotting your wife's murder?

Writer/director Ira Sachs apparently thinks that's how it works in this stylish, 1940's noir look at a married man, his love for his mistress, and his plot to murder his wife to save her from the humiliation and suffering of divorce. Now that's a good one!  (Sachs, with Oren Moverman, has adapted the story from John Bingham's 1955 novel "Five Roundabouts to Heaven.")

Harry (Chris Cooper) and Pat (Patricia Clarkson) have been married for a long time, but as happens in longtime marriages, they have parted ways emotionally.  Pat thinks sex is the most important thing in a marriage; Harry wants more emotion and connection.  So Harry has found Kay (Rachel McAdams), who fulfills those needs (it doesn't hurt that she is much younger than Pat), and he wants out of his marriage so he can marry Kay.  But divorce doesn't seem to be an option.  Killing Pat seems to be the best option.  Seems like an episode of "Dateline!" So Harry sets about poisoning Pat.

All of this is observed by Richard, Harry's best friend (Pierce Brosnan), a long-time bachelor and lothario. But wouldn't you know, Richard has a hankering for Kay too, so he wants to make sure Pat and Harry stay married, and while Kay languishes in her safe house, only seeing Harry when he can get away from Pat, Richard moves in on her.  Meanwhile, it seems Pat is doing a little dilly dallying of her own!  Such is married life!

Not sure how I missed this film the first time around, since this is the kind of story I enjoy.  I especially enjoy Pierce Brosnan, who just seems to be getting more handsome and suave as he gets older. Despite the fact that I don't approve of smoking, he certainly looks sexy with a ciggie hanging out of his mouth.  Speaking of which, I haven't seen this much smoking in a film since Bogart was still around.  This film also highlights Chris Cooper as a leading man, which is a rarity.  He has practically cornered the market as a tortured character actor. Rachel McAdams' career took off after "The Notebook," but has slowed down a bit in recent years and that's too bad, because she is a lovely actress.  And Patricia Clarkson?  I don't know what it is, but she seems to be a source of controversy.  She is one of those actors that people either really like or just detest. Not sure why. But the four form a great ensemble in a film that is a cross between film noir and those great romantic potboilers of the 1950's.

Pat says something interesting in the film. You marry a man and make him into the kind of husband you want which makes it even harder when he runs off with another woman.  Now that woman gets to enjoy the man you created.  I had that feeling once.  Long story.

Last week, I reviewed "Frankie," Sach's latest film, which couldn't be more different from this one.  Where "Frankie" had little in the way of plot, lots and lots of walking and talking, and (sorry) frankly lumbered along and was quite boring, this one moves along at a fast pace, has an interesting plot and a sense of humor.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a rather jaundiced view of marriage but a sweet film at the same time.

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

39 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Heaven and Earth Magic (1962)

Described on IMDB as "A series of surreal cutout animation imagery, largely without a discernable narrative."

Oh, geez. Not another avante-garde film! 

Director Harry Smith, who died in 1991, was a visual artist, experimental filmmaker, record collector, bohemian and mystic.  He was an important figure in the Beat Generation in NYC and is credited with anticipating some aspects of the Hippie movement.  In addition to his experimental films, he is also known for his influential "Anthology of American Folk Music," which was drawn from his extensive collection of out-of-print commercial 78 rpm recordings.

This is one of his most famous film efforts and consists of a series of abstract animated cutouts that reminded me of some aspects of Monty Python and a really irritating soundtrack.  My favorite kind of film.  NOT!  After enduring 60 minutes of this, I couldn't understand why someone would make such a film or why anyone would want to watch it, though it is visually interesting...if you are on acid!

But after seeing a picture of Smith, I maybe have a better idea of why the film was made. 

Why it's a Must See: "Harry Smith is perhaps the least known major figure of American avant-garde cinema.  His films reflect a fascination with alchemy and the occult...[He] attempted to short-circuit the processes of logic and explicit linearity, entering into the realm of the subconscious, automatic, and symbolic."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

If that's the best they can do to explain why this film is one I need to see before I die...

Rosy the Reviewer says...

(Available on YouTube, but you don't need to see this.  Trust me)

***The Book of the Week***

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware (2019)

A young woman takes a nanny job in the Scottish Highlands only to end up in prison for murder.  How did that happen?

Rowan Caine is in prison writing a very long letter to a lawyer, hoping he can help her.  She is charged with killing a child and claims she is innocent.

It all started when she stumbled across an ad for a nanny in the Scottish Highlands.  The salary and benefits seemed too good to be true but Rowan's life wasn't really going anywhere in London so she took a chance and applied -- and got the job!  So there she was in the beautiful Scottish Highlands in a beautiful house with a beautiful family.  What could go wrong?


So as she writes to the lawyer from prison, the story unfolds.  All kinds of strange things happen in that house and the children are hardly perfect.  Left alone for weeks at a time in the strange house with Jack, the strange handyman, what seemed to be a perfect job has turned into a perfect nightmare.

I am clearly a fan of Ware.  I have reviewed her earlier books "The Lying Game," "The Death of Mrs. Westaway," and "The Woman in Cabin 10," and enjoyed them all, though some more than others.  She is a Brit who writes page-turners that would all make great movies. Her characters are well-drawn, the dialogue is believable and there are twists and turns you won't see coming. 

This is one of those stories in a long line of stories featuring young women brought into a spooky household and terrorized. Think of Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw," which just had a recent film remake with the  "The Turning," which I reviewed last January, but this one has some surprises. And it will make a great movie!

Rosy the Reviewer Ware's other books, a page-turner!

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday




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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Check your local library for DVDs and books mentioned.

Next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database).

Go to, 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.