Showing posts with label Letters from Hollywood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Letters from Hollywood. Show all posts

Friday, November 22, 2019

"The Good Liar" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "The Good Liar" as well as DVDs "Stuber" and "Pavarotti."  The Book of the Week is "Letters From Hollywood: Inside the Private World of Classic American Moviemaking."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Deewaar."]

The Good Liar

Con man Ray Courtnay (Ian McKellen) and widow Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren) meet online, a relationship develops, and secrets are revealed.

Ray Courtnay and Betty McLeish, both people of a certain age, meet online and hit it off on their first in person date. Ray seems to be a suave older gentleman, but he is not at all what he seems. He is actually a hard-working and ruthless con man. Betty seems to be a rather naive widow living in a rather bland London suburb under the watchful eye of her adult grandson (Russell Tovey), who is suspicious of Ray from the get go.  Much to Ray's delight, Betty is rolling in cash.  However, she is not what she seems either.

When Ray finds out what Betty is worth, he embarks on a plan to con her out of her money with the help of Vincent (Jim Carter), his partner in crime.  Their plan is to get Betty to set up a joint account with Ray, and once that is done, take all of the money.  Well, that's the plan, anyway.

This is one of those films that is very difficult to review because saying too much about it will give it away.  However, let's just say I knew what was going to happen from the first frame.  But I didn't know how it was going to happen and, as they say, it's the journey, right?  And I loved almost every minute of this journey, though the twist ending was a stretch.

Audiences can always count on Helen Mirren to put in a great performance and she does here too. But it seems to me that casting her in this part is a sort of giveaway of the movie.  I have this theory about figuring out "who dunnits."  If there is someone in the cast who is quite famous but seems to have a very small part, that's your killer. So even though I had not read the book upon which this film is based nor did I know exactly how it would end, I knew right away that Betty McLeish was not the sweet, naive soul she seemed, because we all know that our Helen doesn't play sweet and naive. 

And then there is Sir Ian McKellan.  He is just a marvel.  At age 80, he is still going strong and in this role he is a long way from Gandalf. Here he is very believable as a ruthless con-man posing as a doddering sweet old man.

Written by Jeffrey Hatcher from the novel by Nicholas Searle and directed by Bill Condon, this is a smart and fast-moving drama that will keep you guessing on how it's all going to end and a chance to see two consummate actors at the top of their game.  

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are sick of superheroes, comedies that aren't funny and Disney's live action remakes, then this is for you!

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


Stuber (2019)

An unexpected night of adventure for an Uber driver.

Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) is a part-time Uber driver (his real job is in a sporting goods store working for a snotty rich kid whose Dad owns the store).  He drives an electric Prius and is after the ultimate prize - a five star rating.  However, it eludes him because he is socially awkward and says inappropriate things. But he doesn't plan to drive an Uber for the rest of his life. He is planning to start a fitness business with Becca (Betty Gilpin), the girl he is in love with, but who he is too afraid to tell. 

Vic Manning (Dave Bautista) is a cop whose partner was killed by gang villain, Oka Tedjo (Iko Uwais), and Vic wants revenge.  When Vic gets a tip where Tedjo is, he heads out to get him.  Unfortunately, Vic has just had lasik surgery and can't see for the next 24 hours while his eyes adjust.  However, that doesn't stop him.  Off he goes in an absurd attempt at driving, that results in his wrecking his car.  So, what does one do when one wrecks one's car?  Why one calls an Uber!  And that's right. Vic gets Stu and a reluctant Stu is forced into helping Vic. An odd couple buddy movie ensues.

That's the basic premise and the film has its funny moments, because Nanjiani is the king of deadpan, funny throwaway lines and bits such as calling Vic "Douche Lundgren" or saying to Vic "Thank you for that Ted Talk" when Vic was mansplaining something to him; and when asked where he was shot, his reply? "Where the blood is coming from."  I find that kind of dry humor funny.  He also does a "drop the mic" thing after a fight but instead of dropping a mic, he drops the frying pan that he had just hit a guy with. 

Some other scenes also made me chuckle, like when other people pile into the back seat of the Uber because Vic chose the pool option by mistake, and when Vic couldn't make Tedjo talk through brute force, he made him talk by grabbing his phone and telling him he was going to make it look like Tedjo had posted tweets saying he liked Ryan Gosling movies, especially "The Notebook."  Tedjo didn't mind getting beaten up but he couldn't stand the idea that his friends might think he liked Ryan Gosling movies!

However, what wasn't funny was the whole concept of Vic not being able to see but carrying on anyway, and that became really annoying after awhile and just absurd.  What cop would go after his arch enemy when he can't see anything?  However, if you like violence, there is a lot of it in some stylized fight scenes all accompanied by a pop song. There is also a particularly jaw-dropping scene where Tedjo repels down the side of a high-rise atrium.

There are also a couple of side stories.  One involves Vic's daughter, Nicole (Natalie Morales), who is an artist having her first gallery showing and Vic not being a very considerate father. She doesn't have much faith in him when she says "Who goes and has laser surgery right before going to see his daughter's art show?" Vic is literally short-sighted: he can't see because of his lasik surgery, but he also can't see that he has ignored his family. And Stu is in love with Becca and wants to get away from Vic to get to Sara because she is drunk and wants to hook up. Both are trying to get this whole Tedjo thing done so they can get back to their real lives.

Bautista, best known for playing Drax the Destroyer in the "Guardians of the Galaxy" movies, does a decent job of holding up his end in this buddy film, but his contribution is mostly slapstick as he bumbles around not being able to see.  That's not my kind of humor.  The laughs come from Nanjiani who wrote and starred in one of my favorite films of 2017, "The Big Sick."

Directed by Michael Douse with a script by Tripper Clancy, I will give this movie some props for originality: those fight scenes choreographed to "The Clapping Song" and Air Supply were good and the idea of a fussy Uber driver comandeered by a blind cop had potential.  The dialogue was funny at times, but the premise doesn't really live up to the dialogue and ultimately "Stuber" was kind of stupid.

Rosy the Reviewer says...faint praise.  It wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be.  It was bad but not AS bad...

Pavarotti (2019)

A flattering documentary about the life and career of opera great, Luciano Pavarotti.

Narrated by several people who knew and loved Pavarotti, as well as interviews and narration from Pavarotti himself, this Ron Howard film shows Pavarotti as a happy, carefree person who was grateful for what he had.  When asked how he wished to be remembered in a hundred years, he replied, " a man who took opera to the people..."  And he did that, because he not only had a big talent, he had a big smile and a big personality and people loved him. Pavarotti became the rock star of opera. This film shows how and why.

Born in Modena, Italy, during WW II, Luciano's father was a baker, but also a tenor, so Pavarotti felt the pull to follow in his father's footsteps.  In 1955, Pavarotti won first prize in an opera contest in Wales and the prize was the opportunity to sing in a big opera production.  He sang the part of Rudolfo in "La Boheme," a role that became one of his signatures.  However, he did not hit it big until later.  He was a school teacher with a wife and they had three daughters in four years.  They were struggling and his first wife was the breadwinner while Luciano tried to get his career going.  He got his big break when he stood in for a sick Giuseppe Di Stefano, the reigning tenor. 

Pavarotti then hired Herbert Breslin, "the most hated man in opera" to be his manager and that is when Luciano started not only starring in opera productions but doing recitals and concerts.  In 1968, Pavarotti debuted at The Met and that became his artistic home and his star ascended.  One person who weighs in says that a tenor must have a high C and Pavarotti became The King of the High C's" when he sang the part of Tonio in "La Fille du Regiment," a role requiring the tenor to hit not one but EIGHT high C's. Later, he formed a partnership with Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo and The Three Tenors was formed, becoming "The biggest band in the world."  Pavarotti even performed with Bono.  He truly became the rock star of opera.

The film skirts Pavarotti's private life, mentioning an illness that struck one of his daughters, but only briefly covering his first marriage and no mention of his indiscretions, other than to say that life on the road was lonely, a euphemism for why so many touring singers and musicians stray.  The film is clearly a love letter to Pavarotti, a fairly straight-forward linear narrative about Pavarotti's life and career, and if you are a Pavarotti fan, you will eat this up.  However, I found the narrative rather dry, and I hate to say it, rather boring at times, but the performances were wonderful. And yes, he sings "Nessun Dorma" at the end, a song that never ceases to make be tear up.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a positive portrait of arguably the greatest opera singer of all time who smile and personality made me smile.

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

53 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Deewaar (1975)

Two brothers, one a dockworker, who becomes a leading figure in the underworld, and the other, an educated and honest police officer, lock horns.

Directed by Yash Chopra, this is the story of Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) and Ravi (Shashi Kapoor), two brothers whose activist father has abandoned them and their mother, Sumitra (Nirupa Roy), under duress. Vijay, the older brother, is bitter about what happened to their father, but sacrifices his own education so his younger brother, Ravi, can go to school.  As time passes, the streetwise Vijay becomes a leader in the underworld and Ravi, a hardworking student, becomes a police officer.  Despite their differences, both are good sons who love and respect their mother.  When Ravi is assigned the task of arresting Bombay's criminals and smugglers, he discovers that his brother is one of them.  Now Ravi must decide between arresting his brother or quitting the police force. In the meantime, Vijay has problems of his own. 

It's a strange dichotomy - a movie about the criminal underworld of Bombay interrupted from time to time by Bollywood song and dance numbers, but that's the charm of Bollywood films, I guess. The film was also very over-dramatic, almost a parody of a soap opera - someone makes a statement, then the camera zooms in on each face to get a reaction and the music goes dun-dun-dun... It's almost three hours long and, sadly, with its 1970's hair and clothes (there is a lot of polyester) and overdramatic acting, music and camerawork, the film doesn't really hold up well today.  

Why it's a Must See: " of the best scripts in Hindi film history, written by the major screenwriters of the 1970s, Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar...[starring] Indian's greatest-ever superstar, Amitabh Bachchan...[as] Vijay...[The film ends] one of the most celebrated and symbolic death scenes in the history of Hindi film."

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

Rosy the Reviewer says...even though this film doesn't hold up well today, it is still a fascinating escape into another world.

(In Hindi-Urdu with English subtitles)

***The Book of the Week***

Letters from Hollywood: Inside the Private World of Classic American Moviemaking by Rocky Lang and Barbara Hall (2019)

A history of Hollywood through letter writing.

Rocky Lang, the son of Jennings Lang, a powerful Hollywood agent, producer, and studio executive for MCA/Universal, has teamed up with Hall, a film historian and archivist, to create this homage to Hollywood through the correspondence of many of its most famous denizens. After thousands of hours of research, they have reproduced letters, telegrams and memos written by more than 130 members of Hollywood's film community starting in 1921 with a letter to Adolph Zukor, the head of the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation from Houdini, asking him to screen one of his films in hopes that Zukor will distribute it, and the book ends with a letter from Jane Fonda to director Fred Zinnemann in 1976 expressing her concerns about meeting with Lillian Hellman regarding the movie "Julia (which was about Hellman's life and which starred Fonda)."

In between there is a letter from Bette Davis to Jack L. Warner, the head of the Warner Brothers studio, about being overworked and unhappy with the terms of her contract, an issue which eventually went to court:

"Would appreciate your not communicating with me -- it upsets me very much.  I must be allowed to completely forget business...Also arguing with me is of no use -- nor do I want to come back until it is settled."

And a telegram from Greta Garbo to Marion Davies, who was the mistress of newspaper mogul, William Randolph Hearst:


I guess she really did want to be alone! 

There are also letters from Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, Gloria Swanson, and more.  I feel sad to think that so many of these actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood are not remembered today, but these letters help shed light on not just movie making during the 20th century but the private lives of those who made them.  Each letter is accompanied by background information on the writers, the recipients, and the contents of the letters.  I am happy that this book has arrived to keep their memories alive and shed light on their golden days in Hollywood.

"There is nothing like reading a letter written seventy or ninety years ago to make you realize how much, and how little, the world has changed."

Rosy the Reviewer says...a movie lover's dream of a book!

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday


"It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood"


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.