Showing posts with label Stir (Book Review). Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stir (Book Review). Show all posts

Friday, September 11, 2015

"Mistress America" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Mistress America" and DVDs  "Iris" and "The Congress."  The Book of the Week is  "Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals that Brought Me Home."  I also bring you up to date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with the 1926 film "The Adventures of Prince Achmed," credited as being the very first full-length animated film.]


Mistress America

A lonely college freshman's life is changed when she meets her lively and so sophisticated 30-year-old soon-to-be sister-by-marriage.
Tracy (Lola Kirke) is a young freshman at Barnard College in New York City.  She has a crabby roommate, is bored with her classes and just isn't fitting in. She wants to be a writer and applies for membership in the Mobius Society, an exclusive literary club, but doesn't get in. Her mother is going to marry a guy she met on the Internet, so encourages Tracy to get in touch with his daughter, Brooke (Greta Gerwig), who also lives in NYC.  After all, they are going to be "sisters."  Tracy calls Brooke and they meet in Times Square, because, strangely, that's where Brooke lives (Who actually lives in Times Square)?

Maybe I shouldn't say "strangely," because Brooke herself is rather strange. 

She is a 30-something Millennial who talks constantly, has done and thought of everything (according to her) and is a sort of "Holly Golightly" and Tracy is immediately enamored of her and the things she says, e.g. "He's the kind of person I hate but I'm in love with him" or "I'll probably end up doing something depressing but young." 

Do you remember being young and meeting someone older whose life seemed so much more exciting than yours?  It's like that.

Brooke's vibrancy and fun stimulates Tracy to write using Brooke as her subject.  But as what happens in life, our bubbles are burst. Brooke has hundreds of ideas and seems to have life by the tail, but it eventually becomes clear that she can't seem to make anything happen for herself.

Brooke "adopts" Tracy and introduces her to her friends and her life. Tracy gets caught in the adventure and fun that is Brooke, not realizing at first that Brooke is all smoke and no fire.  Brooke has rapid-fire ideas such as creating a superhero ("Mistress America," hence the film's title), T-shirts and a restaurant.

However, despite also running a spin class, Brooke's focus becomes the restaurant that she plans to open with her boyfriend, Stavros (who is never seen).  The restaurant will be called "Mom's" and it won't just be a restaurant but also a hair salon and an art gallery.  However, when the money for that venture falls through, Brooke must scramble to find the money and decides, with the help of a psychic, that she needs to find her old friend, Mamie-Clare (Heather Lind), who stole her boyfriend, Dylan (Michael Chernus), and her T-shirt idea and get her and Dylan to cough up the money.  Brooke, Tracy, and two of Tracy's friends travel to ritzy Greenwich, Connecticut to get their help. 

And that's where the film fell apart for me.

Noah Baumbach has written and directed some great films: "The Squid and the Whale" "While We're Young" and "Margot at the Wedding" but unfortunately this film isn't one of the greats.

Greta Gerwig is an indy-darling who has collaborated with Baumbach before with "Frances Ha," where Gerwig played another quirky character, but a sweet one.  She is clearly Baumbach's muse.  I am a huge fan of her unconventional looks and style, but here her Brooke character is so quirky as to be annoying. I think we are supposed to feel that she is a charming force of nature, living a party girl life in Manhattan, vibrant and fun, but she comes off as frantic and grates after awhile. That is not to say that Gerwig doesn't put in a great performance.  She does.  She plays Brooke exactly as Baumbach and she created her. The character just got to be too much. 

Gerwig and Baumbach seem to like to create edgy characters and make statements about the narcissism of hipster Millennials, which Baumbach did to great effect in "While We're Young," but making characters annoying to show how annoying they are is...well, it's just annoying.  Everyone in this film talks at each other and over each other, but never to each other, especially Brooke who yacks constantly but rarely connects with anyone. That's probably the point they are trying to make but it's just...annoying.

Newcomer Lola Kirke plays Tracy and with her charming lisp is very good and the best thing about this movie, but she turns out to not be a particularly nice person either as the story she writes about Brooke turns out to not be a flattering one.  But perhaps her unflattering story is the wake-up call Brooke needs to actually make a real life for herself.  Maybe these "Holly Golightly" types need a wake up call from time to time. 

Baumbach often uses the theme of writers and writing in his films, and Baumbach and Gerwig make an interesting statement about using your friends and loved ones for your fictional fodder.   

But all of that is lost when the movie turns into a farce.

The film is supposed to be a screwball comedy and has some comic moments, but falls into farce when Brooke confronts her old, rich and not very nice friend, Mamie-Claire and her husband, Dylan, at their fancy home in Greenwich.  It reminded me "Noises Off,"  as character after character kept leaving and showing up.  All it lacked was the slamming doors.  I never liked "Noises Off."

I am for any film that shows strong female relationships and great parts for women, but I just couldn't get over how annoying everyone was.  I liked Gerwig as Frances ("Frances Ha").  As Brooke, not so much.  I just didn't care about any of these people.

Rosy the Reviewer says...and interesting premise that is ultimately disappointing.

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

Iris (2014)
A documentary about the fashion icon Iris Apfel.

If you don't know who Iris Apfel is, you need to.  And here is your chance.

One of the last films directed by legendary documentarian Albert Maysles ("Grey Gardens"), this documentary about fashion icon and collector, Iris Apfel, is wonderful.  If you are into fashion but have never heard of Iris, you are really missing something.  She is an artist and uses clothing and accessories to create a vision.

Oh, and did I say she is 94 and still going strong?

Married for 67 years to her husband Carl (he turned 100 during the making of this film), they launched Old World Weavers in 1950, a company specializing in reproductions of 16th, 17th and 18th century fabrics and ran it together until 1992.  Iris was also an interior designer and businesswoman who did restoration work on great houses, most notably the White House.  But it was her jewelry, her fashion style and signature glasses that brought her fame.  Forget the old adage, less is more.  For Iris, it's more, more and more.

She is also opinionated and known for her bon mots:

When talking about her fashion style and how she puts her outfits together: 
"I like to improvise.  I like to do things as if I am playing jazz."

When Albert Maysles died this year at the age of 88, we lost a phenomenal filmmaker. Maysles showed his documentary filmmaking power with "Gimme Shelter" ( with his brother David) back in 1970 and later by giving us a look into the shocking lives of Big Edie and Little Edie Beale in "Grey Gardens. 

Here again his signature style is evident - no narration but rather letting the subject tell her own story and letting the story unfold on its own.

"I don't have any rules because I would only be breaking them."

"The best thing was getting dressed for the party...[better than going to the party]."

"Everything I have I go out and find.  It's not easy."

"You have to pay for being stylish."

"Color can raise the dead."

"I could never be a friend with someone who wasn't curious and didn't have a sense of humor."

She sees her shopping for original and wonderful pieces as her job.  I totally get it.  I wish my Hubby got it when he sees our credit card bill.  But after seeing this film, I don't feel so bad about my modest three closets of clothes and my 75 jackets. Like Iris, I am a collector.

But what really resonates about this film is Iris's vibrancy and joy in her items and not little her fame at the ripe old age of 94.  She has been photographed by Bruce Weber, who speaks fondly of Iris in the film, and she has appeared in many fashion magazines.  The Met did a show of her items and it was a phenomenal success.  Bergdorf's has done windows showing some of her collection and MAC Cosmetics has featured her.

"Life is grey and dull so you might as well have a little fun and amuse people."

"I don't happen to like pretty.  Most of the world is not with me but I don't care.  If you are not pretty, you need to develop style.  Pretty fades.  If you want to be attractive in old age, develop style."

I'm with you, Iris!

Rosy the Reviewer says...I want to be her!  This is a joyful look at a woman who loves life and if you are into fashion, you must know who she is.

The Congress  (2013)

An aging actress accepts one last job that has consequences she can't foresee.

Robin Wright plays herself as an aging actress who has made bad choices and whose career is not doing well.  When she is approached by Miramount Studios to purchase her likeness to do with whatever they want - they want her to sign away her likeness so they can "sample" her - she must make a huge decision about her career.  They will scan her likeness and she will remain forever "young" in films, advertisements, etc.

They will pay her well but the downside (and there is always a downside, right?) is that she can never act again.  She initially turns the offer down, but she is living near the airport in a trailer with a son with some unspecified syndrome that seems to have something to do with an obsession with airplanes (he knows every airplane's schedule) and flying kites, which sometimes get onto the flight paths causing all kinds of trouble.

The Miramount studio head (Danny Huston) continues to work on her.  Why wouldn't you do it?  You would still be famous, you would never age and you wouldn't actually have to work anymore.  "We will keep you 34 forever."  Since she was 47 when this film was made, that would be a miracle.

She decides to do it so she will have the money to treat her son's medical condition.  She cites in her contract what her image can't do - no porn, no scifi, which is kind of funny and ironic here since this film is scifi.

Fast forward 20 years to 2030.  Robin is now 64 and the distinguished guest of the Futurist Congress at Abrahama.  She is told that she will be entering an animated site and must take an ampule and everything literally becomes animated - psychedelically so.

And this is where this movie lost me.

This dramedy is a satire on the movie business and what they would do if  they could.  Why deal with temperamental actors when you can scan their images and do what you want with them?  It also explores the obsolescence of movies, our fascination and objectification of celebrities, the egos of actors and asks - What is reality?  This also seems to be a parody of Wright's career, which is quite brave considering she is playing an "aging" actress.

Rosy the Reviewer interesting concept exploring some interesting ideas that worked well for the first half but got lost in the second half...or maybe I just should have smoked something first.

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

293 to go! 

Prince Achmed joins forces with Aladdin and the Witch of the Fiery Mountains to save a beautiful princess from an evil magician in this animated retelling of stories from The Arabian Nights.

German animator Lotte Reiniger produced this silent film in 1926 and it is considered by many to be the very first full-length animated film.  Only 67 minutes long, it tells the story of Prince Achmed who embarks on a series of adventures when he acquires a flying horse.  He falls in love with a princess on the island of Wak-Wak but an evil magician kidnaps her and Achmed must join forces with the Witch of the Fiery Mountains and Aladdin to get her back.

Through a series of silhouettes that act as shadow puppets, the story unfolds with wonderful music and artistry that creates a ballet of animation that is enthralling and mesmerizing.

Why it's a Must See: "Reininger's use of silhouette is as magical as her world of sorcerers, genies, and fairies.  Produced over an ardulous three years, the film resulted in the invention of many new techniques, including a multiplane animation stand, which gives the illusion of depth to images.  It is a method whose creation is often mistakenly attributed to Walt Disney...[This film] is, in every way, a pioneering work whose timelessness lies in its skill and achievement."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer goes without saying that film students and film enthusiasts should see this film, but older children might also enjoy the experience, though there are some scary parts.

***Book of the Week***


Jessica Fechtor was only 28, a Harvard graduate and happily married when she was felled by a brain aneurysm.  Cooking food helped her on the road to recovery.

First the stories plus recipes craze was "let's buy an old wreck of a house in Tuscany and fix it up" - WITH recipes.  Then it was "I am going to travel the world," -- and oh yes, WITH recipes. 

Now the trend is the healing power of food and cooking.

I am obviously on a food as healer kick if you read my blog last Friday where I reviewed "Life From Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family and Forgiveness" by Sasha Martin.

So I thought it would be fun to compare this book to that one.  However, here we are not dealing with a sad, disrupted childhood as in Martin's book, but rather a medical condition.

Fechtor was on a treadmill at conference center when she had the brain aneurysm that eventually left her with no sense of smell and blind in one eye. As she slowly healed, she found herself again in cooking.

"What a click in my head, and a moving belt, and a headache that knocked me down might have to do with butter, and flour, and eggs at room temp, and hunger, and love, and a kitchen with something to say, I couldn't have known that day. How a detour could become it's own path, I would never have believed."

The book starts with the aneurysm and then Fechtor alternates chapters flashing back to meeting her husband and getting married and the memories of food in her life. The theme throughout is the healing power of food as she shares 27 recipes that helped her find her way.

"Food has powers.  It picks us up from our lonely corners and sits us back down, together.  It pulls us out of ourselves, to our kitchen, to the table, to the diner down the block.  At the same time, it draws us inward.  Food is the keeper of our memories, connecting us with our pasts and with our people."

She connected with me. Amazing what we have in common, me a sixty-something and she, a thirty-something.  We both like cottage cheese on our baked potatoes, we both live(d) in Seattle; we both make grocery lists by each department in the store and we both don't believe things happen for a reason.

     "Everything happens for a reason?  I don't see it that way at all.  To me, only the first part is clear: Everything happens.  Then other things happen, and other things still.  Our of each of these moments, we make something.  Any number of somethings, in fact.
     What comes of our own actions becomes the 'reason.'  It is no predestined thing.  We may arrive where we are by way of a specific path -- we can take just one at a time -- but it's never the only one that could have led to our destination...There are infinite possible versions of our lives.  Meaning is not what happens, but what we do with what happens when it does."

This is Fector's first book and like Sasha Martin in "Life from Scratch (that I reviewed last Friday)," Fechtor started a food blog to help her heal and deal with her illness.  She created "Sweet Amandine."

When she was in the kitchen, she was able to test herself physically..."gauging the strength of my body with each seemed whenever I'd enter the kitchen, I'd discover a story, one that would nudge me over to something more real and more permanent about my life than illness."  Then she would sit down and write, struggling to get her brain to do what she wanted it to do but as her "phrases became sentences became paragraphs, I felt like I was flying."

She writes with candor, heart, humor, warmth -- and recipes!

I am definitely going to make her "Crispy Rice and Eggs."

Rosy the Reviewer says...a stunning debut that foodies, people coping with an illness and people who just like to eat, will savor.

Thanks for Reading!

That's it for this week.

See you Tuesday for

"Top Ten TV Shows I Never Thought I Would Like"


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