Showing posts with label Television. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Television. Show all posts

Friday, January 26, 2018

"I, Tonya" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the movie "I, Tonya" as well as DVDs "Marshall" and "Kingsman: The Golden Circle."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Stalker."  The Book of the Week is a novel: "The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware. and there is a bonus feature this week: "TV - What I'm Watching!"]





I, Tonya


A pseudo-documentary on the notorious attack on figure skater, Nancy Kerrigan, at the 1994 National Figure Skating Championships.

When she first heard this story of the attack on figure skater Nancy Kerrigan at the 1994 National Figure Skating Championships, Margot Robbie, who plays figure skater, Tonya Harding in this film, thought it was a fairy tale.  She couldn't believe something like this could happen in real life, but it did.

As those of you who have been following this blog for awhile must know, I am a huge fan of figure skating.  I even wrote a blog post a few years ago that highlighted the parallels between figure skating and my life so of course I knew it happened.  I knew all about the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan "incident."

But in case you aren't a fan of figure skating or are too young to remember it, here's a recap.

Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding were figure skating rivals and polar opposites.  Nancy Kerrigan represented the perfect little ice skating princess with her New England up-bringing and her Vera Wang skating costumes.  Tonya Harding came from a poor Oregon background, had to make her own costumes, swore like a truck driver, had a husband, and smoked.  Her coach said to her mother that Tonya looked like she chopped wood every morning to which her mother replied, "She does!"  But Tonya could also really skate.

Tonya Harding was the first woman to complete a triple axel in the short program; the first woman to successfully execute two triple axels in a single competition; and the first ever to complete a triple axel combination with the double toe loop.  She was also the 1991 National Champion, won a silver medal in the 1991 World Figure Skating Championship, won Skate America twice and was a two-time Olympian.

But the story doesn't end there. 

At the 1994 National Figure Skating Championships, a step closer on the road to becoming a member of the 1994 Olympic Figure Skating Team, someone (later identified as Shane Stant) attacked Nancy Kerrigan as she stepped off the ice after a practice session, hitting her in the knee with a baton.  It came to light that Tonya's husband, Jeff Gillooly and his side-kick, Shawn Eckhart, masterminded the hit in hopes of injuring Kerrigan badly enough that she would not be able to skate in the Nationals and thus get her out of competition for the Olympics leaving the road open to Tonya.  After the attack, Tonya went on to win Nationals, but Kerrigan was not seriously injured and, ironically, they both went to the Olympics where Kerrigan won a Silver Medal and Tonya finished eighth. 

When the conspiracy was discovered, Gillooly was offered a plea deal to implicate Tonya, which he accepted.  However, Tonya has always maintained her innocence but pleaded guilty to hindering prosecution, meaning once she knew what her husband and his cohorts did, she said nothing.  Now here's the rub.  The guys got 18 months and Tonya got probation BUT she was banned for life from the United States Figure Skating Association meaning that even though Tonya was not one of the attackers, she  actually got something worse than the prison sentence that the actual attackers received.  She could never compete as a skater again.

So the story at face value paints a picture of Tonya Harding as a villain picking on poor little Nancy Kerrigan, and today there are still people who feel that way about Tonya and refuse to see this movie.  But this film brings to light the true story of Tonya's life, something that was not widely known.

The film concentrates on Tonya's personal life, and according to this film, she grew up with her mother, LaVonna (Allison Janney), an abusive mother who beat her and never had a kind word to say to her.  Tonya fell in love at 15 with Jeff Gillooly (played by an oily Sebastian Stan), the first guy to tell her she was pretty so what do you do when you are insecure, wearing braces and a guy tells you that you are pretty?  Well, I guess you marry him...and she did.  And then she went from an abusive relationship with her mother to an abusive marriage. 

Because of her upbringing, Tonya grew up to be a tough cookie. She drank and smoked and drove a truck and because she didn't fit the mold of the pretty skating princess, her component scores (those are the artistic scores for a skater) supposedly suffered and she became more and more angry at her treatment.  But Tonya was already an award-winning skater, so we will never know why Gillooly thought he needed to cut down Tonya's competition or whether or not Tonya knew about it, and this film doesn't really attempt to answer that question.  You will have to decide for yourself. 

And lest you think this is a dark tragic story, you would be wrong. 

It's dark alright, and possibly a tragedy, but it plays as a dark comedy. 

Filmed like a pseudo-documentary or an episode of "Dateline," the characters break the fourth wall and talk directly to the camera, each telling their side of the story, and much of the film is "in their own words."  I recently watched an ABC special - "Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story" - and recognized that much of what was said in the film came directly from interviews with Tonya and LaVonna. 

Margot Robbie is an unlikely Tonya, but believable, though I couldn't quite buy her as a 15-year-old, despite the braces.  Though Robbie is the star and in practically every scene, Allison Janney as Tonya's mother steals the show.  She makes Mommy Dearest look like Mother of the Year.  But both actors have deservedly been nominated for an Oscar for their wonderful performances.

Gilooly's friend, Eckhard, who fancied himself Tonya's bodyguard and was delusional about his role in international espionage and who stupidly screwed up the whole plot is wonderfully and hilariously played by Paul Walter Hauser and the rest of the ensemble are also all first rate.

This was a sordid little piece of figure skating history brilliantly adapted by Steven Rogers and directed by Craig Gillespie.  But it's also the story of class consciousness and a young girl with a brutal history who wanted to beat the odds and be somebody, but because she didn't fit the mold or have the tools to move forward, was beaten down.  If Tonya was involved in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, then she deserved to go to jail. But if she wasn't, then this story is indeed a tragedy because she was given what could only be defined as a life sentence for a skater - she could never skate in competition again.

The way the film incorporated Robbie into actual footage of Tonya was also brilliant, though Robbie said she took skating lessons and did much of the skating herself, though I doubt she was pulling triple axels. 

However, there was one little thing that I noticed that grated:  In one of Tonya's competitions she skated to a ZZ Top song - with lyrics!  Now I know the filmmakers probably did that to show that Tonya was a rebel and a sort of wild child, to skate to a rock song instead of a classical piece as most of the skaters were doing.  But the filmmakers should have done their homework.  Skaters were not allowed to use music with lyrics until 2014!

But that was a small thing in an otherwise funny, sad and quite wonderful film!

Rosy the Reviewer says...an enlightening and original take on this little bit of history with stellar performances by Robbie and Janney, who are both deservedly nominated for Oscars. 




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

On DVD







Marshall (2017)


A biopic about Thurgood Marshall, who became the first African American Supreme Court Justice.

This film concentrates on Marshall's (Chadwick Boseman) early career starting in 1941 when he was only 32 and the head of the Legal Defense Fund for the NAACP and part of one particular trial.  He is approached by Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), a Jewish civil lawyer from Connecticut, to help him with a case where Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson), a rich white woman has accused Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), her black chauffeur, of rape and attempted murder.  The pairing of these two lawyers, seemingly opposites, is an interesting one as they work together to defend their client, but it becomes clear that both men have faced their share of racism.

This is a classic "To Kill a Mockingbird" type courtroom drama except this is real. 

It also happened during Jim Crow when a black man accused of rape could be depicted in the newspaper as a gorilla.  So it was in that atmosphere that Marshall was involved in this case, but even though he had already argued a case in front of the Supreme Court, because he had not passed the bar in Connecticut, the white and probably racist judge (James Cromwell) would not give him a special dispensation to practice in Connecticut and told Marshall he could not speak, argue or examine witnesses during the trial.  That made it a bit difficult for Friedman, who was a civil lawyer with his life and practice on the line for taking this controversial case.  He had to conduct the trial with Marshall in the background, providing support and information behind the scenes and from the sidelines.

But the film is not just a courtroom drama.  It's also a mystery.  Did Joseph rape and try to kill Eleanor?  And if not, why did she accuse him?

Chadwick Boseman is wonderful as Marshall and is a versatile actor when you consider that his next movie is the superhero film "Black Panther!" And Gad, who often plays portly comic characters, pulls his dramatic weight against Boseman and creates a sympathetic character in Friedman who has his own battles to wage.

I am a big fan of the TV show "This is Us," which stars Sterling K. Brown, who plays Joseph Spell in this film, and I have to admit I have not been a big fan of his because of his character, Randall, on that show.  Despite all of the awards Brown has received for playing that character, I find Randall to be annoying in his intensity.  I was never sure if Brown was playing Randall or Randall was playing Brown. So here I kept waiting to see little signs of Randall in Brown's performance, and I have to say I didn't detect any, so kudos to Brown.  He really is a good actor.  I like him now.

Written by father-son writers Jacob and Michael Koskoff and directed by Reginald Hudlin, the film has been sited as an accurate depiction of Marshall and this trial and is an inspiring reminder of what Black Americans have had to endure to not just succeed but to exist.  When Marshall comes out of the courtroom after hearing he and Friedman had won their case (and you knew they would so I'm not spoiling anything here - this film is not about the outcome but about the journey), he is confronted with a "Whites Only" drinking fountain.  He drinks anyway.  Hello Supreme Court Justice Marshall.

Marshall went on to win many civil rights cases in front of the Supreme Court, most famously Brown v. the Board of Education.  Keep watching the credits to hear the real Marshall speak.

"You know, there are so many people, indeed my own sons at times, look at me with an expression on their face that they don’t believe what happened in the past.”

Rosy the Reviewer says...this is a movie that needs to be seen to remind us of what has happened in the past so we won't repeat it.  We have come a long way, but not far enough.






Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)


Another one of those spy films where an evil organization holds the world hostage.

Spy movies and I don't usually get along. 

Even as far back as the James Bond films, whenever I watched a spy movie, I never seemed to know what was going on.  Now, I am an educated woman who has managed to get through life without screwing up too much, but for some reason, I don't seem to be smart enough when watching these spy films to figure out who the bad guys are, who the good guys are and what the hell is going on.  For some reason, the screenwriters of these things feel the need to  write convoluted plots that take every twist and turn possible - agents, double agents, double-crossing, triple-crossing, all of whom are looking for something - until it all makes no sense, I have no idea what they are looking for (though often it's a list) or why.  And then there's that whole question of why the bad guy doesn't kill the good guy when he has a chance - this happened all of the time in the Bond movies.  Bond is trussed up like a turkey and the bad guy only has to shoot him to get rid of him once and for all, but no...he wants to torture Bond, so he leaves him in the room with a ticking time bomb and, of course, Bond figures out a way to save himself.

But hey, I am here to report that I actually could follow what was going on here and the film is campy and fun!

This is round 2 of the Kingsman franchise based on the comic book "The Secret Service," and knowing how these things work, I would imagine there will be more.  Colin Firth starred in the first one and played a bigger role than he does in this sequel, especially since we thought he was dead (he got shot in the first film), but though Firth is in this one too, Taron Egerton, who we met in the first film, is the star as Eggsy, a street kid by day and dapper Kingsman by...well, day and night when needed.  When he dons his Kingsman duds, he could be a young Colin Firth, and I suppose that's the whole point.

The Kingsman Headquarters is under attack by evil drug kingpin, Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), who dresses like a 1950's housewife and oversees a 50's style amusement park called Poppyland in Cambodia.  Why Cambodia?  We will never know. Despite her sweet façade, she is prone to putting her enemies in meat mincers head first.  Not pretty.  Poppy also oversees the Golden Circle, a drug cartel, and she wants to force the world to legalize drugs.  If they don't, she is going to poison all drugs with a virus that will cause the victims to first go through a manic stage, then become frozen and then they die.  However, if the world succumbs to her demands, she will pass out the antidote and save the world.  But Poppy also wants fame.  It's not enough to take over the world.  She wants the world to know that SHE, Poppy, is the one taking over the world.

Poppy's slogan is "Save lives/Legalize!"

Because this is a worldwide issue and the Kingsman Headquarters has been blown to smithereens, Eggsy and his sidekick, Merlin (Mark Strong), are forced to team up with some Americans in Kentucky - the Statesman, a group of agents that includes Jeff Bridges as Champagne (AKA Champ), Channing Tatum as Tequila and Pedro Pascal as Whiskey. As you can probably tell from their names, just as the front for the Kingsman organization is the bespoke tailoring, the front for the Stateman is Kentucky Bourbon and they certainly don't want drugs to be legal since they sell alcohol!

See?  I figured this thing out. 

The film has the usual spy movie fights, car chases and spectacular disaster sequences, most notably a tram careening wildly down a mountain toward an old people's home that ends with one of the funniest lines in the film - I actually laughed.

As I said, Mr. Darcy, er, I mean, Colin was more in evidence in the first film.  He doesn't show up until the last hour in this one, and when he does he is wearing sweats.  Colin Firth wearing sweats is not quite the same as Colin Firth in full gentleman drag but I was glad to see him.  Edgerton is a sweet-faced young man who could pass as a young Colin Firth, and he is joined by Halle Berry as Ginger Ale (in case you haven't noticed, everyone has catchy James Bond kinds of names), but she doesn't do much except look dowdy. Julianne Moore overacts like mad - well, actually everyone overacts like mad - making this film one big campy romp.  I mean, Elton John is even in this.  He has been captured by Poppy and must dress like the old Elton, wear the flashy costumes and sing his old songs on demand but he gets a big moment at the end.

Directed by Mathew Vaughn with a screenplay by Vaughn and Jane Goldman, this is a comic spy film that is also a sort of satire on the pharmaceutical industry and the war on drugs with a bad American President who gets impeached.  Mmmm.  There is some fun to be had but at two hours and 21 minutes, it's too long.

Rosy the Reviewer says...silly and dumb but kind of fun.  It grew on me.




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




158 to go.

Have YOU seen this classic film?





Stalker (1979)



It's post-apocalypse and aliens supposedly reside in an area known as The Zone, but if you can make your way into The Zone, there is supposedly a room where wishes can be granted.

I know, it sounds weird and it is, but this film is a kind of weird gem.  And it's also Russian which explains a lot.  The Russians make some weird films.

It's the future and life is bleak.  The Zone is an area where it is rumored that some aliens have landed and taken control.  The laws of physics and geography have been suspended and power and transcendence are rumored to exist inside The Zone, a place where wishes can come true, so a cynical writer (Anatoliy Solonitsyn) and a renegade scientist (Nikolay Grinko) hire Stalker (Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy, who looks like a Russian Woody Harrelson) to take them there.  The Zone is patrolled by police to keep the unwary out and only stalkers can navigate the treacherous but magical space known as The Zone.

The scientist wants to go to The Zone to see reason triumph over faith and the writer seeks inspiration that the grim world of the future no longer provides.  The stalker also has his reasons.  Something bad has happened to his daughter and he wants to make that right.  Those three things - science, faith and feeling come together to produce an ending considered one of the most enigmatic in film history.

"The Zone is a series of traps and they are all deadly."

And so is life. The Zone is also a metaphor for life and a treatise on the human spirit and the will to live.

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky ("Solaris"), and adapted from a science fiction novel - "The Roadside Picnic" by Arkadi and Boris Strugatsky - this is one of those movies that is all about the visuals, all sepia and shadows, a chiaroscuro.  The world is in black and white and The Zone is in color, kind of like Oz, and we certainly aren't in Kansas anymore or any other place you would recognize.  The film is a kind of horror film but without the usual components of horror. It's more of a moody horror film with lots of philosophizing about the meaning of life.

Why it's a Must See: "The Zone is one of cinema's great magical places: damp green and sylvan above-ground giving way to watery, muddy, uninhabited recent ruins as the party nears the perhaps-mythical Room."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Be forewarned.  It's REALLY long.  It's so long it comes in two DVDs, and I usually don't like that, but this film is mesmerizing.  Strange, yes, but mesmerizing.  If you can make it through the set-up, the first hour, you will be rewarded.

Rosy the Reviewer says...very eerie and compelling.  It creates a mood that envelops you - you get into The Zone.




***Book of the Week***

 

 
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware (2017)



Four young girls at an English boarding school create "The Lying Game," where they tell elaborate lies to their teachers and fellow students as a lark, not realizing that one day they will need to perpetuate a really big lie.
 
Isa, Kate, Thea and Fatima all meet in their teens at boarding school in the picturesque village of Saltern.  They form a clique and have fun with a game they call "The Lying Game," where they tell lies large and small.  Kate kept the score with a tally sheet she kept above her bed: points for a new "victim;" points for getting someone to completely believe; plus extra points for elaborate details or for being able to reel someone back in after almost calling their bluff. 
 
"The Lying Game," like "The Fight Club," had its rules:
 
  1. Tell a lie
  2. Stick to your story
  3. Don't get caught
  4. Never lie to each other
  5. Know when to stop lying
However, now the girls are grown women with lives of their own.  Isa is married with a baby, Fatima is now a practicing Muslim and a doctor and Kate is an artist and has stayed behind in Saltern at the family home where she had lived with her artist father, Ambrose.  Thea was always the wild beautiful one and is still wild and beautiful.  The four haven't seen each other in years.

But when Kate sends them all a mysterious text:  "I need you," they all make their way back to Saltern to face the really big lie that they have all kept for over 15 years.
 
Ware is the author of "The Woman in Cabin 10," a novel I reviewed back in 2016, and like that first book, she has a way with dialogue.  And because of that, as you read you can imagine a movie.  But this is one of those novels with a mystery where the mystery is leaked slowly in bits and pieces and that became irritating after awhile. I kept thinking, "Get to the story!"  She did a similar thing in "The Woman in Cabin 10," but it worked better there. Though I was initially pulled in and liked the characters, I found myself scanning the pages to get to the end rather than really immersing myself in the story.

Rosy the Reviewer says...didn't like this one as much as "The Woman in Cabin 10," but if you like novels that read like movies, this one has its moments.


 
***TV - What I'm Watching!***

Yes, because I am a reality TV junkie, I am watching my usual favorites "The Amazing Race, "Project Runway All-Stars," "The Bachelor," "America's Next Top Model," "Catfish, "Married at First Sight" and "Ru-Paul's All Star Drag Race," but I also want you to know that I have other interests so I thought I would share with you some TV shows I am currently watching that you might like and might not know about.



Victoria on Masterpiece - Season 2


Miss "The Crown?"  I know I do but until the next season, this one fills the niche, though on a more melodramatic level.

On PBS.

(You don't need to see Season 1 to enjoy this but I recommend that you do - catch it On Demand or your favorite catch-up source or check out the DVD from your local library).





Grace and Frankie - Series 4


I mean, c'mon, women of a certain age starting a vibrator business?  That's FUNNY!

And you ladies will also find inspiration watching now 80-year-old Jane Fonda and still very funny Lily Tomlin do their thing.

This one and earlier seasons available on Netflix.

 




American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace



From Ryan Murphy and the folks who brought us the amazing "American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson" comes this new crime story, the murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace.  It was filmed in Versace's actual home, which is enough reason to watch but this is another brilliant mini-series. Just like the O.J. story, this 10-part story will pull you in and expect it to capture many awards.  It's riveting.

On FX.



The Great British Baking Show


Who knew watching regular people like you and me bake could be so relaxing and yet so riveting at the same time. It's like a baking meditation but you get involved with the bakers and root for them too.  It's all very British and lovely and not a cross word is spoken.

I just finished bingeing Season 2 on Netflix.  There are four seasons there and this is also showing on some PBS stations.

Sadly, stars Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood have parted ways and Paul has a new show which is ostensibly the same as this but on a different UK station. Not sure if Mary will get her own show or not.

On Netflix and PBS.



Stripped




I know, I wouldn't be me if I didn't include at least one low-brow reality show and this one fits the bill perfectly.  I couldn't help it.

People give up everything they own and I mean everything.  Even their clothes.  And all of their belongings are kept in a locker a half mile away.  Each day they can go to the locker and choose one item.

It's fun to see what their priorities are and yes, people, they learn from the experience!

What would your priorities be if you were stripped of everything?

On Bravo

And on that note...


Thanks for reading!

 
See you TUESDAY

 
with a special edition of

 
"Rosy's Test Kitchen"

 
where I will be testing various methods for cooking eggs and sharing some yummy recipes!

 
See you then!


If you enjoyed this post, feel free to copy and paste or click on the share buttons to share it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn, email it to your friends and LIKE me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rosythereviewer

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 IMDB.com, 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. 

 



Friday, February 24, 2017

"Fifty Shades Darker" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Fifty Shades Darker" as well as DVDs "American Pastoral" and "Birth of a Nation."  The Book of the Week is "Everything I Need to Know I Learned in The Twilight Zone."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with Rene Clair's "A Nous A Liberte."]


Fifty Shades Darker



Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey are back but instead of "darker," I would say this is "Fifty Shades Lighter."

Of course I was going to review this one.  I reviewed the first one, and yes, I called it, boring, a snooze fest (here is the full review) and a "Lifetime Movie with boobs and butts," but I was hoping that perhaps the producers of this sequel would have read my review, decided to listen to me and provide something a little spicier than last time.

Well...they didn't!

For all of the hype around S & M and bondage, again this is pretty tame stuff.  Even more tame than the first one.  I mean, who hasn't had some sex play with handcuffs, right?  Oh, OK...never mind.  

But I will say, I enjoyed the story more this time. 

As for the sex, at my age when the long sex scenes come on, I get kind of bored and wish I was at home so I could fast forward.  But that's just me.  I guess I am just too old for slathering on warm oil and the old Ben Wa balls.  And speaking of Ben Wa balls, what's the deal?  This is the second time in the last few months when they have played a major role in a movie (see my review for "The Handmaiden").  But I am getting ahead of myself here.

Anyway, as for this second installment directed by James Foley, which I know is not the last one in the series, we find our heroine, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) on her own with a new job.  As you may recall from the first film (and I am assuming you saw the first film or you wouldn't be interested in this one), Christian (Jamie Dornan) was a bit, shall we say "excessive" with Ana and she left him.  But as this second film begins, Ana receives a bouquet of white roses from Christian wishing her well on her new job. She almost tosses them but decides against it. Then Christian seeks her out at a gallery showing and begs her to have dinner with him where he says he wants to try again.  After a bit of hesitation...like about two seconds...Ana is convinced and once again they are a couple, though this time Christian promises he will act more like a boyfriend and less like her master.  In fact, they laugh about how "vanilla" their relationship has become, something Christian used to say he never wanted.

There are the usual sex scenes, because this is a story about sex, but like I said, they don't involve much in the way of S & M or even bondage as Christian is trying to learn how to have "vanilla" sex.  But what this movie DOES have, which the first one didn't, is an actual plot.  Anastasia is stalked by one of Christian's ex-submissives, which is a tiny bit interesting, and then Christian does a bit of stalking too, which is a creepy bit interesting.  Ana's new boss, Jack, played by Eric Johnson, makes an aggressive play for her too.  So our Ana is a busy girl trying to dodge all of this activity. 

And how do I know there is going to be yet another installment? 

Well, there were more than two books in the series for one thing, but even if you didn't know that, it's a giveaway when the film ends with a character, who played a small role earlier, looks menacingly at the camera with an "I'll be back" look on his face.

So if you like love stories, this one is OK, though I am irritated by passive women and controlling men. I laughed when Christian and others said that Ana wasn't likely to go along with something just because she is told to.  Really?  I guess she must pick her battles, though I'm not sure what they are, since she lets Christian order her meal; she doesn't go to NYC for a work thing just because Christian says no; and when Christian admits to something that I would definitely call a red flag, she sticks with him. 

Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson do what they can with a script by Niall Leonard (based on the E.L. James novels) that at times has some cheesy lines.  If I were to judge Johnson by these films, I would think she doesn't have much range, but I have seen Johnson in other films since, and she is a talented actress who can do comedy and drama.  I especially enjoyed her in "How To Be Single."  Likewise, Dornan is much better than he appears in these films. Yes, he is a handsome, sexy guy, but his Christian is still awfully creepy. But if you want to see what he can really do, see him in "Anthropoid," a film I reviewed recently.  He is wonderful.  And did I mention that he is one handsome dude?

Kim Basinger is also in this, but I am still wondering why.  Her character seemed unnecessary.  Marcia Gay Harden plays Christian's mother and as an actress she is always fine. I have no complaints, but again, she doesn't have much to do as a mother in a sex film. But it's Eric Johnson as Ana's boss, Jack, who got my attention.  He is a Canadian actor who so far is best known for the TV shows "The Knick" and "Flash Gordon," but I say, watch for him.  He will go far.  He has that special combination of looks, talent, sophistication and charm, even though here he plays a heavy.

And speaking of Canada...the film supposedly takes place in Seattle and being a Seattleite, I like that and look for familiar sights. Look!  There is the Space Needle!  We must be in Seattle! I also really love Vancouver, B.C. so it's rather disconcerting to see the opening establishing shot showing Seattle, but then the next frame?  Our characters are definitely in Gastown in Vancouver B.C. and every other frame is clearly NOT Seattle.  Why?  BECAUSE THE MOVIE IS FILMED ENTIRELY IN VANCOUVER!!!  All I can say, is "C'mon!!!"  Why even bother to pretend we are in Seattle? 

Rosy the Reviewer says...the title is very misleading.  If you are expecting this to be "darker" you will be disappointed, but if you want a soft porn love story, it works.



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

On DVD





American Pastoral (2016)


An ex-college football star and his beauty queen wife who seem to have everything must come to grips with their daughter's involvement in the protest movement of the 1960's.

I wanted to love this movie.  I like movies about the protest generation of the 60's and 70's because I was there.  I was one of them.  My parents were part of the so-called "Greatest Generation." The "Greatest Generation" revered security and serenity after the war years, and then we Baby Boomers came along, eschewing all of that and we became their greatest nightmare.  The Baby Boomers embraced sex, drugs, rock and roll and protest.

Ewan McGregor stars as Seymour Levov, also known as "The Swede," because, though he was Jewish, he eschewed traditional Jewish values, married a shiksa beauty queen, moved to the suburbs and became "whitewashed," a theme that writer Philip Roth liked to explore in his books, and "American Pastoral," on which this film is based, is no exception.  Seymour was a football hero who got to marry a beauty queen (Jennifer Connolly). His life looked perfect except for one thing.  His daughter, Merry (Dakota Fanning) developed a terrible stutter, and as she grew older, rejected his life and was swallowed up by the turmoil of the 60's.

Merry is a sensitive but confident kid, her stutter notwithstanding, and as she matures, she actually becomes a pain in the neck to her parents.  She sees a monk immolate himself on TV - a fairly common occurrence during the Vietnam War era - and she is deeply disturbed by it.  Over time she becomes more and more obsessed about the War and starts blaming her father and mother for their middle class lives. 

Merry has a contentious relationship with her mother and the shrink trying to help them with Merry's stuttering says she is trying to compete with her beautiful mother, a premise that goes nowhere in this film.  Seymour dotes on Merry and when she argues with her father about his life and the war, he tells her that if she cares so much to "bring the war home." So much for parental advice.  Not sure if he meant it literally but that's how she took it, so she blows up the local post office.  Unfortunately, the post master was inside.  Mary disappears and the rest of the film involves Semour's efforts to find his daughter and to try to understand what happened.

The film begins at a high school reunion for the Class of '51.  Seymour's brother, Jerry (Rupert Evans), is there and classmate Nathan Zuckerman (David Strathairn), now a famous author, asks about "The Swede," which gives Jerry the opportunity to tell him about Seymour and for Nathan to provide the narration for what transpires as an American tragedy.

Ewan McGregor not only stars in this film, but directed it as well. It bombed at the box office, and I am not sure why.  It has wonderful actors and a compelling story with a screenplay by John Romano based on Philip Roth's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, but I guess in this time where animated and horror films rule, it didn't get the hype it deserved.  Also, the critics were not kind.  But it is not an easy thing to bring a multi-layered novel like this one to the screen, so though I will say the film fell down a bit in the second half, I liked it. I didn't love it like I wanted to, but I liked it. 

We are all familiar with the radicals of the 60's and 70's and the bombings but what about their mothers and fathers?  How did they feel about the activities of their kids?  What did they go through as a result?  This film attempts to explore that - parental despair when their children reject everything they stand for and their inability to believe their own children could turn out to be something they don't want them to be - and it gets the message across.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Sorry, haters, I liked this film and found it very compelling.  I think my fellow Baby Boomers will too.






Birth of a Nation (2016)


A dramatization of the famous slave uprising led by Nat Turner.

Here is another film that did not live up to its promise, but not because it wasn't a good film. Soon after the film was released, it came to light that star/director/writer/producer Nate Parker had been accused of rape while in college and that hurt the film.

Not to be confused with the 1915 D.W. Griffith film of the same name that glorified the KKK as defenders of southern women against the newly freed slaves, this film tells the story of "the birth" of Nat Turner (Parker), a slave who was allowed to learn to read and write (something that was forbidden for slaves to do) and who became a preacher.  He was used by the slave owners to preach to other slaves the importance of doing what their masters told them.

Set in in Virginia, this is a biopic that shows Turner's rise as a preacher, his rise as a leader of the slaves and their eventual rebellion in 1831.  At first Nat was used as a pawn by the slave owners to keep the slaves in line, using religion to passify the slaves and validate their control over them, but as time went by Nat couldn't stand what he saw, and when his wife (Aja Naomi King) was brutally raped, he wanted revenge.  He began to understand that his preaching had real power and he started to use it to galvanize the slaves and to orchestrate an uprising.

The first two-thirds of the film chronicles Nat's life and the last third of the film shows how the slave revolt, known as Nat Turner's Rebellion, played out where over 50 whites were killed and hundreds of slaves hanged.

As Turner, Parker is a compelling film presence, who sensitively shows Turner's conversion from quiet, obedient preacher of the gospel to loud, radical preacher of rebellion.

I always affirm the need to see films like this - holocaust films fall into that category too - because we must never forget the horrors of slavery and the holocaust, but it never gets any easier to see the incredibly cruel and inhuman treatment inflicted on humans by their fellow humans.  This is a difficult film to watch.  There is one scene that shows a slave owner's little white daughter playing with a slave child, except the little white girl is dragging the slave child around by a noose.  That one image says it all and shows the power of film.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a difficult film to watch, and despite the controversy surrounding its star and director, an important one that deserves to be seen.



 

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



213 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?






A Nous A Liberte (1931)


Two convicts escape from prison.  One prospers, the other doesn't.

Louis (Raymond Cordy) and Emile (Henri Marchand) plan an escape from prison.  Louis makes it out but Emile is recaptured.  Louis goes on to build a factory empire but when Emile gets out of the prison and recognizes Louis, Louis's new life is threatened.

Rene Clair was a French film director whose early silent films were reknowned for their innovations. However, he is probably best known by American audiences for his later films, "I Married a Witch" and "And Then There Were None."

This is an early film that, though not really a silent film, has little dialogue, instead substituting music and song where dialogue might have been.  It is a sort of whimsical film - half comedy, half musical - that pokes fun at the pomposity of the upper classes. There is also a scene with an assembly line getting out of control.  Sound familiar?  It all has a very Chaplinesque feel to it, so much so that after Chaplin's "Modern Times" was released in 1936, Chaplin was sued for plagiarism over it.

Even a film enthusiast like myself has a hard time with these really old films. I think it didn't take much in the early days of cinema to delight audiences, because they were just happy to see moving images and hear the characters in the film talk.  I guess we expect more these days.

Why it's a Must See:  "Interestingly, much of the humor in [this film] stems from carefully manipulated screen space and sequence...It's a formula freed from dialogue and adopted directly from the silent cinema as a transitional vehicle into the talkies."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

As I make my way through this project (to watch the 1001 movies I must see before I die) and encounter films I might not have necessarily wanted to see, I have found some unlikely treasures but also suffered through some that were just not my thing.

Rosy the Reviewer says... sadly, early film comedies with slapstick and over the top plots are just not my thing.
(b & w)


 
***Book of the Week***





Everything I Need To Know I Learned in The Twilight Zone by Mark Dawidziak (2017)



Remember that book, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" by Robert Fulghum that was all the rage in the 80's? Well this book thinks that all we really need for a good life is the lessons from "The Twilight Zone."

Rod Serling may no longer be a household name, but in the early 1960's his anthology television program, "The Twilight Zone," was de rigeur viewing and everyone could hum the iconic theme music. 





With famous actors like Burgess Meredith and even Robert Redford starring, the show was part scifi, part horror and, according to author and veteran TV critic Mark Dawidziak, the show was also really a series of morality plays that could serve as guides to life.

"Lurking in almost every episode...is at least one guiding rule, one life lesson, one stirring reminder of a basic right or wrong taught to us as children.  There are lessons for individuals.  There are lessons for our society.  There are lessons for our planet."

Dawidziak has divided the book into chapters, each with a moral lesson, followed by synopses of episodes that illustrated those lessons, e.g. "Nobody said life was fair," "That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and "Never cry wolf."

Though Dawidziak includes descriptions of most episodes, this is not really an episode guide or a history of the show per se, though he does a short bio of Serling that highlights Serling's moral code, and Serling's daughter weighs in on her Dad, but rather it's a light-hearted self-help book courtesy of "The Twilight Zone," where he links each episode to an old saying, e.g.  Walter Bedeker (David Wayne) sells his soul to the devil in "Escape Clause." Hence the lesson: "Read every contract...carefully."

When speaking about Serling, his daughter says:

 "The seeds of his strongly felt convictions, understanding of human nature, and ability to see beyond the obvious were nourished at Antioch [college] and would become the trademarks of his work...It has often been said that the episodes of The Twilight Zone are parables -- short allegorical stories designed to illustrate or teach some truth or moral lesson.  My father always said, though, 'Whenever you write, whatever you write, never make the mistake of assuming the audience is any less intelligent than you are.' Keeping that in mind, he used television as a vehicle to bring awareness of the hypocrisy and disingenuous nature of many of the ills wrought on society by selfishness, apathy, and a lack of a moral compass. Throughout his career my father's deepest concern was for the well-being of humanity."

There are also "Guest Lessons" after most chapter/episodes, and then Dawidziak might weigh in also.  We hear from Jack Klugman, Dick Van Dyke, Harlan Ellison and others about what the episode meant to them.

Serling wrote 92 of the 156 episodes that ran from 1959-1964 but he introduced them all, and starting in Season II, said the famous intro line that many of us Baby Boomers could recite then and now:

"You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's the signpost up ahead - your next stop, the Twilight Zone!" 

Doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo!

Though, as I mentioned, Dawidziak's title pays homage to Fulghum's 1988 bestseller, Dawidziak considers his book a step up from kindergarten, calling it "postgraduate work." 

"Not to diminish or dismiss anyone else's dose of self-help inspiration, but kindergarten just didn't provide enough basic intel for me.  I definitely required a good deal of postgraduate work after moving on from the land of finger-painting and A-B-C blocks.  Some of us are just slow learners, I suppose.  Some of us need more.  Some of us need extended stays in the Twilight Zone."

Rosy the Reviewer says...those of us who grew up with this show can cite our favorites so it's fun reading the background on those episodes.  Mine was "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet."

What was your favorite episode?



Thanks for reading!


I am back on Tuesday 

 
for my Oscar recap,

so


"Let's Dish About the Oscars!"

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