Showing posts with label Nothing Fancy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nothing Fancy. Show all posts

Friday, February 14, 2020

"1917" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "1917" as well as "Countdown" and "Gemini Man."  The Book of the Week is another cookbook, "Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over" by Alison Roman.  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "The Saragossa Manuscript."]


Two WW I British soldiers must traverse No Man's Land to stop a planned British attack on the Germans, an attack that is a German trap.

Winner of a Golden Globe and BAFTA for Best Picture and a Best Director award for director Sam Mendes, as well as over 100 more awards, this film was poised to win the Oscar for Best Picture and a Best Director Oscar for Sam Mendes, but victory was snatched from the jaws of defeat by director Bong Joon Ho and his film "Parasite," which had been gaining momentum over the last few weeks leading up to the Oscars. (I actually predicted this happening in my review of "Parasite.")

But Best Picture Oscar or not, this film is extraordinary. And it and director Sam Mendes were both deserving of the nominations.

First, let me say that I am not a fan of war movies, but this isn't just any war movie.  This is also a horror film that expertly, economically, beautifully and poignantly (I can't use enough adjectives) shows the horror of war as it follows two young British soldiers - Lance Corporals Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) - who are sent on what could be a death mission to try to stop an offensive by another British battalion, the Second Devons, who are planning an attack on the Germans.  However, they have bad information and it's actually a trap set by the Germans and all 1600 British troops are bound to be killed, Blake's brother among them. There is no communication - the radio lines are down - so Schofield and Blake must run across enemy lines in Northern France into trenches they hope have been abandoned by the Germans and make their way to the Second Devons alone.  

It's a war film with an airplane dog fight, a sniper, a raging river, bombs, lots and lots of dead bodies and an aura of the bitterness and stress of war. But it's also a film about saving lives, courage, loyalty, love, and friendship.

In addition to eight other Oscar nominations, the film did garner three wins: for visual effects, sound mixing and cinematography, and it is the cinematography that also sets this film apart from all other war films.  The film looks like it was shot in one two hour take. However, that is not really the case. It was actually filmed in a series of uncut takes that were seamlessly connected to make it seem as if we were watching these two young men on their perilous mission in real time.  And that choice makes for a very tense and mesmerizing film, indeed.  Kudos to Roger Deakins who won the Oscar for Best Cinematography, but also to director Mendes, whose choices led to this - and I can't use this word enough - this extraordinary film.  And the film was a personal journey for Mendes, who at the end of the film, dedicates it to a family member.

The film was also nominated for Best Production Design and, though "Once Upon a Hollywood" won for its amazing depiction of 1960's L.A, this film certainly also deserved that nomination.  The endless trenches, the battlefield dotted with dead bodies both human and animal, and the bombed out town were just breathtakingly and sadly beautiful.

Though the look and feel of this film takes center stage, the actors were also wonderful. I can't believe that McKay was not nominated for a Best Actor Oscar.  He, too, was extraordinary and was pretty much the very heart of this film. We care about Corporal Scofield, we want him to make it, we don't want him to be a casualty of the horrors of war.

All wars are terrible but WW I was particularly terrible with men in muddy trenches or in hand-to-hand combat, only to gain an inch of land, and Mendes does not glamorize this war.  General Sherman said "War is hell."  And there is no better description than that nor a better film to illustrate it.

Rosy the Reviewer extraordinary feat of movie making that made me cry for the sheer beauty of it.

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


Countdown (2019)

If there was an app that could tell you when you were going to die, would you want to know?  Me neither.

But that's not the case with a bunch of millennials who come across an app that says it will predict when you die.  Should they do it?  "It's just an app." At first it's fun when several download the app and discover that they have years and years ahead of them. But poor Courtney (Anne Winters).  The app says she only has three hours to live. Geez.  Okay, it's just an app.  When Courtney's boyfriend (Dillon Lane) gets drunk, Courtney decides to walk the dark...alone.  Don't do it, girl!  Then her phone buzzes and says, "User agreement broken." Next she is being followed by a big hairy guy, but it's not the hairy guy she needs to worry about.  She gets home and dies in a supernatural way in her own bathroom. Turns out her drunk boyfriend had a car accident too, so either way, she was going to die.

So who's next?

Meet Quinn (Elizabeth Lail).  She is a nurse and meets the drunk boyfriend who crashed his car.  He ended up in the hospital and is about to go into surgery. He is sure that he is going to die. He tells her about the app and she downloads it.  Not good.  Quinn finds out she only has two days left.  At first she doesn't take it seriously, but when the drunk boyfriend does actually die in surgery...Okay, time to delete the app.  Nooooo.  It won't delete and time is ticking away.  It doesn't help that Quinn notices a shadowy figure following her around.  The Grim Reaper?  She has to figure out a way to save herself before time runs out.  Tick...tick...tick...It's a race against time.

Turns out this is yet another instance of the importance of reading an app's user agreement (see my review of "Jexi").

Quinn goes to a phone store to get help and talks to Derek (Tom Sergura),  a smart ass phone sales person (what is it with smart ass phone sales people? - see also "Jexi" for that too) and buys a new phone, thinking she can start over.  Oops.  The app automatically installs itself on her new phone.  Tick. Tick. Tick. She also meets Matt (Jordan Calloway), who has the same problem she does, not much time left, and he can't stop the countdown on his phone, either.  Better read that damn user agreement. So they do. It states that the user agreement is broken if the user tries to change his or her fate.

They are referred to Father John (P.J. Byrne), a priest who still believes in demons and the devil.  I mean, when in doubt blame it on the devil.   With the help of the priest, it is determined that the app is a curse from the devil and the only way to beat the curse is to prove the devil wrong (he doesn't like that) by either dying before the countdown ends or live at least one second past.  Well, the former is not an option so Quinn and Jordan need to figure out how to live past their death deadline. Will they?

In the meantime, Quinn is being sexually harassed by a doctor (Peter Facinelli) at the hospital, a sort of #MeToo Movement side-story that does little to help either the movement or the movie.

Written and directed by Justin Dec, I have to ask myself why I end up watching all of these films aimed at millennials.  I guess part of the reason is that as I get older the stars of movies get younger.  And I actually like these thriller cum horror films.  I don't like the really gross ones like "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" or the "Hostel" and "Saw" series, but a nice little thriller, more along the lines of "Happy Death Day"  with just the right abount of gotcha moments is good for the heart once in awhile, and I liked the premise of this film. And it's actually funny at times, though not sure if it was supposed to be.  It's not going to win any awards but it's an amusing 90 minutes in a "Final Destination" kind of way.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like middle of the road horror, you might like this.

Gemini Man (2019)

An aging hit man can't figure out how a man coming after him knows his every move...until he discovers the other hitman is a clone of himself!

We once again see the age regression magic that was used in "The Irishman," except this time it is used on Will Smith who plays himself as well as a younger version of himself.  

Will plays assassin/sharp shooter, Henry Brogan, who works for the DIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, a thinly veiled version of the CIA.  Despite 72 kills, he is actually a good guy.  When he isn't killing people, he lives a sort of Zen life in Georgia.  After a botched hit, he decides to retire and heads to his home in Georgia, but as Michael Corleone said in "The Godfather," "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!" 

Henry meets Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is at the dock renting boats, but who is in fact an agent sent to keep tabs on Henry.  And for some reason that is never made clear, Henry has now become the prey instead of the hunter as Clay Varris (Clive Owen), head of a black ops unit Code Name "Gemini," wants him dead. As I said, it's unclear why Varris wants Henry dead, something about the government screwing up and Henry killing the wrong guy, but all kind of far-fetched.  But not as far-fetched as the fact that Varris just happens to have a son named Junior who also just happens to be a clone of Henry.  So now Henry must try to outsmart himself in order to stay alive. Danny turns out to be on Henry's side and the two go on the run to try to find out why Varris wants Henry dead while at the same time trying to stay alive.

Written by David Benioff, Billy Ray, and Darren Lemke, it's all very complicated and convoluted as these kinds of thrillers often are, but Will Smith has that "X" factor, that something special that compels you to watch him, and with this added feature of playing against a younger version of himself, it can be fun to watch at times, though this is one of those movies where the trailer makes you think one thing and the movie turns out to be completely different.

There are the usual motorcycle chases, bombs, lasers and gun fights, though the way they are portrayed look more like a video game than a film.  Something in the way director Ang Lee filmed this movie - higher frame rates - makes it look exactly like a video game and that actually makes the film kind of annoying and exhausting.

This is an odd film to be directed by Ang Lee, who is most known for more serious, high-brow films like "Sense and Sensibility," "The Ice Storm" and "Brokeback Mountain," but I don't fault him for wanting to do something different.  I just wish the film had been better and not presented as a video game.  The premise is kind of weak too:  we have to believe that if someone is a clone of you, the clone would know what you are thinking and be able to predict your every move.  It's an interesting concept but kind of a stretch and in the end kind of a yawn.

Will does a good job playing himself and his younger self, but there is little in the way of character deveopment. Mary Elizabeth Winstead looks like a young Signourney Weaver and poor Clive Owen doesn't really have much to do.  All in all, disappointing.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like watching video games, you might enjoy this.

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

43 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

The Saragossa Manuscript (1965)

An officer finds a book and he lives out some of the fantasies in the book.

During a Napoleonic Wars battle in the town of Saragossa, Alfonse van Worden (Zbigniew Cybulski), a Belgian officer, finds a large book on the second floor of an inn and becomes engrossed in it.  Alfonse then finds himself living out the stories in the book in a kind of Arabian Nights fantasia. He finds an inn where he meets two Moorish princesses, Emina (Iga Cembrzynska) and Zibelda (Joanna Jedryka), sisters who tell Alfonse they are his cousins, and, as the last of the Gomelez line, he must marry both of them.  After drinking out of a skull goblet, Alfonse finds himself in a desolate countryside where he meets a hermit priest who is trying to cure a possessed man who tells his story, which also features some sisters.

The next morning, Alfonse leaves the inn but is captured by members of the Spanish Inquisition and then rescued by - you guessed it - those two sisters (I am seeing a pattern here) who seduced him earlier. He then meets a caballist and goes to his castle.

End of Part I.

Sigh.  There's a Part II?

This part is a series of stories told by the leader of a band of gypsies and the stories are not only tales-within-a-tale but tales-within-a-tale-within-a-tale and there is a coming together of sorts at the end of the film, if you make it that far (the film is three hours long!) and can figure out what the hell is going on. 

Directed by Wojciech Has, there is all kinds of mysticism, symbolism and the supernatural at work here, and it is difficult to tell what is fantasy and what is reality. It has been recommended that you watch this several times to understand everything that is going on. You know what I think when someone tells me that about a movie? I lose all desire to see it. I don't want to have to work that hard to enjoy a film. Why can't a movie make sense the first time?  In this case, watching it once was enough.

Why it's a Must See: "Jerry Garcia proclaimed this 1965 Polish feature his favorite movie..."

Garcia supposedly saw an abbreviated version of this film in the 60's when it first came out and loved it so much he worked with Martin Scorsese and Frances Ford Coppola to restore the film to its original three hour length, which they did in 1999. So we have Jerry Garcia to thank for this three hour version!  I am being sarcastic. I wish he hadn't done it. Not sure why he loved it so much, but remember it was the 60's.  There were a lot of strange movies produced in that decade, and, uh, Jerry was not averse to taking a puff or two and doing a hit of acid, which might explain why he liked this mess.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Is the fact that this film was Jerry Garcia's favorite movie reason enough to see this film before you die?  No.
(In Polish with English subtitles)

***The Book of the Week***

Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over by Alison Roman (2019)

Entertaining doesn't need to be stressful!

You may have noticed, people don't seem to get together to play cards or bowl or invite people over like they used to back in the "old days."  If you haven't noticed, and you don't believe me, read "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community" by Robert Putnam, which he wrote all the way back in 2001. He thought then that people had stopped inviting people over, stopped joining groups as in bowling leagues, hence the title, a metaphor for the fact that we have all stopped interracting with our fellow humans. Back in 2001, Putnam blamed it on television, women working and people having to commute to and from their jobs, leaving little time for bridge groups, bowling leagues and dinner parties. And now, in 2020, things are even worse.  We still have television, women still work, and we are still commuting except now we also have technology and social media which cuts us off from human interaction even more.

Well, Alison Roman wants to fix that in her own little way - with food.  She has made it easier for us all to get together in this fun book about entertaining.  Well, sorry, she actually points out that "This is not a book about entertaining."  It's about love.

"Using your time and resources to feed people you care about is the ultimate expression of love.  And love is about expressing joy, not producing anxiety, so the other thing I want you to get out of it is: You can do this."

So she has written a cookbook that makes it easy for you to have people over for a meal and the cookbook is also fun to read (you know I like to do that)!

Roman starts the book with "Three helpful things:"

1.  Ask for help - have your guests participate
2.  Pick your battles - don't strive for perfection and everything does not have  to be piping hot when it hits the table.
3. Never apologize - "Embrace the quirky imperfections that make dinner at your house special and different."

On that note, Roman goes on to give advice on shopping, what ingredients and equipment to have on hand and then the recipes: snacks, salads, sides, mains and desserts.  Each section contains an introduction with her cooking philosophy e.g. the salad section begins with "These days, a salad can be anything you want it to be" and for her lengthy section on "Sides" she says:

'Side Dish' is a very misleading term.  It implies something that exists only to serve as an accompaniment to something else.  No disrespect to a great chicken or an expensive steak, but it's no secret that sides are often the most delicious things on the table.  In fact, I make a meal of  'just sides' all the time and don't see anything wrong with your doing that either. Side dishes deserve our unrestrained love and utmost respect! Thank you for coming to my TED Talk."

Oh, did I say she also has a sense of humor?

Yes, what really sets this cookbook apart from others is not only the stories Roman tells about each recipe but her sense of humor and no-nonsense approach.  She knows we are all busy, but she wants you to enjoy cooking for those you care about. She takes you by the hand and walks you through every recipe so you never need to feel insecure about having people over again!  She also uses unique ingredients. She inspired me to buy some anchovy paste.  It's one of her favorite ingredients!  I am intrigued.

Roman's love of stress-free cooking could prove Putnam and his "bowling alone" theory wrong and could get us off our phones and out from in front of our computers and TVs and get us socializing again with real live humans. So from a lovely shrimp cocktail to a salad with celery, fennel, walnuts and blue cheese to Wine-Roasted Artichokes (did I say she LOVES sides?) to Citrus Chicken Rested in Herbs to Crushed Blackberry and Cornmeal Cake, I am ready to turn off the TV and have some people over.

Rosy the Reviewer come on down!

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday


"JoJo Rabbit"


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.