Showing posts with label Pepe le Moko. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pepe le Moko. Show all posts

Friday, November 16, 2018

"Can You Ever Forgive Me?" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" as well as DVDs "Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot" and "BlacKkKlansman."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with " Pepe le Moko."]

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The true story of how writer Lee Israel turned from biographer to forger.

Well, now we know.  Melissa McCarthy is not just a very funny lady with a pretty face.  She can act! Here she sheds the makeup, the coiffed hair and her usually sunny attitude to play Lee Israel, a failing writer living in a dark and dank 1990's NYC.  She has had some successes with some biographies.  I mean, hey, she was on the NY Times Best Seller list for, god's sake, but now she can't even get her agent (Jane Curtin) on the phone.

One has to wonder, is it worse to have made it and then fallen from the heights or to never have made it at all?

Israel  is so down on her luck she doesn't have the money to pay the vet to heal her cat.  Her apartment smells so badly of cat feces that the exterminator won't even enter to solve her fly problem and she is finding it difficult to even get money together for food.  She's an eccentric with a short temper so she doesn't have any friends, either, except for her cat.  But she is working on a biography of Fanny Brice (who?) and while doing research at the library, something happens that changes the course of Lee's life.  She runs across two actual letters from Brice in one of the books.  Knowing that there is a market for celebrity and literary autographs and letters, she smuggles them out of the library and to test the water takes one to a book dealer who specializes in literary letters.  The book seller buys the letter but makes a remark about how much more Lee could get for letters that were more personal or funnier.

An idea is born.

Why not embellish the other letter a bit?  Or better yet, create personal, funny letters and pass them off as written by someone famous? And it seems Lee has a knack for impersonating famous writers on paper by writing witty literary letters.  When she makes more money on a funny P.S. to one of the Brice letters, she branches out to entire letters under the guise of people like Dorothy Parker, Louise Brooks and Noel Coward.  She does so well that this becomes her new vocation. She really gets into it, buying old typewriters and aging paper in the oven. She is able to sell each letter for hundreds of dollars and sells over 300 letters over the course of a few years. She even moves on to stealing letters from libraries and archives. She has a penchant for this.

She also has a penchant for drinking, and while hanging out in her favorite neighborhood bar, runs into the charming and flamboyant Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), another failing writer.  Or I think he was a writer.  It's unclear what he did but somehow he managed to eke out a life. Right now he is selling cocaine. He remembers Lee from a writer's event and reintroduces himself.  The two spend an evening together (not THAT kind of evening - Jack is gay) where Lee tells him "This was not unpleasant."  That's about the highest praise Lee can muster.  She is a bit of a curmudgeon, unpleasant even, but somehow McCarthy makes us care about her. That's how good she is in this.

Will Lee get away with her crimes?  No. But it's a fascinating journey how it all turns out.

Based on Israel's own telling of this story in her book "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" - a phrase she made up in one of her Dorothy Parker letters where Parker supposedly asks for forgiveness in advance for getting drunk - and adapted by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, this film is a literary maven's paradise with names like Edna Ferber and William Faulkner (it helps if you know who those people were) thrown around willy nilly.  Director Marielle Heller has created an atmospheric New York City that is almost a metaphor for a struggling writer. It's a mesmerizing film, partly because it is a fascinating story but mostly because of the performances of McCarthy and Grant, the two making a sometimes hilarious, sometimes touching odd couple.  Grant made his mark years ago in "Withnail & I (1987)" and his characterization of Hock is a reminder of that watershed role that led to his being a steadily employed character actor ever since.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if there was any question about McCarthy's ability to be a dramatic actress, this movie removes all doubt.  This performance is Oscar worthy.

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


Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (2018)

True story of John Callahan, who after a life changing car accident and a love affair with drinking, finds meaning as a dark humor cartoonist.

I have never been a big Joaquin Phoenix fan.  Not sure why.  Perhaps it's his penchant for choosing really edgy roles in really edgy films.  Gus Van Zant is also a director of edgy, sometimes difficult films.  I loved "Good Will Hunting" and "Elephant," but found "My Own Private Idaho" unwatchable.  So I started to watch this film with a certain trepidation but am happy to report that I absolutely loved this movie. I loved Van Sant's direction and I loved Phoenix's portrayal of cartoonist John Callahan.  He exuded a warmth here that I don't remember from any of his other films.

The film begins with Callahan in a wheelchair giving a presentation and that frames the story as it moves to flashback with Callahan as a young man in Portland who likes to drink.  He has yet to find his niche as a cartoonist and is just mainly living a less than purposeful life. In fact, Callahan is always drunk and eventually and fatefully hooks up with Dexter, another drunk. One night after a drunken binge, the two are heading home in the car with Dexter driving. Dexter falls asleep and the car crashes leaving Callahan paralyzed.  Dexter ironically walks away from the accident.

Also ironically, Callahan continues to drink and curse the gods for being in a wheelchair and blames his mother for abandoning him (he was adopted), but he eventually finds AA and Donnie (an almost unrecognizable Jonah Hill), a rich hippie who runs a support group.  And I have to tell you.  I have new respect for Jonah Hill.  He was on screen for many scenes before I realized it was he.  I whispered to Hubby "That's Jonah Hill" and he couldn't believe it. His weight loss helps but he really didn't display any Jonah mannerisms at all.  He completely inhabited the part of Donnie as he helps Callahan work through AA's Twelve Steps.

Callahan eventually learns what he is good at - cartooning of the very dark variety.

And we learn that even when something devastating happens, the human spirit prevails and we can still find purpose and meaning.  But don't think this is a boring lecture on the evils of drink.  It's not.  It's also dark, funny and not  the least bit sentimental.

Phoenix is  surprisingly calm here, joyful even, as his Callahan not only learns how to live without alcohol but how to actually have fun despite being in a wheelchair. There is a particularly poignant scene when Callahan works AA's Ninth Step - Asking forgiveness.  Phoenix does it justice.  

Unlike some of Van Sant's films, this film is hopeful and even joyful. Also adapted by him from Callahan's book of the same name, Van Sant employs some of Callahan's animated cartoons to help drive the story which is fanciful and fun, but he also employs some strange cinematic practices. You know how sometimes when you are taking a picture, you can see your finger over the lens?  I swear to god that there were some scenes where it looked like that's what Van Sant was doing or that he was filming over someone's shoulder with the shoulder in the frame. Not sure what that was about, but overall, Van Sant has delivered an uplifting and enjoyable film.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Phoenix and Hill as you have never seen them in a wonderful film!

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Ron Stallworth, an African American cop in 1970's Colorado Springs, amazingly manages to infiltrate the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan with the help of his Jewish colleague.

From that old "Truth is stranger than fiction" saw comes this film based on a true story.  How can an African American and a Jewish guy infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan?

Well, first of all, we have to get our hero, Ron (John David Washington), into the Colorado Springs police force, which isn't easy in what director Spike Lee paints as a pretty racist town.  Stallworth was the first African American police officer in Colorado Springs and at first is relegated to working in the records office pulling files for other cops.  He begs his boss to let him become a detective and eventually is allowed to go undercover but for a Black Panther rally for Stokely Carmichael who has just come back from Africa with his neew African name - Kwami Ture.  It's there that Ron first meets activist Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier).

Back at the office, Stallworth sees a recruitment ad for the KKK and on a whim calls the number that is listed.  He is shocked to get the head guy on the phone and is immediately recruited. So now what does he do?  He can't show up as himself.  So he gets one of his fellow detectives, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), to impersonate him and so goes the story with Ron talking on the phone to the KKK people (much is made about sounding"white," something that is also explored in "Sorry to Bother You"), including Grand Wizard David Duke himself, and advancing the investigation that way while Flip attends the meetings and eventually becomes head of the local chapter.

Directed by Spike Lee, this is a fascinating story, but Spike has thrown so much into this film it's difficult to tell exactly where he was headed.  Adapted from Stallworth's own book and co-written by Spike with Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott, it's part comedy, part drama, part Blaxploitation film homage, and part metaphor for what is going on today with our current President and national divide. It's A LOT and often way over the top, in our face and it sometimes stumbles, but one thing I know for sure.  You can always count on Spike to present something memorable and that we will talk about it.  His KKK people are so racist and disgusting and overboard it's almost laughable. He beats us over the head with it but maybe we need to be beaten over the head with it. Maybe it all needs to be over the top for us to get it, because this story, with all of its racism and police brutality, took place almost 50 years ago.  Why are we still going through it?  

And in case we miss that point, Spike ends the film cutting back and forth between Harry Belafonte talking about racism and Black Power and the KKK talking racism and White Power and then some stunning footage from that infamous Charlottesville rally with those idiot white guys marching, carrying tiki lamps, and chanting "We will not be replaced." 

Washington is Denzel's son and I want to thank you, Denzel.  I have loved you ever since "Glory." You were a gift.  And now you have given us the gift of your talented son.  I see you in his talent but also in his walk.  You have a sort of sideways walk.  He doesn't have your smile, but in the film, he has the sleekest, most perfect afro I have ever seen.  Wow. It could star in its own movie all by itself.

Rosy the Reviewer says...even if Spike stumbles a bit his films are always more meaningful and powerful than most we are presented with today.

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

119 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Pepe le Moko (1937)

Pepe rules the Casbah but he's also stuck there, because he is wanted by the police.  But will love lure him to his fate?

See how dramatic I can get?  These early films are also very over-the-top dramatic and sometimes ludicrously so. But what sets this one apart? Terrific black and white cinematography and Jean Gabin.

With his smoldering looks, Gabin is considered one of the greatest of all French actors and he cut quite a swath romantically too.  Though married four times, he was also famous for his long time love affair with Marlene Dietrich.

Directed by Julien Duvivier, this film is the one that brought Gabin to stardom, playing Pepe de Moko, a French gangster and lothario living in Algiers. He's a cool operator.  Pepe says of his conquests: "I give them my body but I keep my head." Though he reigns supreme over the Casbah and enjoys the power, he yearns to return to Paris. However, he can't leave because he is wanted by the police, especially one particular cop, Slimane (Lucas Gridoux), who lies in wait for Pepe to make a wrong move.  

And wouldn't you know.  Into the Casbah walks trouble, Gaby (Mireille Balin), a beautiful French tourist who represents all that Pepe desires, French or otherwise. Pepe already has a live-in girlfriend, Inex (Line Noro), but Gaby reminds him of everything he misses in Paris. So now he has a reason to risk leaving. And when Pepe finds out that Slimane has told Gaby that Pepe has been killed and she is leaving Algiers for good, Pepe decides he will make his move and go with her.  He manages to escape the Casbah but Ines betrays him to Slimane (she tells him that he is down at the dock waiting to board the ship to France), and he is captured.  It gets worse.  Things don't end well for our Pepe. 

As I said, these early films are often overly dramatic.  They are also often politically incorrect, e.g. when a character says to a woman in the Casbah, "He beats you," she replies, "Yes, it relaxes him." But these early black and white films also have juicy romantic close-ups, riveting story lines and great camerawork and this one is no exception.

Why it's a Must See: "Borrowing motifs from the classic gangster movies but seasoning them with doomy Gallic romanticism, [this film] prefigures film noir."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

This film was the inspiration for the American remake, "Algiers." I kept waiting for Pepe to say "Come weeth me to ze Casbah" but he never did (see "Algiers" if you don't get my allusion. It's one of the most oft repeated classic lines in film that was never actually said in the film itself.  Only the trailer)!

Rosy the Reviewer says...this one was a lot of fun in a film noir kind of way!
(B & w, in French with English subtitles)

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 




The Week in Reviews
(What To See and What To Avoid)


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.