Showing posts with label Memoirs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Memoirs. Show all posts

Thursday, March 28, 2024

"Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire" and More!

[I review the new Ghostbusters movie - "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire" - as well as "Society of the Snow" and "Falling for Figaro."  And there's a book too! - "Hits, Flops and Other Illusions: My Forty Something Years in Hollywood" by Ed Zwick]

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (2024)

Ghostbusters is now a family affair and this time they need to save the world from a second Ice Age.

If you have been following me, you know how much I hate sequels.  

And even if you haven't been following me, now you know.  So why did I go see this movie, then, you ask?  Well, at this point, this film is more a part of a franchise than a sequel, like "Mission Impossible" or "Jurassic Park," so I am going to give it a pass on the sequel thing.  And even though I am not particularly a fan of franchises, also known as "beating a good idea into the ground," I am not going to pick on this movie for that either.  It's the fifth in the series, but in my opinion, the second, third and fourth installments don't really count.  They weren't very good.  

Besides, it's been 40 years...repeat, 40 years...since the very first "Ghostbusters," a movie that became a cultural phenomenon. It was critically acclaimed, cementing the movie careers of Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd, it was the first comedy to employ expensive special effects, and it was number one at the box office for seven consecutive weeks making it the then-highest-grossing comedy ever. And let's not forget that iconic theme song, which became a number one hit. 

And 40 years later, it's number one at the box office again, so I had to pay homage.  Was it worth it?

Well...first let me bring you up to date.

If you saw "Ghostbusters: Afterlife," we were introduced to Callie Spengler (Carrie Coon) and her kids, Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), who were living in Oklahoma after inheriting the farm where Ghostbuster Egon Spengler had lived and which also served as a plot device and homage after the real life death of Harold Ramis, who played Egon. Turns out the farmhouse is haunted and the surviving Ghostbusters are called and, along with Phoebe's science teacher, Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd), they all rid the farm of the harmful entities.

Okay, that's what has happened before this latest film begins, so fast forward to present day. Now Callie and Gary are a couple and they are living in New York City with Trevor and Phoebe.  The OG's have retired and ghostbusting has become a family affair for Callie, Gary and the kids. They are all living in the original Ghostbusters firehouse that original Ghostbuster Winston (Ernie Hudson) had restored when he became a rich entrepreneur and Callie et al have taken on the responsibility of keeping New York City free of nasty paranormal beings. Original Ghostbuster Ray (Ackroyd) has a book shop - Ray's Occult Books - where he also collects rare cursed artifacts with the help of Podcast (Logan Kim) and Winston has a privately-owned paranormal research center staffed by Dr. Lars Pinfield (James Acaster) and his assistant, Lucky Domingo (Celeste O'Connor).  Not sure what Peter (Murray) is doing in retirement but he appears briefly to administer a parapsychological evaluation on Nadeem Razmaadi (Kuymail Nanjiani).  But I am getting ahead of myself.

Written by Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman and directed by Kenan, the film opens in 1904 when New York City firefighters find over 30 people frozen to death in a gentleman's club and there is this mysterious orb that seems to have something to do with that.

Now in the present day, Nadeem Razmaadi (Nanjiani), a rather sleazy huckster, comes into Ray's shop to sell some old items that belonged to his grandmother.  Okay, you guessed it.  It's that same orb we just saw in the opening scene and that, my friends, is the crux of the movie.  The orb houses a very, very bad ancient god who wants to turn the world to ice and our Ghostbusters, old and new, have to figure out how to destroy it.

There is a side story about Phoebe meeting another young woman, Melody (Emily Alyn Lind), while playing chess with herself in Central Park.  Melody just so happens to be a ghost trying to get to the other side to be with her family, and Nadeem turns out to have some pyrokinetic powers and both of those characters will play pivotal roles in the finale when they all meet up with Garraka, an evil entity who had been enslaved in the orb.

So, 40 years later did this reboot do justice to the OG movie?  Was it worth seeing?

Well, let me focus on the positive first...what I liked.

The opening chase scene was fun, I like Paul Rudd and I LOVE Kumail Nanjiani. I laugh just looking at his reactions to things and his dry delivery. The young characters are engaging and it's always a treat to see the OG Ghostbusters again along with Annie Potts, who have more to do this time than they did in "Afterlife," except for Potts. The special effects were also good - those gross, gooey ghosts are fun - and I love the scenes in the New York Public Library and Patton Oswald as a librarian. We librarians need to be in the movies!

What I didn't like:

Plot holes, too many "huh?" moments, it dragged in the middle, and it wasn't that funny, though I will say I did chuckle a few times, which is more than I can say about the many comedies I have watched over the last couple of years. I could also have done without the shushing ghost librarian in the library.  People, librarians no longer shush people! I was hoping to see more of Bill Murray. Murray's appearance was too brief but not surprising since he was never particularly interested in the reboots. And I can't believe I am saying this, but I was really hoping the iconic theme song would have shown up during the movie instead of at the end. Speaking of the end, there is a bit of an epilogue but you will have to sit through quite a bit of the end credits to see it.

All in all, better than the ones that came after the original, but, of course, nothing can reach the iconic status of the original.  That first one made a huge impact on us younguns in the 80's and as I always say about sequels...let us remember that great first one.  But it was good to see the OGs again. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you can ignore the plot holes, it was entertaining...ish. And remember, for your movie reviews, who you gonna call? (In theatres)

Society of the Snow (La sociedad de la Nieve) (2023)

Dramatization of the aftermath of the 1972 plane crash that stranded a Uruguayan rugby team in the Andes.

Nominated this year for an Oscar for Best International Feature, this Spanish film is an enactment of the true story of the plane crash of the Uruguayan rugby team headed for Chile and what they had to do to survive.  It attempts to explain how that plane crash might have happened in a harrowing scene just fifteen minutes into the film when the plane hits a mountain peak, breaks apart and skids to a landing upside down in a remote part of the Andes. There were 45 passengers and crew, nine died on impact.  The survivors make it through the freezing night only to be faced with the magnitude of their situation. They are in the middle of nowhere and miles from civilization.  Over the next two hours we watch as 20 more die until only 16 survive. And those of you who remember this international incident, know that cannibalism played a role in the survival of those 16 people.

Directed by J.A. Bayona, who cowrote the script with Bernat Vilaplana and Jaime Marques, and based on the 2009 book of the same name by Uruguayan journalist Pablo Vierci, this is a more personal and detailed take on the event than the film "Alive," which was based on the book by Piers Paul Read that was written two years after the event and had more of a reportage slant. Also based on the stories of the actual survivors, this film tries to get to the heart of what was going on inside of the survivors.

Seen through the eyes of Numa Turcatti (Enzo Vogrincic), a member of the rugby team on board the plane, we see him and the others survive two avalanches, freezing temperatures and lack of food for two months and what lead them to make the difficult decisions they made.

This was a shocking incident that has since inspired similar films like "Alive" and TV series like "Yellowjackets" and "The Wilds," but this film does this fateful event justice, treating it with respect (each person's death is noted with their name), focusing not just on the sensational elements but also on the compassion and humanity that took place, but, be warned.  It is sometimes difficult to watch. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...perhaps too long and perhaps too grim for some, but it asks the question - what would you do? Would you be able to do what you had to do to survive? (Netflix - in Spanish with English subtitles) 

And now on a lighter note -

Falling for Figaro (2020)

Millie Cantwell, an American fund manager living in London, moves to the Scottish Highlands to fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming an opera singer.

Millie (Danielle McDonald)  quits her job and leaves her boyfriend in London and heads to a small Scottish village to train with ex-diva, Meghan Geoffrey-Bishop (Joanna Lumley)  in order to compete in the "Singer of Renown" contest.  She gives herself a year to prepare. However, there are some obstacles.

One of them is Jeoffrey-Bishop  herself who is, how shall I put this?  Less than encouraging? She tells Millie that some people say an opera singer needs to suffer and Meghan plans to make Millie suffer and she does with her diatribes and biting comments.  Millie also has to deal with Max (Hugh Skinner), who is one of Meghan's students...well, her only other one, and he is almost a surrogate son, who doesn't want Meghan concentrating on anyone else.  He has tried to win the "Singer of Renown" contest several times and has always been a runner up.  So he is not happy about the competition, not just for Meghan's attention but for the contest itself. And then there is The Filthy Pig Pub with its gruff landlord (Gary Lewis), its lack of amenities and nosy villagers. But Millie is determined to follow her dream. Will she make it?

Rom-com tropes are in evidence here. Two young people meeting and hating each other on sight but then, well, you know.  Giving up everything to follow a dream. A love triangle. Obstacles. A beautiful landscape and a village full of eccentric people inexplicably interested in opera and rooting for our hero and heroine. And a happy ending.

In case you think McDonald is a newbie, you would be wrong.  She has starred as Patti in "Patticake$" as well as in "Dumplin" and "Bird Box" and the TV series "The Tourist."  It's refreshing to see a successful actress who looks like a regular woman.

Written by Ben Lewin and Allen Palmer and directed by Lewis, this is an Australian-British collaboration and both countries are great at producing small but charming films, and this is that and more with wonderful performances by Aussie Danielle McDonald (her American accent is perfect) and that actress of renown, Joanna Lumley.

Rosy the Reviewer helps if you love opera (which I do), because there is a lot of it here, but you don't have to love opera to enjoy this film. You will love the acting, the feelgood moments and the beautiful Scottish countryside. (Netflix)

***Book of the Week***

Hits, Flops and Other Illusions: My 40 Something Years in Hollywood” by Ed Zwick.

Director Zwick shares his award-winning career in this candid and self-deprecating memoir.

Co-creator of the ABC family drama “thirtysomething” when he was appropriately in his 30’s, he went on to a movie career, directing such films as “About Last Night” (1986), “Glory” (1989), “Legends of the Fall” (1994), “The Last Samurai” and others. He also was a producer for “Shakespeare in Love,” which won an Oscar for Best Picture.
Starting out in the theatre, when he got his break in TV and movies, he had to learn the difference, especially when it came to directing actors. Director Sydney Pollack mentored him and Zwick shares his ups and downs as he climbed the cinematic ladder. The book is punctuated with lists of directorial advice and what he has learned – e.g. “Ten Tips From Long Lunches With Sydney [Pollack],” “Eight Helpful Hints For Young Directors,” “Ten Things Every Director Needs To Know,” and “Ten Tall Tales From The Makeup Chair.”
Zwick also takes the reader behind-the-scenes of “thirtysomething” and his many films, with no-holds barred when it comes to revealing funny and sometimes not very complimentary observations about the actors and others he has worked with, such as directing Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington and working with Harvey Weinstein. And can you imagine Julia Roberts and Daniel Day Lewis in “Shakespeare in Love?” He also shares Hollywood anecdotes, such as director Frank Pierson’s reply when asked what it was like to direct Barbra Streisand in the 1976 version of “A Star is Born” – “I wouldn’t know.” Lol

Rosy the Reviewer says…if you like fun and revealing Hollywood memoirs, you will enjoy this but his insights into directing will also appeal to film students and filmmakers alike. (Check it out at your local library)

Thanks for reading!

See you next time!

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to like it and share it on Facebook, Twitter, or other sites; email it to your friends and/or follow me on Facebook at 

And 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 over to the right of the synopsis to where it says "Critic Reviews" - Click on that and if I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list (NOTE:  IMDB keeps moving stuff around so if you don't find "Critics Reviews" where I am sending you, look around.  It's worth it)!

Friday, January 19, 2018

"The Greatest Showman" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the movie "The Greatest Showman" as well as DVDs "Battle of the Sexes" and "Friend Request."  The Book of the Week is "The Futilitarians" by Anne Gisleson.  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with Vittorio De Sica's "Umberto D."]

The Greatest Showman

A musical version of the life of P.T. Barnum with songs by the guys who brought us "La La Land."

But that is where the comparison ends.  This is no "La La Land."

Over the holidays I decided that I wanted to watch "White Christmas" starring Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney.  I had seen it many times over the years, but had not seen it lately and was just delighted to be reminded how much I loved those old musicals from the Golden Age of Hollywood.  It just left me feeling happy and all warm and fuzzy.  It made me wish that more musicals were being produced today so you can imagine that I was really looking forward to this film especially when I discovered the songs were written by the same guys who brought us the songs from "La La Land.  I absolutely adored "La La Land."

But sadly I found this film very disappointing.

According to this film, P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) wasn't just the guy whose name became synonymous with the circus. He also supposedly invented the term "show business," and he was a really nice guy with a rags to riches story who just wanted to entertain and make people happy.  Pretty sure he was more of a con man who exploited people to make a buck, but OK.  I can suspend disbelief.  This is a musical, after all.  I usually don't have too much trouble suspending my disbelief especially when it comes to musicals which always requires that.  I mean, how often do we break into song when telling our loved ones what we plan to do with our lives?

According to this film, Barnum started out poor but had a childhood sweetheart who believed in him, and you know about the power of love especially when it's set to music, right?  He lost his boring job as an accountant and was on his last dime when he got the idea to open a "freak show," though this film is too politically correct to call it that because this film wants to sugar coat the shadier sides of Barnum and to be about celebrating differences, which is kind of ironic when you consider Barnum had a bearded lady, the fattest man on earth, conjoined twins, etc. and exploited them and treated them like freaks by putting them on show to make money.  Despite the fact that the film tries to not go there, you can't deny that is what he did and that gave me an uncomfortable feeling while watching this film.

But getting the facts of P.T Barnum's life right wasn't particularly the problem for me here.  The problem was the movie just tried too damn hard.  It had too much of that "let's put on a show and save the farm" feel.  That worked in "White Christmas," but it didn't work here.  And when I say trying too hard that 
is actually my way of saying that Hugh was trying too hard. I know Hugh Jackman is a Broadway musical kind of guy (except for when he is Wolverine) but geez.  What works on Broadway doesn't necessarily work on film.  If you have seen him on talk shows recently promoting this film, he seems like a very nice, genuine guy, but he is just always ON and this film is no exception.  He wore me out.

I could forgive this film because of the handsomeness that is Zac Ephron.  I never get tired of looking at him but then it hits me...he's not a very good actor.  He is fine in comedies like "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates" and the "Neighbors" franchise, but when it comes to dramatic acting, which he is required to do here, his lack of skills comes out. 

Michelle Williams, who was wonderful in "All the Money in the World (see last week's review)" has absolutely nothing to do here except sing a little and act supportive and comforting to P.T./Hugh when he's feeling down.  She's the kind of wife that even when he ditches her and runs off with Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), she forgives him.

And speaking of Jenny Lind.  I am assuming that the writers and director didn't think we would know who Jenny Lind was considering they had her singing what could only be called a 21st century pop song when in fact she was a 19th century OPERA star!  I know this is a 21st century musical but can we at least have an opera singer sing an operatic song?

And the songs by the "La La Land" guys, John Debney and Benj Pasek -  Sorry, guys, not memorable this time, though I enjoyed the opening sequence with the young Barnum (Ellis Rubin) and the young Charity (Skylar Dunn) singing "A Million Dreams."

Directed by Michael Gracey with a screenplay by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon, this film is doing well at the box office which tells me people are thirsting for wholesome entertaining musicals that the whole family can enjoy.  This is certainly wholesome family entertainment (if you don't think too hard about the real life of P.T. Barnum), but somehow it left out the entertaining part. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...I really wanted to love this but I didn't.  I didn't even like it.

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


Battle of the Sexes (2017)

A dramatized version of the 1973 tennis match between the then top-rated female tennis player, Billie Jean King, and ex-champ and much older hustler, Bobby Riggs.

If I'm already not a fan of Steve Carell, will his playing a famous chauvinist pig help?  No.

Though I was around when this so-called "Battle of the Sexes" match came down, and it was a big deal because it was at the height of the Women's Liberation Movement and Bobby Riggs was the epitome of male chauvinism, I wonder who remembers this today.  However, I do. From a personal standpoint, my older sister was a tennis professional and a big fan of Billie Jean King's, so I remember this vividly, but I can't help but wonder if anyone cares about this anymore except possibly tennis fans and those of us who lived it.

To give you a little background, Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) was the top-rated female tennis player in the 70's, but there was a huge inequity in the amount of prize money women tennis players could earn from their tournaments compared to the men.  The men made eight times as much.  Billie Jean appealed to Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) at the then U.S. Lawn Tennis Association (now the U.S. Tennis Association) and when she was told that the men needed to earn more because they were the breadwinners for their families (yawn) and that men's tournaments were better attended and just more exciting than the women's, Billie Jean decided to leave the U.S.L.T.A. and form her own Women's Tennis Association.  She did and it was backed by Virginia Slims cigarettes (Remember "You've come a long way, baby?").

Then there was Bobby Riggs.  He was a top-rated men's tennis player back in the day, but was now in his 50's and working a boring desk job for his father-in-law.  He also had a wee bit of a gambling problem.  Let's just say he was a hustler and it wasn't helping his marriage any (his wife is played by Elizabeth Shue - I wondered what happened to her). He was a washed up tennis player who made a few bucks playing his friends for money with one hand behind his back or holding two dogs on a leash.  

But Billie Jean's winning the Grand Slam, her fame and her feminism gave Riggs the idea to have a tournament between him and Billie Jean to prove once and for all that men could outplay women, and of course, so he could also make a few bucks. However, Billie Jean refused so, when up-and-coming Australian player, Margaret Court, beat her, Riggs approached Court.  She consented to a tournament, only to be humiliated by Riggs. He said that women players couldn't handle the pressures of the game and that's why they shouldn't earn as much as men.  He even went so far as to put out a challenge - $100,000 to any woman who could beat him. That did it. Billie Jean couldn't stand the idea that Riggs could gloat about the inferiority of women tennis players.  

So Billy Jean decided she had to play him to prove that a woman can beat a man and the tournament became a cause celebre. It was played at the Houston Astrodome and was watched by over 90 million people.

People today might have a hard time getting their heads around how important this match was in the real life battle of the sexes considering all that has happened since.  

I even thought the film was going to be corny and all rah-rah, especially since I knew the outcome but the film actually went deeper.  It certainly resonates today, considering the continuing pay inequity and sexual harassment that continues to haunt women, but the film also sensitively explores Billie Jean's burgeoning feelings about her sexuality thanks to a stellar performance by Emma Stone who just oozes vulnerability.  Though Billie Jean was married, seemingly happily so, she was starting to have feelings for women. 

In the film, Billie Jean meets Marilyn, a hair dresser, and Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough, in a very sensitive performance) gives Billie Jean a haircut in what could only be called the most sensuous scene of hair cutting I have ever seen.  The two embark on a relationship and Billie Jean has to come to terms with that side of herself.  Despite the build-up to the epic tennis match, the film is really about Billie Jean King herself, what she was going through in her personal life and her fear that it would be found out.

The film doesn't really do much to enlighten us on what made Riggs tick other than him just being a jerk with a gambling problem.  I mean, what hubris for a 55-year-old man to think he could beat a 29-year-old woman at the top of her tennis game!  But Carell does a good job with that and there is a bit of an inkling about Riggs battling ageism and feeling irrelevant.

Sarah Silverman is making a dramatic name for herself playing wise-cracking side-kicks - she's good - and I couldn't help but notice Fred Armison in a non-speaking role as Bobby's trainer - if you blink you will miss him.

Directed by Jonathon Dayton and Valerie Faris with a screenplay by Simon Beaufoy, the film has a delightful 70's soundtrack and the tennis footage from the match is well-integrated into the film to give us an exciting finale.  Speaking of integrating footage, tennis player Rosie Casals (Natalie Morales) called the match along with Howard Cosell.  The footage of Cosell and Casalls was so good I couldn't tell if that was actual footage of Casalls and Cosell or the actress CGI's in, but I have to say, in light of the #Metoo and Times Up movements, I couldn't help but notice how discomforting it looked to see Cosell reporting while towering over Rosie with his arm tightly wrapped around her, literally talking down to her and treating her like a child.  Yuck.  Thank goodness, he wouldn't have been able to get away with that today.

The epilogue shows the real Billie Jean who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 for her work on behalf of Title IX and LGBQ rights.

My one complaint about the film is that it was shot in digital and you know how I feel about that.  I don't like it.

Rosy the Reviewer says...despite my fears that this film wouldn't resonate in today's world, it's a powerful reminder that we actually haven't come a long way, baby.

Friend Request (2016)

A cautionary tale about accepting friend requests.

I think there was a time when Facebook was new when we all accepted every friend request we received. I think that's how so many became vulnerable to catfishing.  I still get friend requests from handsome guys in military uniforms who, when I click on their profiles, have no friends.  That tells me immediately that he's a catfish, probably some guy in a Nigerian call center. I think I must be on some list of lonely old ladies.  I never fall for it, even though I have always been a sucker for a guy in a uniform, but hey, it only takes one to say OK and those guys are off and running.

However, this film isn't about lonely old ladies.  It's actually about Laura Woodson (Alycia Debnam-Carey), a very popular young college girl with over 800 friends on Facebook (though Facebook is not actually named in the film), who was just trying to be nice when she friended Marina (Liesl Ahlers), an outcast girl in one of her classes.  We know that Marina  is an outcast because she wears a hoodie with the hood up, doesn't say much and draws witchy art on her page. Unfortunately Marina is also a bit of a nutter and got carried away (Laura is her only friend) and started bombarding Laura with PM's and liking and commenting on every post that Laura put out.  Laura is not a mean girl but she eventually gets a bit weirded out by Marina, and when Laura excludes Marina from a party, Marina goes off on her.  Soooo Laura unfriends her. Uh-oh. 

Now we have a girl-stalking-girl movie, that is, until Marina hangs herself live online, it gets posted on Laura's page and Laura can't get rid of it.  The video also somehow goes viral and turns up on her friends pages as if it's coming from Laura.  Now everyone thinks Laura is twisted so they start unfriending HER.  Laura can't delete the video, can't unfriend Marina, can't get rid of that damn video and can't delete her account.  

And if that's not bad enough, Laura's friends start dying.

Did Marina really kill herself?  And why can't anybody delete those posts that keep appearing?  Who was Marina?  And what are Black Mirror Cults?

This is a perfectly good thriller/horror film starring young unknowns that I call "Horror Light."  I like the occasional horror film, but I lean toward the Lifetime  Movie type horror film or films like "It" or "Split," not gory ones like "Jigsaw" or "Hostel," hence my "light" appellation.  "Horror Light" still employs the usual horror tropes but is not so gory and brutal as to leave you speechless.  "Horror Light" includes the kind of horror films where things go bump in the night, images flash on the screen to make you jump, ominous music plays when our heroine opens a refrigerator door and when she closes it someone is standing there, or she goes down a dark hall even though the light switch doesn't work, or someone says, "Did you check the basement?" These are all opportunities for you to shout at the screen, "Don't go down there!"  If the movie is too graphic and gory and you are left speechless, you can participate or you might have your hands over your eyes and what fun is that?

And actually, this film, directed by Simon Verhoeven (screenplay by Verhoevan, Matthew Ballen and Philip Koch) is more silly than scary, though it makes a statement about technology, or at least I think that's what it was doing. It seems that bad things happen when people look at their computer screens too long, so I kept yelling at the TV: STOP LOOKING AT YOUR COMPUTER!  But you know in this day and age, telling young people to stop looking at their computer is like telling them to stop breathing.

Rosy the Reviewer says...moral of the story:  Be careful who you friend - and if you stare at your computer long enough you might be communicating with demons...but, geez, we already knew that! 

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

159 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Umberto D. (1952)

An old man who lives alone with his little dog struggles to live on his small pension in Rome.

Umberto D. (Carlo Battisti) is a lonely old man living in an apartment he can't afford.  He worked for the government for 30 years but his pension doesn't cover his living expenses. His landlady is disrespectful, threatens to throw him out and even rents out his apartment by the hour to illicit lovers when he is not home.  His only companion and source of comfort is his little dog, Flike, and Maria (Maria Pia Casillio), a young girl who is the cleaner for the building, is the only human who is kind to him.  He can't pay his rent and is so desperate he fakes an illness so he can go to the hospital to get some sleep and food.  When he returns, the house is being renovated, his room is all torn up and little Flike has run away.  They are eventually reunited but Umberto is desperate and decides to kill himself.

This film shows that no matter what country you are in or time period - even 66 years later (this film was released in 1952) - some things never change.  We still don't respect or care for the elderly.  Old people become invisible.  It's a cruel world for seniors with little money.

Director Vittorio De Sica, an early proponent of the Italian Neorealism Movement, who also directed the highly acclaimed film "The Bicycle Thief," has captured the world of the old and forgotten in this story of an old man's desperation, and 66 years later it still resonates today.  De Sica avoids any sentimentality in a story that could easily fall into that trap, especially when one of the stars is a darling little dog.

And it still resonates with me. I can't stop thinking about it.  I loved it.

Neorealism was an Italian movement that started during WW II and continued through the 50's.  One of the tenets was that films should embody everyday life and the characters should be played by non-professionals. "Umberto D" is one of the most successful demonstrations of that theory, and it is amazing that Umberto is played by a 70-year-old university lecturer who had not acted before.

Battisti has a face that just demands empathy, and Maria Pia Casillio was delightful and looked like a young Debbie Reynolds.  And Flike?  What can I say.  He was so adorable I am calling my little dog Flike.

Why it's a Must See: "With it's unapologetic tragic story of an old man's despair and love for his pet, and its pointed observations of social injustice, [this film] provides the perfect opportunity for the viewer to consider this question...De Sica leaves us wondering whether Umberto's love for his dog, who depends on him alone, is redemptory or futile."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

I choose to think that little Flike was redemptory and gave Umberto something to live for.  Dogs are like that.

Rosy the Reviewer part of my "1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project," I have to watch a lot of films that I sometimes don't really enjoy but all of that is worth it to discover a gem of a film like this. This film will stay with you.
(b & w, in Italian with English subtitles)

***Book of the Week***

The Futilitarians:  Our Year of Thinking, Drinking, Reading, and Grieving by Anne Gisleson (2017)

A search for meaning in the face of tragedy and grief.

Anne Gisleson knows tragedy.  Her twin sisters killed themselves a year apart, she had to flee from Hurricane Katrina, and her beloved father died of cancer. Anne's husband, Brad, was a widower and had also had his share of heartbreak.

Anne and Brad wanted to make sense of all of that and, realizing that their friends had their own issues, came up with the idea of the Existential Crisis Reading Group, which they jokingly dubbed "The Futilitarians." From Epicurus to Tolstoy, from Cheever to the Bible, each month they read and talked about the meaning of existence in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Anne's father had forbade her to ever write about the deaths of her twin sisters, but now that her father was gone, Anne felt she could take on that task so this book is part-memoir and part existential musings but mostly it's about how talking about great literature and philosophy can help you understand life and its many challenges.

Epicurus wrote (and no, it's not about food) in "The Importance of Studying Philosophy:

"So, both for young and old, it is imperative to take up the study of philosophy.  For the old, so that they may stay youthful even as they are growing older by contemplating the good things of life and the richness of bygone events. And, for the young, so that they may be like those who are advanced in age in being fearless in the face of what is yet to come."

Rosy the Reviewer interesting story with a message: literature can heal.

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 

for my review of 

"I, Tonya"

The Week in Reviews
(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)

 and the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before 

 I Die Project." 

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to copy and paste or click on the share buttons to share it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn, email it to your friends and LIKE me on Facebook at

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. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

"Murder on the Orient Express" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Murder on the Orient Express" as well as the DVD "Dean" and "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)," a Netflix original now streaming on Netflix.  The Book of the Week is "Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult and the Darkness that Ended the Sixties."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with Bergman's "Through a Glass Darkly."]

Murder on the Orient Express

When a murder occurs while famed detective Hercule Poirot is on vacation on the equally famous Orient Express, he is recruited to solve the mystery.

There is actually a kind of mystery as to how I came to see this film. 

I didn't plan to.  I sat in the theatre through a half hour of previews waiting for "Wonder" to come on, and what should come on but this film?  Several of us ran out to the lobby to find out what was going on and were assured that they would fix the issue, but 20 minutes later, a staffer came in saying they couldn't fix it and to come back for the 1:40 showing.  Since I am a busy person and since I had already sat through the first 20 minutes of "Murder," I decided to walk next door and watch it. 

And that's how I came to be reviewing this film now, though the mystery of why "Murder on the Orient Express" was playing in the theatre where "Wonder" was supposed to play was a mystery that was never solved.

But that's not the case with this mystery. We know the murder mystery on the Orient Express will be solved because the detectives in Agatha Christie novels always solve the murders, it's just a matter of how.

Many of you may already know this story by Agatha Christie, who was one of the best-selling novelists of all time.  This Agatha Christie novel was published in 1934 and has been made into a movie and TV mini-series many times.  Christie's mysteries all have the same classic mystery structure that has been copied ever since:  a murder is committed, there are several suspects and the detective investigating the crime gathers everyone into one room where the murderer is revealed in a shocking twist.  And one of Christie's favorite detectives was Hercule Poirot who the leading character in this film.

Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is the World's Greatest Detective.  How do we know this?  Poirot says that himself!

The film begins with Poirot solving a crime in Jerusalem and, finding this wearying, declares that he must take a vacation.  It is a great burden for our dear Poirot to have the curse of being able to spot every little detail that might be out of place from a crooked tie to imperfectly cooked eggs.  It makes him a good detective - did I mention he is the World's Greatest Detective?  But it makes for a burdensome life for our poor Poirot.

Poirot's friend, Bouc (Tom Bateman), the director of the Orient Express, offers him a place on the train headed back to London via Calais.  Soon after boarding the train, Poirot is approached by a rather unpleasant American businessman, Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp, oozing sleaze which he often does with that sleepy drawl of a voice of his), who offers Poirot a large sum of money to be his bodyguard. You see, Ratchett deals in dodgy antiques and has been getting death threats.  Poirot declines, but that night Poirot hears strange noises coming from Ratchett's compartment next door, and when he sticks his head out of the door, sees a woman in a red kimono running down the hallway.  Later, Ratchett is found dead in his compartment with 12 stab wounds in his chest, so Poirot is forced back on the job, his holiday being ruined by yet another murder that he must solve.  But we all know he will because...why?  He is the World's Greatest Detective.

When Poirot discovers that Ratchett was really John Cassetti, a famous kidnapper who had kidnapped and murdered little Daisy Armstrong in a Lindbergh style kidnapping, he wonders what the connection to that might be.

Mmmm - I wonder.

Since the train has been stopped by an avalanche, Poirot is conveniently able to  sequester the passengers so as to investigate each one and eventually gather everyone into one train salon.  

We have the Russian Princess (Judi Dench) and her maid (Olivia Colman); Rachett's assistant, Hector McQueen (Josh Gad); Ratchett's valet (Derek Jacobi); a missionary (Penelope Cruz); a governess (Daisy Ridley, who is unrecognizable from her character in the latest "Star Wars" movies); a rich American widow (Michelle Pfeiffer); a German professor (Willem Dafoe); a doctor (Leslie Odom Jr.); a Spanish gentleman (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo); and a young Count and Countess (Sergei Polunin, Lucy Boynton).  They all look suspiciously shifty.

Who done it?

The film is stylishly produced and directed by Branagh himself with a script by Michael Green, who most recently penned "Blade Runner 2049," and Branagh seems to be having a wonderful time directing the cinematography, because the camera shoots from below, from above (he particularly likes that), from afar and close up.  And he enjoys starring as Poirot too, it seems, because most of those close-ups are of himself!  He also has a moustache that is so big it could have its own Twitter account. 

The actors all do what they can with this old chestnut, but throughout the film I just couldn't tell what Branagh was trying to do.  Was this a comedy?  Was he playing Poirot tongue-in-cheek because there were certainly some funny and over-the-top moments and that moustache!  But then there would be these dramatic sad moments, the moustache not withstanding.  Also for a murder mystery, not much happened.  We didn't really see Poirot do much detectiving (is that a word) nor could we read his mind, so as a viewer, we were pretty much left off this train.  So I didn't know quite what to make of this film or how I was supposed to feel. 

The bottom line was that once again, this was an unnecessary remake.  

Albert Finney starred in a perfectly good version in 1974 that also included an star-studded cast, and of course there is David Suchet, who made a name for himself as Poirot, so I really don't understand why this one needed to be made or why all of these A-list actors wanted to do it, especially since the material itself is dated, the story doesn't really stand up well today and the characters are not fleshed out at all.  So why?  Did they all just want to wear stylish 1930's clothes and chew the scenery a bit, which, believe me, they did.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Christie may have been one of the best-selling authors of all time and this film may be star-studded, but none of that can save what is very corny and I don't like corn.

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

On DVD and Streaming

Dean (2016)

Dean is having a difficult time dealing with his mother's death and it doesn't help when his Dad decides to sell the family home and move on with his life.

Demetri Martin wrote, directed and stars as Dean, an artist/cartoonist whose mother has died and he is having a difficult time moving on.  He also has a difficult relationship with his Dad, Robert (Kevin Kline), who has decided not to wallow in grief but to exercise, embrace self-help programs and find another woman to love, which he does.  Dean wants to wallow.

When his Dad decides to sell the family home and asks Dean to come over to get rid of some of his stuff, Dean takes a friend up on an invitation to go to L.A. to try to sell his cartoons as a way to avoid all of that.  However, when he meets with the ad executives in L.A. and discovers that they want to use his drawings for a deodorant commercial where a nerd suddenly can turn his rudimentary drawings into amazing works of art once he has used the deodorant and the ad guys want his drawings for the "before" drawings, he excuses himself.

He reconnects with an old friend, Becca (Briga Heelan), in a very funny scene where she tells him she has a boyfriend but at the same time is clearly coming on to Dean.  Later he meets Nicky (Gillian Jacobs) and the two hit it off but Nicky has a secret that drives them apart.

In the meantime, Robert has put the house up for sale and meets a realtor, Carol (Mary Steenburgen), and the two have an attraction but Robert is still hung up on the fact that he is "married.

Will our father and son, separated by grief and the generation gap, find love and connection?

The film is all very hip and millennial with strangely hip characters, like Dean's friend Eric (Rory Scovel) who is an over-the-top cat person, and Dean is so hip and millennial that he has a poster on his wall that says, "Poster." The film is also festooned with Dean's drawings, which are actually drawn by Martin (is there anything this kid can't do?) and they are hip but also very funny.

But the film isn't just millennial hipster schtick.  It's really all about grief, the different ways that people deal with it, and the difficulty of connecting with others.  Sometimes we might not think someone is grieving because they avoid it, and it takes awhile for grief to kick in.  The deaths of others forces us to face our own mortality and that's not something we easily embrace. There is also a generation gap that makes understanding each other difficult. But in the end we discover that if we really love someone we never lose them, even if they are no longer physical with us.

Like Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Samantha Bee, John Oliver and others, Martin is a talented "Daily Show" alum who has struck out on his own and who I hope will make more films.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a charming little film with an unlikely, but realistic, leading man.

The Meyerowitz Stories [New and Selected] (2017)

An estranged family gathers in New York City to celebrate their father.

I have an affinity for Noah Baumbach films (he writes and directs) partly because of his association with actress Greta Gerwig, who has starred in many of his films, most notably "Mistress America" and "Frances Ha."  I have always wondered when she was going to break out big and maybe this is her time with a new film that she has directed that is in theatres now and getting a lot of buzz - "Lady Bird (see my review next Friday)! 

But I am also drawn to Baumbach's films because of his writing, which is always fresh and real and character driven ("The Squid and the Whale," which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay).

This film is no exception.

Adam Sandler plays Danny, a guy who is getting a divorce and who basically was a house husband who never had the confidence to pursue a career, despite some musical talent.  Now his daughter is off to college.  Danny has had a rocky relationship with Harold, his Dad (Dustin Hoffman), who is an egotistical, insensitive, curmudgeonly sculptor and ex-art teacher at Bard College who is divorced from Danny's mother and now married to his fourth wife, an alcoholic hippie (Emma Thompson).  Danny has felt the greatest impact of Harold's ego and neglect and still cares very much what Harold thinks of him.

Then there is Danny's brother, Matthew (Ben Stiller).  He is a happily married developer who now lives in L.A. and the son Harold brags about.  He has come home to try to get Harold to sell his house and do some estate planning.

And Harold has one daughter, Jean (Elizabeth Marvel).  Like Danny, she too was neglected by Harold.

Harold has been married four times. Danny and Jean were the products of Harold's second marriage and Matthew his third and Matthew is clearly more favored than Danny or Jean.  Ironically, though, Danny cares more about his Dad and what he thinks than Matthew does so the brothers are always jockeying for position with Harold, each in their own way.

Harold is not an easy guy to get through to.  He neglected his older children, Danny and Jean, but when Matthew came along with his third and younger wife, that child received what the older children didn't.  You see this a lot with the children of celebrities and other hugely successful people.  In the early years of a celebrity career, the father is focused on his career.  Then when fame hits, he sheds his first wife (in Harold's case, his second one too) and children and marries a much younger woman with whom he also has children, and since fame has already arrived, he can now focus on the younger children.  It happened with Caitlyn Jenner's older children and the older children of Michael Douglas, Bing Crosby...I could go on and on.  It's a thing.

But though Harold focused more on Matthew, his ego was really too big to have much to do with any of his children.

"It's hard to have a relationship with a child," he says at one point.

But then Harold is diagnosed with a brain tumor and all bets are off, because no matter how horrible or neglectful our parent might be, he's our horrible and neglectful parent.

The film is broken into chapters and there is a chapter for each of the siblings, and we get to see their individual stories and how they ended up as they did.

This film also explores the age-old generation gap and the resentments children have toward their parents and the cluelessness of the parents as to why. It's also about siblings and how easy it is to lose touch when they grow up and move away, but who still come together over the common parent.  How much do parents play a part in siblings being close or not?  How much that is unsaid causes rifts?  What happens to parent-child and sibling relationships when one sibling leaves home and the other stays?  All of these family issues are explored in this smart and fascinating family story now streaming on Netflix.

It's strange seeing Adam Sandler as a Dad worrying about Dad things. 

I still think of him as Stud Boy on the MTV game show "Remote Control," which was where I first saw him.  I always remember him having a perpetual smirk, a warning that he was about to say something funny. Whether it was on SNL singing one of his Hannukah songs or as a character in one of his films, whether he was telling a joke or saying a dramatic line, it seemed he always had this perpetual smirk going on, and because of that, I was never much of an Adam Sandler fan.  So I didn't want to like him in this.  But I am happy to say that he has finally not only gotten rid of that smirk, he was really believable here.  I am actually going to go further than that.  He was a revelation. He exhibited a poignancy I have never seen before.  I didn't want to like him in this but I did, and I didn't see a trace of those old mannerisms.  Perhaps Stud Boy has finally grown up.  He does sing one of his little silly songs of his but it was a very sweet scene with his daughter.

Then there was Dustin Hoffman.  Dustin was...well, Dustin Hoffman.  

Always the consummate professional, always a good actor, he also does pretentious very well.  I saw him on a talk show recently talking about his role in this film.  He talked about how his career had changed from leads to old dying guys so because this part in this film was another old dying guy, he almost turned it down but was glad that he didn't because he thought the writing was good.  And good for him, because Harold is not an easy character to like.  In fact, I know guys like him and dislike those kinds of people immensely: long-winded, uncaring, insensitive, opinionated and lacking any self awareness about how his actions are affecting others.  Hoffman is very good at those kinds of parts and he is very good here.

And no matter what kind of part Ben Stiller plays, he always gets a chance to look flummoxed and cast his deadpan face on something crazy going on and this film is no exception.

There is a Woody Allen feel to this film, and come to think of it, there is that feel in many of director and writer Noah Baumbach's films, which are usually family dramas and character-driven stories that are funny but funny in a smart, real way, not in a pratfall, silly-situations way.  I think Baumbach will carry on Woody's torch - the torch of subtle intellectual comedies that focus on human relationships.  That is, when and if Woody ever passes it along.

Rosy the Reviewer says...all adults with issues about their parents and siblings should see this film.  Then you will know you are not alone.

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

165 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

Recently released from a mental hospital, Karin (Harriet Andersson) joins her family at an island retreat but her mental illness starts to haunt her.

Karin is just back from a mental hospital and is vacationing with her husband, Martin (Max von Sydow) her younger brother, Minus (Lars Passgard), and her father, David (Gunnar Bjornstrand), who is a writer.  Karin seems carefree and feels that she has overcome her mental illness but is devastated when she finds her father's diary where he writes that her illness is incurable and he plans to use it as fodder for his writing.  As the film progresses she starts to break down again and has hallucinations, finally seeing God as a frightening spider.  

All of the characters react to Karin's illness: Martin realizes that no matter how much he loves Karin, he can't save her; David realizes that he has put his work before his family; and Minus is dragged into Karin's mental illness himself while at the same time dealing with his blossoming sexuality.

Directed by Ingmar Bergman, this film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1962 (the second of three he would receive in his career) and is part of Bergman's "Silence of God" trilogy that includes "Winter Light" and "The Silence."  It also includes lots and lots of angst.

There is a reason why Bergman influenced so many filmmakers from Frances Ford Coppola to Ang Lee to Woody Allen.  He was innovative and did things on film that had never been done before - long lingering close-ups of faces, breaking the fourth wall by having the characters talk directly to the screen, characters uttering deep thoughts in profile, obsession with death, crisis of faith, black and white cinematography and characters who out of nowhere say things like "The wolves have their teeth." But those things are also the reason why Bergman is so easy to parody.

Bergman often explored the issue of faith.  Is faith the equivalent of madness?  Is that why madness is so often associated with seeing God or thinking one IS God?  Or are we considered mad when we show emotion and tell the truth? 

Harriet Andersson was Bergman's muse for many years and starred in many of his films. Sven Nykvist was his cinematographer and Woody admired Bergman so much that he poached Nykvist for his films.

Why it's a Must See: "...with its handful of characters, isolated setting, brief time span, and uncluttered visuals...[there is] nothing to dilute the force of its emotional and philosophical thrust; no wonder Bergman saw it as the first of his films to pave the way toward the masterpiece that was Persona (1966)."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...when you consider what was coming out of Hollywood in the early 1960's, it becomes even more apparent how Bergman was a masterful filmmaker ahead of his time.
(b & w, in Swedish with English subtitles)

***Book of the Week***

Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside his Cult and the Darkness that Ended the Sixties by Dianne Lake (2017)

A little known member of Charles Manson's "Family" shares her story.

What a strange coincidence that I would have just finished this book as Charles Manson took his last breath.  One of the most reviled mad men of our time, he died in prison this last week at the age of 83.

And yet, despite the evil that he engineered, I have always been fascinated with Charles Manson and his "family." I don't have a personal connection at all with Charles Manson per se but the Tate-La Bianca murders happened right before I moved to California from Michigan after college.  The Zodiac killer was running around there then too, so that was very much on my mind when I moved to San Francisco in 1970.  There was a very scary and sinister quality in the air.  

Dianne Lake was only 14 when her parents decided to drop out and move into a bread truck and live the hippie life.  They gave her a note giving her permission to be on her own, and through a series of circumstances, she ended up under the influence of Charles Manson, whose stints in prison as a young man taught him the ins and outs of being a pimp, how to be all things to all young women, and eventually get them to do whatever he demanded.

Dianne was one of the youngest member of his "family," and though she did not participate in any of the murders, she was an active member of the lifestyle and privy to all that was going on.  When Manson and some of his followers were arrested, Lake eventually joined the prosecution's case against Manson and those who participated in the murders.  Over the course of two years with Manson, Dianne endured his psychological control and physical abuse as Manson prepared for "Helter Skelter," the race war he believed was coming when he and his family would rise from the ashes and rule the world.

Though there have been many books about Manson over the years, most famously Vincent Bugliosi's book "Helter Skelter," which has served as the definitive story, few have been written by those who were actually there with Manson and could give a first-hand account as everything played out.
Lake is candid about her time with Manson and his followers and her story is a riveting one, a tale of lost innocence and redemption in a time of great social upheaval.

I have always been fascinated by cults, why and how people are pulled into them. Though I didn't have parents who dropped out and left me to fend for myself - rather I had a very middle-class, Midwest upbringing - I moved far away from home at a young age to San Francisco at a time when many were experimenting with alternative lifestyles and young people were rebelling against the establishment.  Looking back, I also realize that I was a very immature and naive young woman who, if circumstances had been different, might very well have been lured into something by someone like Charles Manson and ended up like some of Charles Manson's girls, many of whom grew up in environments much like mine.

Lake explains it very well:

"There have been many false prophets like Charlie, but even now, all these years later, I find it hard to explain what it was like to actually believe that he was a kind of messiah.  It's an incredible concept, totally impossible to fathom: that the person you're standing next to or having sex with is somehow related to God...But that's what it means to be in a cult.  You lose a part of yourself to someone else or to a group, so that your entire mind no longer belongs to you...There are not obvious analogies to what it's like when someone has that kind of a hold over you...You simply have an unwavering faith that the person has a power that no one else on earth can possibly know or wield.  And when you look at someone and honestly believe that person is related to God, and that person looks at you and tells you you're special, that you matter -- it gives that person a power over you that's unlike any other...I'd come to the Family because I'd wanted to belong, because I was looking for a place in the world.  I was gradually drawn in until I couldn't see how lost I'd become.  No one chooses to be in a cult; no one seeks it out or strives for it.  Being in a cult is not something you notice as it's happening -- it doesn't matter if you're incredibly aware or if you're a teenager who can't see past her own emotions.  With a cult, you believe you're on solid ground until you discover -- usually much too late -- that not only is your footing shaky, but it's already given way."

Rosy the Reviewer says...there but for fortune...

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 

for my review of  

"Lady Bird"  



 The Week in Reviews
(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)

 and 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).