Showing posts with label Hotels of North America. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hotels of North America. Show all posts

Friday, February 26, 2016

"Zoolander 2" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Zoolander 2" and the DVDs "Burnt" and "Grandma."  The Book of the Week is a novel (can you believe it?) "Hotels of North America" by Rick Moody.  I also catch you up on my "1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with Roberto Rossellini's "Paisan"]

Zoolander 2

Clueless ex-model Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and his sidekick, Hansel (Owen Wilson), are back, lured to Rome where they find themselves once again the target of evil Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell).

It's been literally and figuratively 15 years since the first "Zoolander."  As you may remember (or maybe not) the first "Zoolander" ended with Derek marrying Mathilda (Christine Taylor), having a son (Derek Jr.) and starting "The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too." 

So this film picks up where that left off, explaining in flashbacks, Zoolander's 15 year disappearance from the scene.  You see, the Center was built with inferior products and collapsed a couple of days after it's opening, killing Mathilda and disfiguring Hansel. Derek is blamed for that. Derek also loses custody of his son (Cyrus Arnold), because he can't figure out how to make dried spaghetti "soft."  So Derek has given up and become a hermit (or as he says a "hermit crab") in the wilds of northern New Jersey. 

Now, that's about as funny as it gets. if you didn't find all of that funny, it's just downhill from there.

OK, let's move on. There's more.

While Derek is doing his "hermit crab" thing, someone is killing the pop singers of the world.  The film begins with Justin Bieber's assassination in Rome.  As he dies he leaves a selfie of himself, pouting.  Valentina Valencia (Penelope Cruz) of Interpol's Fashion Division sees a pattern there, as other murdered pop stars also left behind that characteristic pout, and she recognizes it as an expression that the famous model Derek Zoolander used to employ. She needs his help. But where is he?

The story is similar to the first "Zoolander," because once again Derek is being lured into an evil plot by arch villain Jacobim Mugatu, who is again played by Will Ferrell and who is actually funny. Both Derek and Hansel have received invitations to walk the runway again, this time in Rome for fashion queen Alexanya Atoz, played by an unrecognizable Kristen Wiig.  She is obviously playing a Donatella Versace clone with plastic surgery gone very, very wrong. Sort of funny. 

The fashion show is for up-and-coming fashion designer Don Atari (again, the name a sort of nod to Versace) played by hilariously obnoxious SNL alum Kyle Mooney.  The fashion show is starring androgynous, eyebrow-less fashion model All (in a cameo by Benedict Cumberbatch).  Speaking of cameos, there are more cameos in this than those star-packed movies of the sixties like "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." 

There are over 25 stars making appearances, from Katy Perry to Sting to MC Hammer to Susan Boyle as well as many of our iconic fashion designers - Marc Jacobs, Alexander Wang, Vera Wang ("Two Wangs" - that's the kind of humor we are dealing with here).  If you blink, you might miss some of the appearances from the likes of Ariana Grande or John Malkovich, because they are so brief.  That part of the film is kind of fun.  The rest of it is not.  All of those cameos do not save this lifeless, unfunny film.  I had to ask myself, what did Stiller have on all of those people to get them to appear in this film?

Valentina finds Derek and gets him to help her and if he does she will help him get his son back. Lo and behold, Derek's son is in Rome too, but he is in grave danger.

Turns out the fashion designers have all come together because Mugatu has promised them "the fountain of youth."  Remember, Adam and Eve?  Well, supposedly there was Adam, Eve and Steve, who was the first real super model, and the story goes that if you find a descendant of Steve and cut out his heart and eat it you will be granted eternal youth.  And guess who that descendant is?  Well, I am sure you can figure it out, if you care to.

In my quest to find a truly funny comedy, I have, speaking metaphorically, had to kiss a lot of frogs.  And when I say funny, I mean laugh out loud, not say to myself, "Are you kidding me?"

I kissed another frog with this one.  Ribbit-ribbit.

Now the first thing you might ask is, how does an erudite reviewer such as myself, who routinely reviews film classics from the schools of Antonioni and Fellini, end up not only watching this film, but paying good money to do so?

Well, dear readers, Ben Stiller used to be funny.  The first "Zoolander" was a bit of a laugh, even if it was a one joke film, but it poked fun at the pretentions of the fashion world and it felt fresh.  And the Fokkers franchises, "There's Something About Mary" and the first "Night at the Museum" were funny as Stiller took his place as the iconic hapless schmoe. Just looking at his face as he got himself into hopeless situations used to make me laugh.  I enjoyed those films.  Also, I have to admit that I went to this film for another reason.  Sometimes which movie I see is determined by my busy schedule and when I want to mall walk.  Such is the life of a busy film reviewer.

Directed by Stiller and co-written by him with Justin Theroux (you know, Jennifer Aniston's Hubby, who also stars as Evil DJ), this film is just another reason why I hate sequels.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I was watching this movie all alone in the theatre.  I was the only one there.  That should tell you a lot.


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

Now Out on DVD

Burnt (2015)

A two-Michelin star chef with a shattered career goes to London to redeem himself by opening a restaurant and, hopefully, getting three Michelin stars this time around.

Chef Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) was a successful American chef in Paris working in his mentor's restaurant, until he blew his career by taking too many drugs and acting like Gordon Ramsay in "Hell's Kitchen."  Adam's behavior ruined the restaurant and the careers of his friends.  He returned to the States to clean up his act and eat his humble pie by shucking 1,000,000 oysters in a New Orleans restaurant. It took him three years to shuck all of those oysters, but now he is back in Europe, London this time, to start another restaurant and this time he wants three Michelin stars.

To start his restaurant, Adam recruits Tony (Daniel Bruhl, who made a big splash in "Rush"), the maître 'd from the Paris restaurant. Tony is in love with Adam.  Adam also lures Michel (Omar Sy) and Helene (Sienna Miller), co-workers who lost their jobs at the Paris restaurant.  He also recruits young street food cooks and "poaches" cooks from other venues - "poaches," get it? Can you tell I am a foodie?

Adam gets his ragtag group of cooks together to make his comeback in a restaurant in the luxurious Langham Hotel.

He gets funding for the restaurant, but because of his past, must get drug testing from a doctor, which gives Emma Thompson a small role where her talents are pretty much wasted.  Uma Thurman makes a brief appearance too, but I still can't remember why.

Adam has a rival - Reece (Adam Rhys) - who already has a three-Michelin star restaurant.  He comes to Adam's opening and gloats because the restaurant is not full on opening night.  But hey, this wouldn't be a movie if that was the end of it, would it?  We know Adam is going to kick butt.

The drama centers around Adam and his crew preparing for the inevitable arrival of the Michelin inspectors.  Though the inspectors are anonymous, they have certain rituals.  They  always book a table before 7:30, always come in pairs but one comes first and orders a drink in the bar, they always order a half bottle of wine and two glasses of tap water and they will always lay a fork on the floor to see how observant and caring the staff is.

To add even more drama, Adam is being stalked by guys he owes money to from back in his druggie days.  They find him and beat him up.  And then wouldn't you know, one of the staff reports that some early diners have arrived and have ordered a half bottle of wine.  Yikes, the Michelin inspectors are here!

And disaster ensues.  The food is sent back by the table with the supposed inspectors. Turns out that Michel has overspiced the food on purpose "For Paris."

Adam feels defeat and goes to Reece's.  He tries to kill himself in front of him by putting a plastic bag over his head in one of the most interesting and poignant scenes of the film.  And Reece saves him.

It's an interesting scene and not at all over the top in light of the fact that in real life, two Michelin star chefs have killed themselves in recent years fearing a loss of a star.  It's that big of a deal.

But all is not lost for our hero. Turns out those really were not the Michelin inspectors after all.  They were software salesmen from Birmingham!

Alicia Vikander, who seems to be everywhere these days and is slated to pick up an Oscar on Sunday, plays an old girlfriend who pays off Adam's debts to the bad guys and brings Adam his knives.  That revitalizes him.  A chef's knives are the equivalent of his penis, I guess. He pulls himself together and forges forward.  Will he get his three stars?

I had to ask myself. Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller went from "American Sniper" to this?  And Bradley, what was with "Aloha," the one you did right after "Sniper?" Maybe Bradley wanted to know what it was like to play someone like a chef who has so much control that it's OK to humiliate co-workers and control people. 

There is a scene where Adam is not happy with the turbot that Helene has cooked.  He makes her apologize to the turbot.  She then goes home and serves her daughter turbot every morning for breakfrast until she gets it right.

I am not one who believes that Bradley Cooper is the "Sexiest Man Alive," which People Magazine proclaimed him in 2010, but I will say when he and Miller kissed and he held her face with his hands, I felt a little something. I am sure women in theatres across America were oohing and ahing.

I have to bring this up: There is an incredibly annoying device at work in this film that I have never seen before.  Whenever someone speaks a language other than English, there are English subtitles, which is fine but all of the subtitles start with [Speaking French] or [Speaking German].  For a minute there I thought I had my closed captions on, but no, none of the English speakers had subtitles so that couldn't be it.  I couldn't help but wonder if that appeared in the film in the theatres or if it was just for the benefit of the DVD.  But whatever, it is ironic that a film that would appeal to people who had actually BEEN in France would be telling us what language is being spoken as if we are hillbillies living in the woods (no offense to hillbillies).  That really dumbed down this film.

Also that old vomit cliché that I hate is in this film too.  You know the one, something traumatic happens and the actor has to vomit to show us just how bad it really is.  Yuck.

Directed by John Wells, from a book by Michael Kalesniko, adapted for the screen by Steven Knight, Gordon Ramsay and Mario Batali were executive consultants on this film.  I am thinking it brought back memories for Ramsay who worked under Marco Pierre White, an infamously famous chef/dictator and screamer in the kitchen.

The best thing about this movie is the food porn - lovely dishes of mouth watering food beautifully presented.

The critics were not kind to this film and you would think from what I have said so far, I didn't like it either.  But that's not really true.  I have seen worse and in fact I actually enjoyed much of it.  I love films filmed in Europe and I love food porn.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Foodies will delight in the food prep and the finished dishes and if you are a Bradley Cooper fan, there is lots of him. 

Grandma (2015)

When a young girl finds herself pregnant, she seeks her grandmother's help.

Lily Tomlin plays Elle, a lesbian poet who is just getting over the death of her partner after a 38 year relationship.  She is an unemployed academic who doesn't quite know what to do with herself.  Then her pregnant granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner), shows up asking her to help her get an abortion.  Sage can't talk to her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) and Elle has been estranged from her daughter for years. 

Elle takes Sage to confront the boyfriend and when he doesn't comply with help for the abortion, she hits him in his jewels with his hockey stick.  She's a feisty gal. Elle and Sage embark on a road trip of sorts and encounter a motley crew of characters as they search for funds, one of whom is Sam Elliott who plays Elle's former boyfriend and who, in real life, is making a new name for himself as a hot older guy (remember him in the delightful "I'll See You In My Dreams"?).  The two smoke some weed which is one of those supposedly funny, "Oh, look, the old folks are smoking marijuana" things that I hate, but otherwise, the two of them are charming together.

As Elle tries to help her granddaughter, she realizes that she must cure past wrongs and relationships.

I've never been a big fan of Lily Tomlin's dramatic abilities.  Remember that awful movie she did with John Travolta ("Moment by Moment")? I don't think I ever got over it.  But over the years she has grown on me and has made a name for herself playing wacky older ladies.  If you saw the little Netflix mini-series she did with Jane Fonda "Grace and Frankie," then you know what I mean and it's kind of like that here. (By the way, if you care, "Grace and Frankie" will be getting a second season). But Tomlin's character is tough when necessary and kind when necessary, and I think Tomlin herself is like that too.  I enjoyed spending time with her.

Written and directed by Paul Weitz (who wrote "About a Boy"), it's a short movie - only an hour and 20 minutes - with a low budget feel and it's a quirky niche story.  How many times does an entire film center on an old lady imparting wisdom to a young girl and imbuing woman empowerment?  I like it!  Despite a couple of over-the-top scenes, we need more of these! 

Rosy the Reviewer says...the reason to see this film is Tomlin's performance and to give yourself a dose of good old lady empowerment. I want to be that grandma!

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

259 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Paisan (1946)

Six vignettes about the horrors of war starting with the Allied Invasion of Italy in July 1943 to winter 1944, tracing the path of liberation from Sicily to Venice.

Using stock footage, Roberto Rossellini, considered one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, sets the stage for each vignette as the allies make their way through Italy

Yay!  I thought I was losing my classic Italian Neorealism movie cred with my last two reviews of an Antonioni ("L'Avventura") and a Fellini film ("Amarcord").  This film I liked.  It's part of Rossellini's "War Story Trilogy." Rossellini led the charge with his "Rome, Open City (which is the first in this trilogy and which I will review soon)" in 1945.  There is no existential angst and people looking off into the distance, which came later.  It's just good storytelling that illustrates human interaction in the face of war and what the Italians went through during Fascist rule.

Vignette #1 - The Americans wade ashore into Sicily and engage the local villagers, who are suspicious.  Carmela, a young girl, leads the soldiers out of the village to avoid land mines that the Germans left and in so doing, strikes up a tenuous relationship with, Joe, one of the soldiers.  Neither speaks the other's language, but the scene shows how they try to communicate, sharing what words they do know - Joe knows "bambino," "paisan..."  and sign language.  It's a brief, touching encounter that illustrates the tenuous nature of relationships during war and ends tragically.

Vignette #2 -  Street urchins in Naples try to shake down the American GIs.  One little boy finds a drunk black GI and steals his boots.  The next day, they meet again and the GI recognizes the kid and chases him back to where the boy lives and the GI is shaken by the living conditions.

Vignette #3 -  Rome -  six months after the Allied Invasion.  Women are enjoying the American GIs spending money on them.  A man remembers a young woman he met when he first arrived six months earlier, only to realize that she is now the prostitute he just spent the night with.

Vignette #4 - an American nurse braves German occupation in Florence to find an ex-lover with the streets of Florence in ruins.

Vignette #5 - A Catholic, a Protestant and a Jew walk into an Italian Franciscan monastery... and shake it up a bit.

Vignette #6 - The film ends with the methodical executions of partisans in the Po Valley. Despite liberation and the end of the war nearing, the atrocities continued.

Why it's a Must See: "Anyone approaching [this film] without foreknowledge of its status as a Neorealist masterpiece could be forgiven for giving up early on: stock footage of the American campaign in Italy, Hollywood-style music, bad actors barking military commands [but it's] a rigorously unsentimental presentation of horrors.  Paisan locates the telling traces of personal life within the nightmare of war's history."
---"1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die"

Yes, the acting can be stilted at times, but in his search for realism, Rossellini chose non-actors to play many of the roles, choosing them instead for their look.  This was an early influence on Fellini, who worked on this film.

Rossellini was definitely ahead of his time, taking on the themes of brief encounters and friendships forged in the midst of war, a black man talking about going home a hero but knowing what he faced back in America, the role of religion in war, the clash of cultures and other adult themes.  I see why Ingrid Bergman fell in love with Rossellini's mind and left her Swedish husband and children to run off to Italy with him.  She left a lucrative acting career in the United States to be Rossellini's muse in less popular films. Their marriage lasted for many years and they also had children together, most famously Isabella.

My parents never forgave Ingrid Bergman for leaving her Swedish husband and children and running off with Rossellini.  They weren't alone in their disapproval. She was even castigated on the floor of the U.S. Congress. Hard to believe considering what we know about our "stars" of today.

This is the kind of gem that makes me happy I am working on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project."  I usually don't like war movies and would never have watched this film if it wasn't one of my "assignments."  I loved this film.

Rosy the Reviewer says...even if you are not usually a fan of war stories, see it.  This one transcends the genre.
(in b & w in English, Italian and German with English subtitles)


***Book of the Week***

Hotels of North America by Rick Moody (2015)

The novel is a series of reviews of hotels and motels as reviewer Reginald Edward Morse moves about the country commenting on the state of the places and generally making snarky and very funny comments about them while at the same time revealing the state of his own life and mind.

Reginald Edward Morse is one of the top reviewers on  As we read his reviews of hotels and motels, we learn his personal story: his career as a motivational speaker, the end of his marriage, his bad credit, and his love for the mysterious "K."  There is a sadness under all of the humor. As Morse writes his reviews that detail such things as how to scam your way to getting a free room or at least a discount, the importance of hair products, his dislike of B & B's (and I agree with most of his points except the part about the gazebo) and even which parking lot is best if you have to sleep in your car (Ikea), he also reveals his own life, one of separation from his daughter, hard times and middle-aged angst.  Some of the seedy places he writes about reflect his state of mind and you really get what it can be like to be all alone in a hotel room with your thoughts and regrets. But don't get me wrong.  Much of this book is very funny as Morse describes his surroundings in a very sardonic and curmudgeonly way.

As you know, I don't read and review very many novels.  I am a nonfiction kind of gal, but I like to switch it up from time to time, and my sister not only recommended this book, but sent it to me, so that is a thumbs up review right there.  And this novel was enjoyable and right up my alley. It is laid out as a series of short reviews of hotels and motels, some (or all?) of them very real indeed. If you didn't know you were reading a novel, you would think you were reading actual reviews...and maybe they are. 

But Morse uses the reviews to talk about his life, too, almost more than the hotels themselves.  As I was reading, I thought, "I do that too. My reviews are as much about me as they are the movie or the book or the restaurant or the hotel."  And if you haven't read my blog posts, "The Perfect Hotel Room" or "My Restaurant Pet Peeves: How NOT To Get The Worst Table in the Restaurant," here is your chance!

Author Rick Moody is probably best known for his novels "Garden State" and "The Ice Storm," both of which were made into acclaimed films.  This book was listed as a "Best Book of the Year" by NPR and the New York Times said, "This is Moody's best novel in many years...a book of irony and wit and heartbreak."

Rosy the Reviewer says...YELP for the literary crowd who like a dose of humor with their reviews.


That's it for this week!

Thanks for reading!

See you Tuesday for
"A Night At the Oscars:
My Academy Awards Wrap-Up 2016"

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