Showing posts with label Once Upon a Time in the West. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Once Upon a Time in the West. Show all posts

Friday, August 31, 2018

"The Happytime Murders" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "The Happytime Murders" as well as DVDs "Permanent" and "Please Stand By."  The Book of the Week is "Captive: A Mother's Crusade to Save Her Daughter from a Terrifying Cult" by Catherine Oxenburg.  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Once Upon a Time in the West."]

The Happytime Murders

When the puppet cast of a popular 80's TV show start getting murdered one by one, an ex-cop turned detective takes on the case.  He's also a puppet.

I judge a comedy on whether I laugh or not and in spite of myself I did actually laugh out loud a couple of times.  I say in spite of myself because my first choice of comedy is not necessarily one where puppets spout the F-bomb and have sex. What did make me laugh at times were the pop culture references, the "gruesome" puppet crime scenes (lots of stuffing!) and the film noir tropes that are woven into the film.

Melissa McCarthy as human detective Connie Edwards actually plays second fiddle to a puppet, Detective Phil Phillips (voice of Bill Barretta).  Edwards and Phillips were partners on the LAPD until Phil froze during a hostage standoff with a puppet bad guy and missed his shot, shooting an innocent bystander by mistake. He was accused of not being able to shoot another puppet thus making it impossible for any other puppets to become police officers.  Since then he has become a hard-boiled detective.

He is approached by sex pot puppet, Sandra (voice of Dorien Davies), who wants Phil to find out who is blackmailing her.  As he works on the case, puppets from a popular 80's TV show, "The Happytime Gang," one of which is Phil's brother, start getting killed off and Phil teams back up with his old partner, Connie, and the two try to track down the killer.

The film makes use of film noir tropes - hard boiled detective, mysterious curvy femme fatale needing a detective's help, deadpan voice-over narration, sleazy underworld and lots of smoking.  The film is also a marvel of puppetry and if you stay for the outtakes at the end, you get a feel for just what goes into creating a believable world peopled by puppets.

Phil plies his trade in a world where puppets are second-class citizens, giving the film a chance to make some timely comments about racial discrimination though it certainly could have gone further with that.  And that is what is ultimately wrong with this film.  It just doesn't have much to say.

McCarthy doesn't have much to do here either except swear at Phil but Maya Rudolph, as Phil's human secretary, is always a fun addition to a film. But what was Elizabeth Banks doing in this film? Not much as it turns out.

Written by Todd Berger and directed by Jim Henson's son Brian, don't think you are going to see Elmo or any cuddly puppets here. This is more "Avenue Q" than "Sesame Street." These are foul-mouthed puppets who drink, smoke, do drugs and have sex ejaculating Silly String all over the place, so this is decidedly not a film for the kids.

Rosy the Reviewer can skip this one unless your idea of fun is puppets having swearing and having sex.

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


Permanent (2017)

Thirteen-year-old Aurelie (Kira McLean) is having trouble fitting in a school and it doesn't help when she gets a bad permanent.

This is a comedy about teen angst and... hair.  

It's 1982. Aurelie is a young awkward who is starting at a new school and feels ugly.  When she complains to her mother, Jeanne (Patricia Arquette) that she wants to be beautiful, her mother, being the practical type, tells her that "Beautiful is a lot of work." But Aurelie thinks that having lovely soft ringlets would change her life.  She begs her mom and dad, Jim (Rainn Wilson), to get her a permanent but money is tight so instead of taking her to a salon they take her to a beauty school where her permanent turns into a huge head of curls that looks more like Barbra Streisand in "A Star is Born," than Shirley Temple.

So now she has to go to a new school with this huge head of hair which doesn't help her popularity any and she is mercilessly bullied. She makes friends with Lydia (Nena Daniels), who appears to be the only black student in the school but it's an uneasy friendship because Lydia doesn't trust anyone. She has hair issues, too, it turns out but what the film tries to do with that comes too little too late.

Aurelie's Mom and Dad are not much help either. They have their own problems. Jim used to be a flight steward for Air Force One in D.C. but has left that job and moved the family to a small town so he can go back to school.  He is unhappy to learn that part of his requirement for graduation is that he spend a certain amount of time in the pool and must show that he can swim and dive.  This is not a good thing for Jim because he wears a toupee.

Jeanne is a waitress at a Kentucky Fried Chicken type restaurant and is sexually frustrated mostly because Jim doesn't want to mess up his carefully arranged "hair."  She is obsessed with sea mammals and is happy to discover one night sounds of dolphins mating coming from the house next door.  She strikes up a friendship with the old guy next door who also turns out to be a family counselor.

When I was young getting a permanent was a rite of passage for little girls except in my case, unlike Aurelie, I wasn't the one who wanted a permanent.  It was my mother.  She thought my hair was too straight, which I guess wasn't considered a good thing in the 1950's.  That's what Shirley Temple did to us back then.  Our mothers wanted us to look like her.  But like Aurelie and many young girls, I was obsessed with my hair too, trying to make myself look like the models in "Seventeen Magazine."  Remember when the magazines would publish pictures of how to set your hair to look like the models?  I would try that, sleep on those hard plastic curlers and wake up looking more like Phyllis Diller than Twiggy.

McLean is a sweet presence in the film but, though it's mostly about her, she strangely plays second fiddle to the antics of Arquette and Wilson.

According to this movie, school is a hell hole and families are very very strange which could be true for most of us.  Sometimes you watch movies and wonder how and why a particular movie got made.  This is one of those.  Written and directed by Colette Burson, this is a very quirky indie film about very quirky people but also could be how school, families and life look to thirteen-year-old girls.  Maybe the point of this film was to make us all feel grateful that our families are not this strange. Or maybe the film was just about hair.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I didn't really like this movie or get the point, but I will give it props for not being predictable.

Please Stand By (2017)

Wendy (Dakota Fanning), a young autistic woman, runs away from her group home to L.A. to submit her manuscript for a "Star Trek" writing competition.

Yet another quirky indie film, but this one I really liked.

Autism takes on many forms and exists on a long spectrum.  Wendy's takes the form of not being able to deal with loud noises or frustrations which in turn cause her to have tantrums. Autistic people may not be what we associate with "socially normal," but their inner lives are usually rich and focused.  In Wendy's case, she is focused "Star Trek" and is writing a script with "Star Trek" characters. She lives in a group home in San Francisco and works at Cinnabon.  She has a caregiver, Scottie (Toni Collette), who reminds Wendy of her schedule each day and what she needs to remember to keep her life calm. "Please stand by" is the phrase Scottie uses when Wendy starts to lose it. Wendy really wants to live with her sister, Audrey (Alice Eve), who has a new baby but Audrey is still afraid of Wendy's rages, especially since she has a new baby, and doesn't trust that Wendy can cope living in the outside world.

Wendy is working on a 500 page script for a "Star Trek" movie and discovers that Paramount Studios is conducting a contest for the best "Star Trek" script with a prize of $100,000.  Wendy sees this as a way to leave the group home and live with her sister but the script has to reach L.A. by a certain time and mailing it won't get it there on time so she heads for L.A.  When Scottie and Audrey discover Wendy missing they are in hot pursuit.

Meanwhile, Wendy has the usual fish-out-of-water adventures that you would expect from a person who has been sheltered from the world.  She gets kicked off a bus in the middle of nowhere when her little dog, Pete, is discovered, something I don't think would really ever happen but we need to give Wendy some things to overcome.  She encounters a woman and a baby at a deserted gas station and she offers Wendy a ride but when Wendy gets back from the restroom she discovers they have stolen her money.  But later through the kindness of strangers, one of whom was Rose, an elderly lady played by a particularly lovely Marla Gibbs (good to see her again!), Wendy makes her way to L.A. 

Written by Martin Golamco (based on his play) and directed by Ben Lewin, this movie is a little gem. And you don't have to be a "Star Trek" fan to enjoy it.  Dakoka Fanning is very believable without going overboard as the autistic Wendy.  Toni Colette is also believable as her caregiver.  She has a warmth about her and comes across as someone who really cares.

There is a great scene when runaway Wendy is spotted by some L.A. cops and Officer Frank (Patton Oswalt) just happens to also be a "Star Trek" fan and speaks Klingon (as many "Star Trek" fans do, I guess) and is able to calm Wendy down thus highlighting what a good symbol "Star Trek" was for this film, especially Spock with his half human, half alien persona and his difficulty dealing with emotions.

I discovered this film through watching some trailers of other films and I don't usually recommend that method because often the trailer is the best thing about a movie. You have to kiss a lot of film frogs doing that but sometimes you get a Prince of a film like this.

Rosy the Reviewer I said, a little gem of a film.

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

128 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

A mysterious man with a harmonica, a notorious desperado, a ruthless assassin and a beautiful woman all add up to an amazing horse opera.

It's all about the money as, Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti), a ruthless railroad tycoon who looks eerily like "The Phantom of the Opera," employs bad guys to kill the settlers so he can expand his railroad.  At the same time Charles Bronson is the harmonica carrying "no name" character who has his own mission: revenge. As the film progresses we discover the meaning of the harmonica and why he wants revenge. Jill (Claudia Cardinale), a prostitute with a heart of gold, has arrived in town to meet her new husband, Brett McBain (Frank Wolff) and his family.  They met when Brett was in New Orleans.  She arrives only to discover that Brett and his children have been cold-bloodedly killed by Frank (Henry Fonda), the assassin employed by Morton.  However, Jill's arrival is something Morton didn't count on.  Now he has to try to figure out how to get the land from Jill. 

Henry Fonda is uncharacteristically the bad guy here, which was kind of fun. He is so bad he shoots little kids.  He is also sexy in a rough sort of way when he manhandles Jill.  I wasn't really sure what Jason Robards was supposed to be doing but he was ruggedly handsome as Cheyenne and that was good enough for me.  This was an early feature film for him after success on Broadway.

All of the bad guys get to make grand entrances with dramatic music and there are long camera shots with everyone looking guilty or shifty or scared. It all felt very Tarantino before Tarantino.

However, this film is almost three hours long and I don't think any film should be that long unless it's "Gone With the Wind," but I have to say it kept me going.  It's a big arty over-the-top western that feels operatic.  I've never seen so many close-ups in my life.  I mean CLOSE UP.  So close you can see the actors' pores.

I am usually not a big fan of westerns.  I think I overdosed on them in the fifties and sixties when westerns ruled TV - "Bonanza," "Have Gun Will Travel," "Gunsmoke."  My Dad was a huge western fan, probably because he wanted to be a cowboy himself, so we watched a LOT of westerns. I think another reason I don't like westerns is that it's mostly about men and it's a man's world, a place I don't really like to hang. But I have to say that I can understand how this film was a groundbreaking western when it came out so if I am going to like a western, it's this kind of western.  Director Sergio Leone pulls out all of the stops to make a very entertaining film with lots going on, great music, beautiful cinematography and sex!  I've never seen Henry Fonda so sexy!

Why it's a Must See: "With striking widescreen compositions and epic running time, this is truly a Western that wins points for both length and width."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...if I am going to like a western, it's this kind of western.

***The Book of the Week***

Captive: A Mother's Crusade to Save Her Daughter from a Terrifying Cult by Catherine Oxenberg (2018)

Actress Catherine Oxenberg (remember "Dynasty" and all of those 80's shoulder pads?) tries to save her daughter, India, from the clutches of the cult NXIVM.

You have probably heard all about this.  It was all over the news and Oxenberg was pivotal in exposing the group.  But here Oxenberg also shares the personal side of this story and how both she and her daughter got involved with Nxivm.  In fact it was Catherine's idea and no doubt there is quite a bit of guilt on Catherine's part about that.  

Oxenberg, who is the daughter of Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia and once played a princess herself ("The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana") as well as Amanda Carrington on "Dynasty," is an admitted self help junkie, having tried everything from rolfing to Tony Robbins training to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (you know, the guy the Beatles were into for a time). 

In 2011, Catherine heard about a leadership seminar for a new organization called NXIVM run by a mysterious leader, Keith Raniere, also known as Vanguard, whose followers touted that he had an IQ of 240 and held the key to a better world. Her twenty-year-old daughter, India, was starting a new company and Catherine thought this might help her.  She also saw their doing this together as a mother/daughter exercise. But it wasn't long before Catherine started to question the organization and their techniques.  Unfortunately, as she pulled away, India was pulled deeper and deeper into it.

Despite Catherine’s best efforts, India was drawn deeper into the cult, eventually joining a secret, elite “sorority” of women members who were ordered to maintain a very low calorie diet (Raniere liked skinny women), recruit other women as “slaves,” and were branded, like cattle, with their leader’s initials.

To save her daughter, Catherine went on a crusade to expose Nxivm, Keith Raniere and just what was going on in the group. Despite having signed a nondisclosure agreement, something all members had to do, Oxemburg takes the reader inside the cult.  She worked tirelessly to get her daughter out and her efforts, along with others, resulted in Raniere's arrest for sex traffiking and other charges.

It's a captivating story but also a frustrating one. Oxenberg describes herself early on as having problems with many of the group's tenets and at the same time she was speaking up at meetings and workshops, challenging the status quo and worrying about her daughter, SHE KEPT GOING TO THE MEETINGS!

Rosy the Reviewer says...if like me, you are intrigued with the whole notion of cults and how they operate, this is a compelling look inside.

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 




 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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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.