Showing posts with label Holly Madison. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Holly Madison. Show all posts

Friday, January 1, 2016

"Joy" and The Week in Reviews

[I review Jennifer Lawrence's new movie "Joy" and the DVDs "The Man From U.N.C.L.E" and The Who documentary "Lambert & Stamp."  The Book of the Week is "Down the Rabbit Hole." I also bring you up-to-date on my "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "The Bird with The Crystal Plumage"]


The story of a woman whose little invention saves her from a life of underachieving, based on the life of Joy Mangano, known for her invention of the Miracle Mop.

Joy starts out in life as a cheerful, inventive little girl.  She was valedictorian in high school and ready to head to college. But when her parents divorced, she stayed behind to help her mother cope and her father with his automotive business.  She married the wrong guy, had kids, got stuck in a dead end job and all of that promise and hope for the future that she had as a girl seemed to disappear.

Joy's mother, Terry (Virginia Madsen) is confined to her bedroom of her own volition so she can watch soaps all day.  Joy's ex-husband, Tony (Edgar Ramirez), an aspiring singer, lives in the basement and is soon joined by her father, Rudy (Robert De Niro), who has been kicked out by wife #2.  The two men hate each other.

Joy's grandmother, Mimi (Diane Ladd) lives with her, too, but she seems to be the only one who believes in her. (In fact there is a scene where Joy's grandmother gives her a pep talk very similar to Viola Davis' in "The Help" when she tells the little girl, "You is smart...You is kind...You is important."  Remember that one)? 

Anyway, so Joy is pretty much holding it all together but barely. She makes the money, takes care of her kids, waits on her mother, fixes stuff around the house and takes charge of the family. She also has a sister who seems to hate her (Elizabeth Rohm). Hardly the life she had planned. What happened to that inventive little girl who was going to take the world by storm?

But one day while out boating with her Dad and his new girlfriend, Trudy (Isabella Rosellini in a great part) - yes, Trudy and Rudy - wine glasses and red wine are spilled all over Trudy's dead husband's expensive teak deck and once again, Joy takes charge and tries to mop it up.  When she wrings out the mop with her hands, she cuts her hands on the  shards of glass entangled in the mop.  Later, when her life is spinning out of control, Joy has an epiphany and the idea for her self-wringing Miracle Mop is born.

However, her tale doesn't end there. That wouldn't be any fun. This is a rags to riches to rags to riches story - a soap opera if you will - of a woman taking charge of her life.

And speaking of soap operas, if director and screenwriter David O. Russell's point was to make a soap opera, he did.  It's very soapy.  And in case we didn't get the message, he has peopled the film with real life soap stars (Susan Lucci, Donna Mills and others), all over-acting like mad and making fun of themselves in some very funny scenes.  But is Russell making fun of soap operas?  Or is he saying that not only was Joy's life a soap opera, but life in general is a soap opera?

And that's the problem I have with this film.  I didn't know if it was a comedy or a drama, whether I was supposed to laugh or be moved and when some feminist points were being made about overcoming obstacles and making something of yourself, I felt like I was being hit over the head.  I thought Russell was more subtle than that. And I hate to say it, there were also times when I wished I had my TIVO remote and could just fast forward through some of it.  And that made me sad, because so far I have loved Russell's films for their inventiveness and freshness.

Russell, who hit home runs with "American Hustle" and "Silver Linings Playbook," once again works with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, though if you are expecting a lot of screen time for Cooper and a little romance with Lawrence, you will be disappointed.  He is pretty much wasted here as the QVC executive who gives Joy her shot.  When I saw "Hustle" and "Playbook," I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  With Joy, I just died.  Though some scenes were funny or touching, it didn't hit a home run this time. 

However, Russell is great at setting the mood with his pop culture references and music that evokes the time, so it's still mostly an enjoyable film experience.  I was just expecting more.

Jennifer Lawrence is fine, as always, if a little young to play Joy, but though she is the star she ends up playing straight woman to the quirky cast of character actors surrounding her: De Niro, Ladd, Madsen, Rossellini and Ramirez, all of whom stand out more than Lawrence does.  Ramirez is especially good and is hyped as the new hot young actor, so watch for him.  And Melissa Rivers as her mother, Joan, who in addition to being a comedian was a huge QVC star hawking her jewelry line, puts in a nice cameo performance.

Not sure why Russell chose the real life Mangano as his inspiration.  I mean, inventing a mop? But not everything in the film really happened.  If you are interested in what's true and what's Russell's imagination, check out this great article but NOTE: SPOILER ALERT!

And finally, I can't help but ask: what is the deal with women cutting their hair when they are at a low ebb or crossroads? Joy does it here when she needs to steel herself for battle and I have seen that cliché in at least two other shows in the last month.  Is that a guy thing?  A reverse Samson thing?

Rosy the Reviewer says...a stylish, well-acted soap opera, but disappointing as a David O. Russell film.

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

Now Out on DVD

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

CIA Agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin come together to fight an evil global criminal organization bent on proliferating nuclear weapons.

Based on the 1960's TV show of the same name, Henry Cavill stars as the suave but slightly nefarious Napoleon Solo and Armie Hammer as his more serious Russian counterpart, Illya Kuryakin. Illya is charged by the KGB to capture or kill Solo because he is the CIA's most dangerous operative.  Likewise, Solo is suspicious of Illya because, well, it's the 1960's and he's a Russian.

Illya and Solo "meet cute" in a men's toilet where they get into a huge fight, not realizing yet that they are to be partners.  This sets the stage for a love/hate relationship throughout the film with lots of banter and one upsmanship. They criticize each other's clothing choices and one ongoing joke is how much better the Russian technology is than the American. 

The Russians and Americans are forced to work together on this because the bad guys have a scientist who can make nuclear weapons and they need to find him before he does. This is a very common spy movie plot - didn't we just see this in "Spectre?"

Solo and Kuryakin must work together to infiltrate a criminal organization run by a countess (Elizabeth Debicki) and her brother to find the scientist.  They enlist Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander, whose performances in "Ex Machina" and "The Danish Girl" have made her the hot new actress on the rise) to help them, because it's her scientist father who is helping the bad guys against his will and her uncle Rudi (Sylvester Groth) is one of those bad guys, a Mengele-inspired torturer, as Napoleon soon finds out.

The Brits make an appearance near the end of the film, which gives Hugh Grant a nice little cameo.

This is not an update of the TV show. It's still the 1960's and it's still the Cold War. This is a bit of a prequel to the TV show as Solo and Kuyakin meet for the first time, so I smell a sequel.

My daughter and her husband were here over the holidays and I mentioned that I had this film on DVD.  They asked what the movie was about.  I said, "What???"  And then I realized they were both in their 30's.  Of course they had never heard of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."  That seemed impossible, but there it was.  For us Baby Boomers, however, that TV show starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum was a favorite of the 1960's and gave us some James Bond thrills, espionage and humor every week from the comfort of our living rooms.

This exchange reminded me just how long ago this show was on TV and the generation gap that exists between my children and me! 

And perhaps that's what might have happened with this film.

I am thinking that perhaps director Guy Ritchie is a bit too young for this as well.  He wasn't even born yet when the TV show was in its heyday from 1964-1968.  That could account for that je ne sais quoi that this film is missing.

Ritchie made a name for himself directing hard edged British gangster movies such as "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch," but is perhaps even more famous for having been married to Madonna. The influence of Quentin Tarantino on him is also quite apparent and perhaps that is what is missing here.  Tarantino is funny, but never in a suave, tongue-in-cheek way.  A lighter touch was needed.

And Cavill doesn't help.  He seems to be doing his best "Man of Steel," aka Superman, imitation here, and instead of suave and debonair with a bit of wink-wink humor that we came to expect of Robert Vaughn, Cavill comes off as a handsome robot. I couldn't help but think that if Hugh Grant were younger, he would have made a wonderful Napoleon Solo.

Hammer's Kuryakin has a bit of a psychotic side that I don't remember from the TV show.  When he gets upset, his hands start twitching and he looks like he is going to turn into the Incredible Hulk.  Though Cavil and Hammer are lovely to look at, they don't quite capture the chemistry that the original actors, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, had in the TV series.  However, speaking of Hammer, he is my new crush.  He is one nice big man.

Though I think that Ritchie missed the mark with his actors, what he is really good at is style and framing scenes.  From the costumes to the jazzy 60's bongo music to the set decoration to the split screens, he has captured the swinging 60's.  The look of the film is outstanding and I have been lusting after the earrings the women were wearing ever since!

Ritchie is also great at having funny scenes playing out in the background behind actors talking or other action in the foreground, with the actors not realizing what is going on behind them. One of those scenes shows just how cool Napoleon Solo is.  He stops to have a glass a wine and a bit of a snack in a truck while Illya is being chased by a boat in the background and when Solo is done, he calmly drives the truck into the water to save Illya.

The film is beautiful to look at thanks to John Mathieson's cinematography, but Thomas Wolfe was right.  "You can't go home again."  This film stands up just fine as a stylish spy film, but I wouldn't say it captures that special something that the "Man from U.N.C.L.E." TV series had.

But here is my question:  Why?  You know how I feel about remakes.  Is Hollywood so bereft of properties that we have to haul out perfectly good old chestnuts and redo them?  Don't we have enough spy thrillers with Bourne and Bond and Ethan Hunt?

And who is the audience here?  Baby Boomers who remember the TV show fondly?  Or does this film stand alone to act as an introduction to bring in new and younger fans?  I think the latter...but with a few tweeks.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fun and stylish spy romp that could bring new fans and a new franchise but Cavill and Hammer need to loosen up.

Lambert & Stamp (2014)

A documentary about an unlikely duo in postwar England who discovered one our greatest rock bands: The Who.

Postwar WW II England was ripe for the rock and roll music that came out of the 60's, with class barriers coming down and, despite the fact that the older generation still expected the young people to tow the line, the kids had other ideas.  The war had left the young with unrest.

Kit Lambert was an upper crust posh whose father was a famous symphony conductor and Chris Stamp was a working class guy from the East End whose father was a tugboat captain, but also the brother of Terence Stamp, who had already made a name for himself as an actor. Kit was openly gay in a time when it was a crime in England, and Chris was obsessed with girls, so they were an unlikely duo.  But both were looking around for something to do in the film industry, particularly they wanted to be filmmakers.  But after a short stint working for a film company and not making it past assistant, they decided, "Let's manage a rock group!"  They cared more about filmmaking than rock music, but they had the idea that they would discover and manage a rock group and then make a movie about it. 

The pair met Pete Townshend who had a band called High Numbers and he moved in with them.  Chris helped Pete with his writing and Kit tried to smooth Pete's rough edges and The Who was formed. 

The film uses "Tommy" as a touchstone.  There is the "before Tommy" and the "after Tommy." The band gives Kit credit for helping them make "Tommy" cohesive, but when Kit tried to appropriate the story, there was a falling out. 

Now everyone had some money.  The band members got married, had kids and Kit moved to Venice and bought a palazzo where he fell into doing drugs and mental illness that led to his demise.

Some of director James D. Cooper's filming techniques were irritating, with uneven transitions using psychedelic images and fuzzy, flickering film, but this is a classic rock story - hard scrabble to make it, then success and then a fall from grace with resentment and recriminations - with lots of unseen film footage of the early days of The Who and Swinging London.

The irony here is that Lambert and Stamp managed a rock group so they could make a movie about them...and now here it is 50+ years later.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Baby Boomers, fans of The Who and documentary aficionados will enjoy this look back at the 1960's.

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

267 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970)

When an American writer visiting Rome witnesses an attack by a serial killer, the killer comes looking for him.

Tony Musante stars as Sam Dalmar, a writer visiting Rome.  As he passes an art gallery, he sees a struggle between a man and a woman and the woman is stabbed.  He tries to help her but is caught between two sliding glass doors.  When the police arrive, it is discovered that the woman will survive her wounds.  When Sam is interviewed he tries to remember what he saw and feels like he saw something strange about the struggle but can't put his finger on it.  In the meantime, there is a serial killer running around Rome and eventually ends up after Sam and his girlfriend.  Luckily, Sam finally remembers that thing he couldn't remember.

Why it's a Must See: "...a particularly Italianate spin on the Hitchcockian thriller...[Director Dario Argento] mapped out his own subgenre with this, his first feature film."

---"1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die"

And in so doing, Argento was called the Hitchcock of Italian cinema.

This film has a "Rear Window" look and feel to it, though much of this film feels more like Brian de Palma than HitchcockDe Palma was certainly influenced by Argento. There is a particularly terrifying scene when the killer is trying to get into Sam's girlfriend's apartment by hacking away at the door with a knife.

The film is beautiful to look at, thanks to Vittorio Storarro's cinematography.  He went on to film "Last Tango in Paris" and "Apocalypse Now," among others.  However, there are some old-fashioned, melodramatic devices used, such as extreme close-ups of eyes highlighted by dramatic music.  Arty, perhaps, for the 1970's, but almost laughable today.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a good old-fashioned thriller with a story that still holds up, though the production values are a bit old-fashioned.  But if you are a fan of Hitchcock and De Palma, you will enjoy this.

(In Italian with English subtitles)

***Book of the Week***

Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny by Holly Madison (2015)

A look inside the Playboy mansion by one of Hugh Hefner's girlfriends.

Holly Madison, born Holly Sue Cullen, moved from Oregon to Los Angeles to make her fortune as so many young attractive girls do. Through a series of events and big boobs, she eventually found herself living in the Playboy mansion as one of Hugh Hefner's girlfriends (she eventually rose to #1 girlfriend) and the star of the reality show "The Girls Next Door."  Though it all seemed glamorous at first, she soon realized that life in the mansion was not what she thought it would be.  It was a series of rules, obligatory nights out and in and a curfew, not to mention some "ew" factor nights in bed with Hef, that thankfully she doesn't go into detail about.  Sorry.

I know what you are thinking.  What is a smart, discerning person such as myself doing reading a book like this?  Don't judge me.  We all have our guilty pleasures, and strippers, Playboy Bunnies and what goes on inside the Playboy Mansion are a few of mine. It's also research.  Even Gloria Steinem was interested.  Remember when she went undercover as a Playboy Bunny?  So I am in good company.

Holly Madison also doesn't want you to judge her either. She wants you to be sure that you know she is NOT a bimbo, so she uses big words like zeitgeist and epitome and quotations from "Alice in Wonderland." It also looks like she wrote this herself or she paid off her ghost-writer to not get billing.

And I will say, she does not glorify life with Hugh Hefner nor does she pull any punches about the women she lived and worked with, especially Kendra Wilkinson, who she does paint as the resident bimbo.  Madison was able to parlay her little brush with fame into a stint on "Dancing with the Stars" and a show in Las Vegas, but is now happily married (not to Hef) and has a baby.  Her purpose in writing this book, I guess, was to warn other pretty girls that free rent has a price...or something like that.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you ever wondered what it would be like to be Hugh Hefner's girlfriend or what life in the Playboy mansion is like, this is for you...or not.

That's it for this week.
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