Showing posts with label Singers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Singers. Show all posts

Friday, April 29, 2016

"The Huntsman: Winter's War" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "The Huntsman: Winter's War" as well as DVDs "Secret in Their Eyes" and "The Lady in the Van." The Book of the Week is singer Rita Coolidge's memoir "Delta Lady."  I also bring you up-to-date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die" with "Clerks."]

The Huntsman: Winter's War

The story of Snow White, The Huntsman and The Evil Queen (plus one) continues.

This is a prequel and a sequel but not so much about Snow White as it is about The Huntsman (we now know his name is Eric) and how he ended up in the forest saving Snow White.

Now if you read me regularly, you know that there are four things I rant about when it comes to movies:

1.  Obnoxiously precocious child actors
2.  Unfunny comedies
3.  American remakes of perfectly good foreign language films
4.  And sequels.

Let me rant about #4 a bit and also let me add prequels and long expository narration to that list.  All three are in evidence in this film.

Sequels are almost always awful.  The minds of the "money men and women" in films appears to be, gee, we never thought that little movie would do so well with that slight premise and low budget, but hey, it did, so let's make another one and really milk the hell out of it.  "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" is a perfect example (and trust me, it was awful).  So you can bet that going into this one, I had my doubts.

As for prequels, haven't really made up my mind about those yet but they definitely have the potential to fall into the sequel trap, but as for expository narration that tells the story rather than showing it, I have made up my mind. I hate it. Remember that old saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words?"  Well, that's how I feel about expository narration in films.  A film is all about pictures.  SHOW me, don't TELL me.

OK, enough ranting.  Let's get on with the review.

We know from the Snow White fairy tale that The Huntsman was sent out into the woods by the Evil Queen to kill Snow White.  However, what she didn't count on was that Snow White was the cute Kristen Stewart, who appears to be catnip for men (remember that affair she had with her married director on that shoot?), and The Huntsman was the hunky Chris Hemsworth, so there was, shall we say, chemistry?  And we already know what happens with Snow White and the dwarves and the Prince and all of that.

So in this sequel to that story, we now have The Huntsman (still the hunky Chris Hemsworth) several years later but, we ALSO have a prequel to HIS story in how he became a huntsman to begin with, which in turn led him to be in that forest to save Snow White.

Still with me?

It seems that our "Mirror Mirror on the Wall" Queen, Ravenna (Charlize Theron back again for the sequel), had a sister, Freya (Emily Blunt).  Freya falls in love and has a baby but her baby is killed and she thinks it was her lover who did it. This turns Freya icy, literally.  She has the power to turn whatever she touches, or even thinks about real hard, into ice. She turns against love, becomes The Ice Queen, moves up north away from her sister and starts kidnapping little kids to form a huge army - a sort of Freudian thing.  All of the kidnapped children are her "children."  She trains them all to be killing machines and they methodically take over all of the kingdoms in the north, kind of like "Game of Thrones."

So Eric, he's one of those kidnapped kids.  He grows up to  be our Huntsman, and he falls in love with Sara (Jessica Chastain), another Huntsman.  It may be a hellish life, but at least the girls are equal to the boys there.  Sara is just like Merida in "Brave (red hair, Scottish accent and everything). Like Merida, Sara's thing is archery.  Remember that.  It has significance later. 

But also remember, Freya has banned love, so when Eric and Sara try to leave to start a life together, Freya gets wind of it and kills them both.  Well, not really, but we/she thinks she has.

So after all of that happened, the Snow White story was playing out and that's how Eric, AKA The Huntsman, came to save Snow White.

With me so far? 

So that was the prequel.

So now the sequel part.

Snow White has married her Prince and is Queen, living happily with her Prince until it comes to light that the evil mirror has disappeared (don't get your hopes up, though. Kristen Stewart is not in this one). 

Snow White is devastated. She thinks that if Freya gets her mitts on that mirror, well, she will be able to take over the world.  So, you see, a Prince can only save you up to a point.  Snow White sends the Prince out to find Eric so he can find the mirror and put it into Sanctuary before Freya gets it.  Of course, Eric is still alive.  It wouldn't be called The Huntsman if he had actually died earlier!

So that's the set-up.  We have dwarves providing the comic relief, at times in questionable comic taste, if you ask me, we have battles, goblins and all sorts of adventures before this thing resolves itself.  Well, I thought it eventually resolved itself until I heard the annoying narrator come on again at the end and say something about fairy tales having happy endings and adding...but is this really the end?

Really?  Another one?  Let me add "Trilogies" to things I hate.

But speaking of things I love, Chris Hemsworth's smile is worth the price of a ticket, but where he got that Scottish accent, I'm not sure.  And then I have to ask, "Why?"  Why do he and Sara speak like that when no one else does?
Charlize Theron as Evil Queen #1 and Emily Blunt as Evil Queen #2 chew up the scenery and get to wear cool clothes.  But one can't help but wonder what drew Theron, Blunt and Chastain to this film, a film with big names, but not much payoff, if you ask me, except Chastain got to kiss Chris Hemsworth.

So, as sequels go, is this terrible?  Not really (you can tell I've calmed down a bit).  But, geez, people let's cool it with the sequels and get on with some new stuff, OK?

Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan and written by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin, this could be classified as good family fare, though the goblin sequence would probably scare really little kids and the sex scene might scare their parents but otherwise, it's a lovely-to-look-at fairy tale.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if a combination of "Frozen," "Game of Thrones (without the blood and nudity)" and "The Wizard of Oz" appeals to you, you might like this but wait for the DVD. 

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

Now Out on DVD

Secret in Their Eyes (2015)

A group of FBI agents in a Los Angeles counter-terrorist unit after 9/11 find the body of a young woman in a dumpster -- and it's the daughter of one of the agents.  Thirteen years later the murder is still unsolved.

I have to go back to that list of things I hate in movies and refer this time to #3 (see review of "The Huntsman" above) .

This is an American remake of the 2009 Argentinian film of the same name which I reviewed last year and which was a wonderful film. 

It was so good in fact that it won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for 2010.  So why in hell do we need an American version?  I thought the same thing about "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," which, yes, it was in Swedish with English subtitles, but it was a wonderful film.  Likewise, "Oldboy ," "The Ring..." both Japanese films.  I could go on and on.  Usually the American remake is not as good as the original.  Yes, the original is in another language and you need to read subtitles.  But are you really so lazy that you can't read some subtitles?  And if so, you are missing out on some wonderful film experiences.

So it was with a jaundiced eye that I viewed this film but....

It was actually good, and if you haven't seen the original Argentinian film, then you might think it's really good.

The story is mostly true to the original with some character changes so as to create a star vehicle for Julia Roberts and Chiwetel Ejiofor. 

The story centers around the murder of a beautiful young woman.  In the original she is married and it is her husband who becomes obsessed about catching her killer.  Here the murdered woman, Carolyn Cobb, is the daughter of one of the investigators, Jessica Cobb (played by Julia Roberts).

Ejiofor plays Ray Kasten, an investigator who has had an unrequited love for his boss, Claire Sloane (Nicole Kidman).  He has also been haunted by the death of Jessica's daughter 13 years earlier.  Then Jessica and Ray were both part of an FBI counter-terrorist unit and Claire was a newbie in the D.A's office.  Flash forward and Claire is now District Attorney, Jessica is Chief Investigator and Ray is no longer with the FBI.   But he has come back in hopes of reopening the murder case.

So the film takes on two stories in tandem.  There is the murder mystery and the "unrequited" office romance.

Jessica's daughter's body was found by Ray in a dumpster next to a mosque.  The team had been watching the mosque for terrorist activities, because it was right after 9/11 and Los Angeles was on high alert. Will L.A. be next?

The film goes back and forth from the present day to the past when they were first investigating the murder and when Ray and Claire meet for the first time and then back to present day.

In the past, from day one there was a suspect.  Ray saw a picture of a young man looking at Carolyn Cobb in a group picture at a social function.  Ray had a funny feeling about him - his eyes - but discovered that he was a snitch for the agency as he belonged to the mosque.  Because he was considered an important part of the agency's surveillance of possible terrorists he was thus "untouchable." 

So what is Ray to do?  How is he going to get this guy? 

Julia Roberts was very good here and like many a beautiful actress before her, has made herself look as plain as possible so we would take her really, really seriously. I have never seen her looking so plain which is interesting because Julia's husband Danny Moder is the cinematographer. I would love to know what she said to him at home when she saw the rushes if hadn't been her plan to look like that! But this film gives Roberts many chances to exercise her acting chops and she rises to the occasion.  I am surprised she didn't get a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod for this because the scene where she sees her dead daughter in the dumpster is heartbreaking, but the critics didn't like the film that much and no one saw it.

Ejiofor is always good.  He has the most tortured face and no one does "tortured" like he does.

Adapted and directed by Billy Ray, this American version captures the essence of the original Argentinian film but not the heart.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like crime dramas, this is a good one, but I liked the original one better.

The Lady in the Van (2015)

The true story behind the source material for playwright Alan Bennett's play of the same name.

Maggie Smith plays Mary Shepherd (whose real name was Margaret Fairchild), a homeless woman in the 1970's, who was made homeless by a mysterious car accident for which she felt responsible.  She changed her name and lived in her van which she parked in front of various homes in the Camden Town part of London until playwright Alan Bennett allowed her to park in his drive.  What was to be a few months turned into 15 years.  They formed an uneasy friendship, and let me tell you, she wasn't easy to like, but her background was slowly revealed to him:  she had tried to become a nun, was a concert pianist and had been committed to a psychiatric hospital. 

Alan Bennett is a British playwright, probably best known for his play "The Madness of George III" and this is the film adaptation of his play "The Lady in the Van," which was first performed in the West End in 1999 and on BBC Radio in 2009.  Smith played the role in both.  The film was adapted for the screen by Bennett (he also has a small cameo at the end of the film playing himself, but if you blink you will miss him as he rides his bicycle up to the film crew in his drive) and directed by Nicholas Hytner who also directed the original play production. 

The film is not an easy one, because Mary is not likable and it's difficult to believe that Bennett would put up with her. But truth is stranger than fiction.  He must have been a saint to let Miss Shepherd live in her van in his driveway with all of her garbage piled around it, not to mention her questionable hygiene. I can't stand it if someone parks their car outside my house let alone setting up camp there. But the Brits have a strange squatting rights law that once you establish yourself somewhere, such as in an abandoned house or even a van on the street, it's almost impossible to kick you out. The residents on the street where Mary parked sort of adopted her, and as Bennett pointed out, being charitable to Mary made them all feel like they were charitable people.

But Bennett was dealing with his own aging mother.  Helping Mary probably helped him, and after all, his writer self got a story out of it.  And that story puts a human face to homelessness.  Everyone has a story and everyone is dealing with pain. This film exemplifies the famous quote: "Be Kind:  Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

Alex Jennings plays Bennett in a strange dual role of himself that represents the professional writer side of Bennett and the "living" side. We get glimpses of his personal life as he deals with his mother's increasing dementia. It's a filmic device that allows us to understand Bennett but it's rather irritating. I wonder how they made it work in the stage production. And that is the one weakness of the film: despite shots of the beautiful English countryside and the London neighborhood, the film still feels like a stage play.

However, if you are a fan of British films and TV, the movie is full of familiar faces: Dominic Cooper, Deborah Findlay, Roger Allam, Frances de la Tour and Jim Broadbent, all in very small roles.  "Late Late Show" host James Corden even makes an appearance.  British actors don't seem to mind playing cameos and small parts in prestigious films. Remember Judi Dench's eight minute performance  in "Shakespeare in Love?" That won her a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award.  And the Brits do prestigious films like no one else.  I can't imagine this film being made in the U.S.

But all of that aside, this is Dame Maggie's film and though she plays a homeless woman, she is every bit the Dowager Countess.  I first saw Dame Maggie in her break-out film role in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brody" in 1969 for which she won an Oscar for Best Actress. It's a delight to see her still going strong 47 years later.

Rosy the Reviewer says...for Maggie Smith fans and the serious filmophile.

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

252 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Clerks (1994)

A day in the life of two New Jersey twenty-something store clerks working next door to each other, one in a convenience store, the other a video store in the early 1990's.

Dante (Brian O'Halleran) is supposed to have the day off (which he keeps reminding us throughout the film) but is called in to cover at the convenience store where he works for another clerk who has called in sick.  Randal (Jeff Anderson) runs the video store next door (remember VHS tapes?), spending his time watching porn and insulting his customers.  The two are a couple of twenty-something, directionless slackers who exemplify the mantra:  working in a convenience store would be really convenient if it wasn't for the customers.

The film is broken into various titled scenes that give Dante and Randal the opportunity to display their lack of customer service, though Dante does help a customer who has gotten his hand stuck in a Pringles box.  Another scene features a guy lecturing everyone who comes in for cigarettes on how cigarettes will kill you and how much more healthful chewing gum would be (turns out he is a gum distributor).  Then there are the "milkmaids," women who come into the convenience store and go through all of the milk looking for the one with the latest "sell by" date and the guidance counselor who checks all of the eggs for the perfect dozen because "guidance counselors have meaningless lives." Jay and Silent Bob are the two drug dealers outside the stores who stand around. Jay yaks to Silent Bob and Silent Bob remains, well, silent. Business doesn't seem to be that good.

There is one very funny scene where a mother comes into the video store with her little girl looking for a kid's video while Randal is ordering porn videos over the phone from his distributor with titles I don't dare include in this review.

This was director Kevin Smith's first feature film made for just a little over $27,000 and chronicles his own experiences working in a convenience store.  He was actually working in that very store while he was making this film. Shot over the course of 27 consecutive days, Smith was only allowed to shoot at night when the store was closed.  He sold his comic book collection, borrowed money and tapped into his college fund to make this film.

As I was watching this film, I kept asking myself why it was one of the "1001 Movies [I] Must See Before [I] Die." 

I mean, I get why the French New Wave films are on the list and "Citizen Kane," which I believe is one of the greatest films ever made. 

But "Clerks?" - A film where two rather disaffected guys talk about sex and play hockey on the roof and a girl advertently has sex with a dead guy in the convenience store restroom?   How can those two films be on the same list?  Despite both of them being filmed in black and white, both low-budget and the first feature film for each director, how does "Clerks" deserve a place alongside "Citizen Kane?" I couldn't help but say in my mind over and over trying to figure out this pressing question, "Citizen Kane." "Clerks."  "Clerks."  "Citizen Kane." 

Well, here is what "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" says about that.

Why it's a Must See:  "Writer-Director Kevin Smith stepped forward in 1994 as the most promising Generation-X newcomer with this impressive debut film...Anchored by a pair of great central performances, and packed with witty dialogue, the film also introduced the two hilarious characters Smith has used in his subsequent movies [Jay and Silent Bob]."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

So that is what's fun about this project of mine.  

I am seeing films that I might never have known about or given a chance.  Orson Welles was the wunderkind of his generation.  Unbelievably, he was only 25 when he directed and starred in "Citizen Kane." The same might be said of Kevin Smith who was only 24 when he made "Clerks." Both went on to make huge marks in the cinematic world of their generations.  So I guess I would have to say that one person's "Clerks" is another person's "Citizen Kane."  And that's why movies matter.  Just as we humans come in all shapes and sizes, so do movies. They express the contemporary human condition generation after generation in all "shapes and sizes."

"Clerks" is a cult classic that spawned a "Clerks II," and, unbelievably, 24 years later, a "Clerks III" is planned for 2018.  Smith also went on to direct "Chasing Amy," "Dogma," several Jay and Silent Bob films and more, all of which spoke to a generation.

The film was rated NC-17 when it first came out, not for any sex, nudity or violence, but for the language, which is very raunchy and exactly how 20-somethings would probably talk.  Anyway, I think they would, though I can't really remember that far back.

Rosy the Reviewer says...No, it's not my "Citizen Kane," but it's a funny slice of life from the early 1990's that marks the debut of a director who went on to live up to his promise.


***Book of the Week***

Delta Lady: A Memoir by Rita Coolidge (2016)

Singer Rita Coolidge shares her story.

Coolidge may not be a household name today, but her star shown quite brightly back in the 1970's when she was at the heart of the L.A. music scene. She had romantic relationships with Leon Russell, Graham Nash (I reviewed his memoir "Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life" back in 2013) and others and married Kris Kristofferson.  She was the inspiration for Leon Russell's song, "A Song for You" and "Delta Lady" and Stephen Stills' "Cherokee." There was also a rumor that her relationships with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash broke up Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Coolidge started out as a back-up singer for Eric Clapton and Joe Cocker (she was a part of the legendary "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" tour) which gave her an inside look at the L.A. music scene.  (She gives props to the Academy Award-winning Best Documentary Feature "20 Feet from Stardom" for capturing what it was like to be a back-up singer). 

Eventually her talent, good looks and connections led her to her own stardom when she finally had her own hits with "We're All Alone" and "(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher" and won her own Grammy Awards. She also co-wrote the song "Superstar" and maintains that she wrote the famous piano coda to Eric Clapton's "Layla," though she has remained uncredited.

She is honest and self-deprecating, sharing that people have said she didn't have the best voice in the world but had the ability to sell a song to an audience.  Duh.  Ain't that what it's all about?  And I think she has a beautiful voice. 

What do you think?

Of Native American descent and coming from a musical family, Coolidge started life in Lafayette, Tennessee, but after graduating from Florida State in 1967, she moved to Memphis where she got a job singing jingles and fell into the music scene there where she met some influential people, most notably Leon Russell and Delaney & Bonnie, who led her to Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles music scene in the late 1960's and early 1970's was an exciting place. Joni Mitchell, Delaney & Bonnie, Janis Joplin, The Beach Boys, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Jim Morrison...everyone knew everyone and hung out in Hollywood at The Whisky and Troubadour and in the Canyons: Laurel and Topanga.  Coolidge's work as a back-up singer for some of the greats gave her a birds-eye view into the music scene of 40 years ago, and she gives us all the inside scoop.

I wish I had been there!

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you love the music of the 60's and 70's, you will enjoy this look back from someone who was there.


That's it for this week!

Thanks for reading!

See you Tuesday for

 "The Stress of Retirement"
(Yes, you heard me. 
Retirement can be very stressful and you will see why)!

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