Showing posts with label Underground. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Underground. Show all posts

Friday, June 14, 2019

"Booksmart" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "Booksmart" as well as DVDs "Happy Death Day 2U" and "Greta."  The Book of the Week is the memoir "When Breath Becomes Air."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Underground."]


A coming of age tale about two noses-to-the grindstone high school seniors who decide they finally need to have some fun.

Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein - and what a cool name is that?) are best friends. They have been best friends since childhood.  Amy and Molly are also very smart and driven young women who are planning to go to good colleges after high school. Molly is student council president and valedictorian and has already been accepted at Yale. I mean, that was the whole point of all of that hard work, right? Amy is an activist who is going to take a gap year and do humanitarian work in Botswana.  These two had their goals in mind early and kept their noses in their books.  The reward?  They felt superior to their fellow students who would never get into good colleges after all of that partying.  

Oh, really? 

Molly's world is rocked when she overhears some kids talking about her in the school restroom.  When she confronts them and calls them partying losers, she discovers that they too have gotten into good schools!  How could that happen? Molly and Amy had eschewed partying to tend to their academics and now find out that maybe they really missed out and could have been partying with their friends after all. So what WAS the point, then, of all of that hard work?

So Molly convinces Amy that they have one last chance to party. 

It's the night before graduation and it's now or never. They decide to have some fun at a big end-of-school party at Nick's (Mason Gooding - the son of Cuba Gooding Jr., by the way) aunt's house.  However, there's one problem.  They don't know where that is.  So as they try to find Nick's party, the film takes on a kind of "Adventures in Babysitting" vibe where all kinds of "adventures" ensue as they try to get to Nick's party. They engage the help of Jared (hilariously played by Skyler Gisondo), a sort of clueless rich kid; drug-crazed Gigi (Billie Lourd, Carrie Fisher's daughter and Billie is hilarious too), who spikes some strawberries she feeds them with drugs resulting in a very funny scene; and their high school principle (Jason Sudeikis) who naturally works as a Lyft driver to make extra money because they don't pay teachers enough.  

At the party, Amy who is gay, crushes on Ryan (yes, it's a girl - Victoria Ruesga) and Molly crushes on Nick but neither relationship pans out and Amy wants to go home, calling "Malala," their code word for needing help, meaning now Molly must do what Amy wants. (And of course, these two superachievers would choose "Malala" as their word).  When Molly refuses they have a huge fight where some secrets are revealed and their friendship tested.

Directed by actress Olivia Wilde in her feature film directorial debut, the strengths of this film are the two lead actresses, Wilde's deft directorial hand that keeps the pace, and the sharp screenplay by Emily Halpern, Susanna Fogel, Sarah Haskins and Katie Silberman, a powerhouse of women writers. 

At first, watching this film, I couldn't believe kids actually talked and acted like this. Did my kids? Some of the stuff these kids in the movie said...  Wow!  Then I was walking through the shopping center near the high school.  School had just gotten out and kids were hanging out at the Subway, talking and carrying on...and yep.  So, yes, this is what kids act like. 

What I also liked, besides the interesting characters, was the the fact that Feldstein/Molly was not the usual little skinny teen actress we have come to accept in these teen films but a curvy young girl and - nothing was made of that.  She wasn't on a diet, the kids didn't taunt her for being overweight, and she didn't think twice about making a play for the hot young jock.  It just was what it was.  And I appreciated that.  In fact, none of the characters were your typical stereotypes often found in teen films.

Moral of the story - love and appreciate your friends and it's OK to have some fun!

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fresh take on the coming of age story that celebrates female friendships starring two wonderful young actresses.

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


Happy Death Day 2U (2019)

Sorority girl Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) is back in yet another gruesome Groundhog Day loop, but this time, let's add "Back to the Future!"

Yet another sequel capitalizing on the success of the first film. I really liked the first film - a sort of "Groundhog Day" of murder and horror, but with a sense of humor.  But since the murderer was uncovered in the first film and dispatched with, I couldn't help but wonder what kind of a sequel this would be. 

So now Tree Gelbman is back. Time has passed since that horrible birthday where she would wake up every morning in Carter's (Israel Broussard), her soon-to-be boyfriend's, dorm room on her birthday only to be murdered by the end of it by someone in a baby mask and then having to relive that day over and over.  It wasn't until she took it upon herself to solve her own murder that the loop stopped.  So all is well...


What??? Now the Groundhog Day loop is back and is happening to Ryan (Phi Vu), one of her friends, and then -- dammit! -- to her again!  How can that be?  The killer is dead!

Turns out Ryan and his nerdy friends had invented a sort of time machine and screwed up the dimensions of time and space and now they are all caught in a parallel universe where the killer wasn't killed and might not have been the killer at all, Tree and Carter are not boyfriend and girlfriend, and Tree's mother is not dead (Tree had been mourning her mother's death in the first film).  She must make a decision whether to go back to her former life or stay where her mother is still alive in a very poignant scene between Tree and her mother.

So now we have "Groundhog Day" meets "Back to the Future." 

The Groundhog Day aspect is that in this continuous loop of reliving the same day over and over, everyone except Tree forgets what happened the day before.  Only Tree remembers so she has to be the living record.  She also tries to hurry everything up by actually killing herself each day instead of waiting for the murderer to get to her.  There are some gruesomely funny suicides, if suicide can be funny i.e. she drops a hair dryer in the bathtub that she is in (don't try this at home), drinks Liquid Plumber, throws herself in a wood chipper and jumps out of an airplane without a parachute.

Written and directed by Christopher Landon, these kinds of horror films aren't scary per se and are dependent on the young stars. In this case, the kids, especially Rothe, are engaging and you want to root for them.  However, I always have a problem with the time/space continuum stuff and, as you know, I generally don't like sequels. However, I appreciated that this film recapped the first one early on so you at least had an inkling what was going on in this one. Though this film was fun, I didn't like it as much as the first one so I have to question the need for this sequel. The first film was a cute, original play on a horror film.  Now this one is trying to capitalize on that success when I think we would have been just fine remembering the first one.

Rosy the Reviewer says...not as good as the first one but it's still fun.

Greta (2018)

A perfect reflection of the old adage, "No good deed goes unpunished."

Watching this film, I couldn't help but wonder if "Single White Female" started the whole woman-stalking-woman trope in the movies because this is another one of those.

Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a nice young woman who finds a designer handbag on the subway.  There is money in the purse and all of the information she needs to find the owner so she decides to return it much to her roommate, Erica's (Maika Monroe) dismay. I mean, as Erica points out, what if the person is a nutter or worse?  

Well....  The owner of the purse is Greta (Isabelle Huppert), an older woman who lives alone.  She seems sweet enough and the two embark on a friendship.  Frances had recently lost her mother so Greta filled that void in her life until...Let's just say Greta starts getting a bit needy and clingy.  OK, obsessive.  And then Frances especially regrets returning that purse when she finds Greta's stash of identical purses as in, uh, just how many of us was Greta going after? Frances breaks off the friendship but Greta will not be ignored! See where this is heading?  Well, I kind of did, but there are some twists and turns that I didn't see.

If you are going to do an old-fashioned potboiler like this, put it in the capable hands of a veteran actress like Isabelle Huppert, who does subtly crazy very well.  She is a wonderful actress who has had a hugely successful career ever since the 70's.  As for Chloe, she is very believable and just keeps getting better and better.

Directed by Neil Jordan who directed the stunning "The Crying Game" and other wonderful films back in the 90's, one can't help but wonder why he hasn't been as prolific since (actor Steven Rea makes an appearance here in a sort of homage to those days).   

Rosy the Reviewer says...I saw the M.O. on this one right away but as they say it's all about the journey. It was great fun getting to the end.  This is a good old-fashioned potboiler with great acting and a story that just whizzes along.

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

91 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Underground (1995)

A farcical and satiric allegory about the country formerly known as Yugoslavia from World War II to the postcommunist present.

Beginning in Belgrade in 1941 in the midst of WW II, two anti-Nazi arms dealers, Marko (Predrag 'Miki' Manojlovic) and Blackie (Lazar Ristovski), inadvertently become Communist heroes. These guys have few redeeming qualities, but actually I think Marko was the worst.  He locked people in his grandfather's cellar to escape the war and manufacture arms and actually managed to convince them that the war was still going on well into the 60's. However, Blacky gets to show how bad he is when the Bosnian War rolls around. There's also, Natalija, an actress (Mirjana Jokovic) both men want, a chimp, and all kinds of crazy stuff, showcasing black humor at its highest form.

Based loosely on the play, "Spring in January" by Serbian playwright Dusan Kovacevicthe story unfolds in three parts, each linked to a particular period of Yugoslavian history: World War II, the Cold War that followed and the war in Bosnia.  Marko and Blackie spent those years fighting an imaginary Nazi occupation, each in a different way.  Blacky has stayed underground thinking that WW II was still going on while Marko became a sort of hero, hanging around with the likes of Tito and profiting from what his "friends" were doing underground.  

Directed by Emir Kusturica, who is considered the most renowned filmmaker of those Eastern Europeans who experienced the before and after of the Cold War, this almost three hour comedy/drama about Yugoslavia's history won the Golden Palm at Cannes in 1995 and has been in the midst of controversy due to its conceived pro-Serbian stance despite the fact that Kusturica is a Bosnian Muslim.

Why it's a Must See: "However one chooses to take its jaundiced view of history, [this film] is probably the best film to date by [the talented Kusturica]...a triumph of mise-en-scene mated to a comic vision that keeps topping its own hyperbole."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...OK, fine, it had some enjoyable moments and it was vibrantly filmed, but way too long at almost three hours.  I am fundamentally opposed to any movie that is longer than two and a half hours at the most unless it's "Gone With the Wind."

***The Book of the Week***

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi and Abraham Verghese (2016)

At the age of 36, just as Paul Kalanithi was completing his training as a neurosurgeon, he discovered that he had Stage IV lung cancer.  The doctor was now the patient and he was going to die.

What do you do when you know you are going to die?  

In this case, Kalanithi, who had been a biology and a literature major at Stanford before embarking on his medical training, decided to write the story of his journey and his quest to discover what made life worth living by writing this book, which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, listed as one of the best books of 2016 by the New York Times and garnered many more awards.  Sadly, Kalanithi did not live to bask in the acclaim.

He never meant to be a doctor.  He loved literature and wanted to be a writer.  And that's what he planned to do when he went to Stanford, but a chance encounter with a book that made the assumption that the mind was simply the operation of the brain startled him.

"Though we had free will, we were also biological organisms -- the brain was an organ, subject to all the laws of physics, too! Literature provided a rich account of human meaning; the brain, then, was the machinery that somehow enabled it.  It seemed like magic.  That night, in my room, I opened up my red Stanford course catalog, which I had read through dozens of times, and grabbed a highligher.  In addition to all the literature classes I had marked, I began looking in biology and neurosciences as well."

And then a few years later, with most of his degrees in English literature and biology completed, Kalanithi was driven to try to understand what makes human life meaningful?  While "literature provided the best account of the life of the mind...neuroscience laid down the most elegant rules of the brain...Literature not only illuminated another's experience, it provided, I believed, the richest material for moral reflection..." And I was once married to a guy who thought reading fiction was a waste of time!

So thus began Kalanithi's career as a doctor - the kind of doctor we would all wish to have, one who cared about his patients.

"Before operating on a patient's brain, I realized, I must first understand his mind: his identity, his values, what makes his life worth living, and what devastation makes it reasonable to let that life end."

...and the quality of their lives.

"While all doctors treat diseases, neurosurgeons work in the crucible of identity, every operation on the brain, is by necessity, a manipulation of the substance of ourselves, and every conversation with a patient undergoing brain surgery cannot help but confront this fact...the question is not simply whether to live or die but what kind of life is worth living...Because the brain mediates our experience of the world, any neurosurgical problem forces a patient and family, ideally with a doctor as a guide, to answer this question: What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?"

This is the kind of doctor we all would want.  One who is skilled in the medical field but who also understands the human side of it. 

"...the physician's duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence."

Kalanithi only lived to 36. However, we are the better for the book, and his soul will live on through it, because this will surely be the definitive work about the quest for meaning in the face of death and dying. And the book is unique as he wove his love of literature in with all of the science.  It was literature that helped him get through his treatments.

"And so it was literature that brought me back to life during this time...I woke up in pain facing another day -- no project beyond breakfast seemed tenable.  I can't go on, I thought, and immediately, its antiphon responded, completing Samuel Beckett's seven words, words I have learned long ago as an undergraduate: I'll go on.  I got out of bed and took a step forward, repeating the phrase over and over: "I can't go on. I'll go on."

Speaking of the meaning of life, I couldn't help but wonder why someone like Kalanithi who wanted to do good and live a meaningful life should only live to 37 while Charles Manson, who has come to epitomize evil, lived to 83. Sometimes life is also just so random.

This is a nice companion piece to the wonderful "Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End," which I reviewed last year.  In that book the author, Atul Gawande, another doctor, talks about how doctors are not trained to deal with death and dying but rather keeping people alive at any cost.  He believes that patients have a right to know that their time has come so they can choose how they want to spend their last years and days. I so agree with that. And so does Kalanithi, who struggled with making those kinds of decisions - to continue to try to save the patient?  At what cost?

My cousin and sister both died within the last few years and too soon.  Both had terminal cancer but were still put through horrendous procedures to try to prolong their lives.  If they had really been informed that there was nothing that could be done to save them, don't you think they would have chosen to spend their time at home with loved ones rather than rounds and rounds of doctor's appointments and procedures?

"How little do doctors understand the hells through which we put our patients."

An extraordinary doctor and extraordinary man.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Kalanithi's story is an amazing one.  Keep some hankies nearby.

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday




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

as well as

the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See

Before I Die Project" 

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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, 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.