Showing posts with label movie reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label movie reviews. Show all posts

Friday, December 15, 2017

"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the movie "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" as well as DVDs "Lost in Paris" and "Lovely & Amazing."  The Book of the Week is a biography of singer Stevie Nicks, "Gold Dust Woman: A Biography of Stevie Nicks."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer."

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

A mother is consumed with trying to get the local police to solve her daughter's murder so she comes up with a unique idea to get them to continue to investigate.

Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is not a happy woman.  Nor should she be.  Her daughter, Angela, was raped and murdered and the Ebbing police have not found the guy. There is no DNA, there are no witnesses and the case has gone cold.  And, needless to say, Mildred is not happy about that.  Not happy at all.  In fact she is so unhappy that she rents three billboards outside of town, and like those old humorous Burma Shave billboards that used to dot the highways in the old days, the three billboards when read together form a saying, except it's not a humorous saying, not humorous at all.  The first one reads "Angela Hayes was raped while dying," followed by another one that reads "Still no arrests" and the third one, "How come, Chief Willoughby?" The billboards also stand within eyesight of Mildred's front porch and mark the spot where her daughter was murdered.

The billboards not only humiliate Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), but polarize the whole community particularly because everyone knows that Chief Willoughby is dying of pancreatic cancer.  How could Mildred do something like this to a man who is dying?  Well, Mildred has one goal and one goal only and that is to find her daughter's killer and make him pay so she doesn't much care that Chief Willoughby is dying.  A mother's grief knows no bounds.

Mildred and her son, Robbie (Lucas Hedges, who has put in some powerful performances in some high profile films recently - see my reviews for "Manchester by the Sea" and "Lady Bird"), are harassed by the police and the townspeople, but Mildred stands firm.  She is one tough cookie.  Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) is particularly incensed, but then Dixon is not all there and has his own issues. He is a racist mama's boy with anger issues. When Willoughby commits suicide after a perfect day he planned with his wife and children, Mildred is blamed, though Willoughby disputes that by sending letters to several people, including one to his wife saying he did it because he couldn't stand for her to remember him as he faded away.  He also sent one to Mildred telling her it wasn't because of her.

This all may seem quite depressing and dour and it can be dark, but it also has humor and pathos thanks to the brilliant screenplay by Martin McDonagh, who also directs.  I see a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination in his future.  The screenplay is definitely original as well as thought-provoking and beautifully presented.

McDormand is mesmerizing and she and Rockwell are also sure to get Oscar nods for their performances, especially Rockwell, who in a supporting role, is almost unrecognizable as Dixon, the clueless swaggering Mama's boy who really does want to be a good cop but just keeps putting his foot in it.

But I was particularly taken with Harrelson's performance.  As you may have noticed, I have not been his biggest fan, though I was starting to soften towards him since "Wilson" and "The Glass Castle," but here he pulls out all of the stops - in a good way - to put in a nuanced and poignant performance about a man who really wants to help Mildred but is just too busy dying.

Written, produced and directed by McDonough (he also wrote and directed "In Bruges"), along with a Best Original Screenplay nomination, "Three Billboards" is a likely Best Picture and Best Director Oscar candidate. 

The film leaves a deep impression partly because of the performances but mostly because no easy answers are presented for any of these deeply flawed characters which is just like life, right?

Rosy the Reviewer says...already nominated for a Best Picture Golden Globe as well as Best Original Screenplay with Best Actor nods to McDormand and Rockwell.  I have no doubt it will get similar Oscar nominations - so get thee to the theatre! 

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


Lost in Paris (2016)

A Canadian librarian heads to Paris for the first time to help her Aunt.

Fiona (Fiona Gordon) lives in a part of Canada that is so cold it looks like the Himalayas.  As a young girl, her Aunt Martha (Emmanuelle Riva who so stunned in "Amour," which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2013) regaled her with stories about living in Paris.  Now the grown-up Fiona is still in Canada working as a librarian and her Aunt did go to Paris, but now her Aunt Martha has written to her to come to Paris and help her because she says social workers are threatening to put her in a nursing home.

So Fiona packs up her huge backpack with her Canadian flag waving out the back and heads to Paris.  But when she arrives at her Aunt Martha's house, no one is home, and later when she asks a jogger to take her picture on a bridge with the Eiffel Tower in the background, she falls backwards off the bridge into the water, losing her backpack and all of her money.

Then we meet Dom (Dominque Abel), a homeless man camped out in a tent next to the Seine.  He finds Fiona's backpack and her purse with all of her money in it.  Donning one of her sweaters and carrying her purse, he heads to a posh restaurant where he encounters Fiona, who had received a meal voucher from the Canadian Consulate while she awaits her new passport.  She compliments Dom on his sweater which she says is just like one she has but when she sees her purse she realizes what has happened. 

That scene was rather funny but then it all went downhill for me after that.

I so wanted to love this film.  Librarian?  Paris?  Beautiful cinematography and production values? Accomplished actors?  What's not to like?  But it just didn't add up to anything for me.

Written and directed by the stars, Fiona Gordon and Dominque Abel, I had several issues with this film.  One, it was just too farcical.  I am not a big fan of broad, farcical comedy.  But having been a librarian myself, I am also not a fan of librarian stereotypes, and Fiona, with her weird hairstyle that reminded me too much of a librarian's stereotypical bun, her glasses and her sneakers just made me cringe.  Not to mention she didn't seem like she was very smart. She was a grown woman who was totally flummoxed by being in Paris for the first time.  I mean, she was a librarian.  Didn't she read any guidebooks before she went?  And then there was Dom, who came off as part Monsieur Hulot, part Mr. Bean, but unfortunately, I was never really into either of those characters.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like fantasy with broad humor you might like this, but despite the production values - the film was lovely to look at - and some sweet moments, the film was just too unrealistic and Keystone Cops-ish for me.

Lovely & Amazing (2001)

A little slice of life circa early 2000's about a mother and her three mixed up daughters.

The best thing about this film was seeing a very young Jake Gyllanhaal.  It was also a reminder why I never really liked Catherine Keener very much.  Not that she isn't a good actress.  She is and maybe that's the problem  She is too good.  She is too real, and unfortunately, she brings that realness to too many really annoying characters.  Since this film was 16 years ago, it's highly possible that this was the first of her many annoying characters.

Keener plays Catherine, a woman who - did I say she was annoying? - is in an unhappy marriage and can't seem to get a job.  Instead she makes little chairs out of twigs and tries to sell them to boutiques.

Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer) is Catherine's sister, and she is a model/actress who is very insecure, so insecure that in a cringe-worthy full-frontal nudity way she stands naked in front of Kevin (Dermot Mulroney), an actor she has just had sex with and only recently met and asks him to critique her body, though I will say it was refreshing to be reminded that women once actually had pubic hair.  Elizabeth is also obsessed with adopting stray dogs.

Jane (Brenda Blethyn) is the matriarch who has adopted Annie (Raven Goodwin), a little black girl.  And thank god we have Annie, because she seems to be the only one in this film with any sense. She serves as the conscience of these vapid L.A. people.  Everyone else is self-absorbed and insecure, especially in regards to their body image. We see where Catherine and Elizabeth get it from when Jane sets the tone by planning on getting some liposuction to lose five pounds.

This was an annoying movie about annoying people.  I think it was supposed to be quirky and funny and real, but I just thought the whole thing was annoying.  Everyone talks at each other and makes no connections and, in fact, Catherine is down right rude to little Annie, telling her when they are at the beach that she certainly doesn't need sunscreen.

Catherine is clueless and just taking up space and to make matters worse her husband is having an affair with her best friend.  Finally shamed about not working, Catherine gets a job at a quick stop photo developing shop.  Remember when we had to get our pictures developed?  There she meets Jordan, a very young Jake Gyllenhaal, and actually starts feeling a bit better about herself, probably because Jordan has a huge crush on her and she knows it.

All of the characters are train wrecks, but like a train wreck, you can't take your eyes off of them.  I guess we are waiting to see if they can be redeemed but halfway through the film I said out loud to the screen "Who are these people?"  But I guess the point here was that everyone's life is messy and narcissistic and it's all reflected in Annie, who no one seems to be taking care of.  There is one particularly poignant scene when Annie takes herself to McDonald's to eat because no one has the time to fix her dinner and she sits in silence as the adults around her act like idiots. She has a weight problem and you can see the insecurity of the adults is rubbing off on her when she feels like she has to justify how much food she has ordered.  "I'm not going to eat it all." But her no-nonsense innocence is in stark contrast to the jaded, bored sensibilities of the adults.  So if that was the point, OK, but I just wish the film didn't have to also be annoying to make that point. 

Not sure how I ended up watching this film. Must have been one of those instances where I saw a trailer for it.  You know the ones.  The trailer is more interesting than the film.  Or maybe I read somewhere that it was some sort of cult classic and I should see it.  Roger Ebert liked it, but then he liked most things.

Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, who went on to direct "Enough Said," which I liked much better than this one, this film was notable for its portrayal of real women and the relationships between mothers and daughters. It had the makings of a smart, observant film but it just really didn't go anywhere and the fact that the characters were so annoying didn't help.

The film was also notable for the early careers of so many actors - Keener, Gyllenhaal, Dermot Mulroney.  But like I said, I never really liked Keener as an actress just because she seemed to play so many characters like this - quirky, inappropriate, awkward but these days she has morphed into a sort of middle-aged warmth that I like better. She is still awkward and has all kinds of actory mannerisms but at least she isn't annoying anymore.

But the film belongs to little Raven Marks in her very first film role (she was 9) and who went on to have a very successful TV career. This film was also at the height of Dermot Mulroney's popularity (it followed "My Best Friend's Wedding"), though he never really lived up to his promise as a leading man and is now seen mostly in bad guy roles.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I actually think it's possible to make a film about annoying people without it being an annoying movie but that didn't happen here.  It's neither lovely nor amazing.

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

162 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Henry likes to murder people.  A lot of them.

I had been putting off seeing this one because it just looked creepy as hell...and well, it was.

The film begins with a close-up of a woman's beautiful face, but as the camera pans slowly away we see that she is dead.

Then we meet Henry (Michael Rooker) driving his beaten up car interspersed with more flashbacks of other dead bodies as he drives along. Henry stops for coffee at a café and compliments the waitress on her smile.  Henry could just be any handsome young man.  Even serial killers can be sociable, I guess. But then he goes to the mall, targets a woman and follows her home.  But when she arrives home her husband comes out to help her with her packages so Henry backs off.  But he'll be back.

Then on the way home Henry picks up a young hitchhiker carrying her guitar. 

Henry lives with Otis (Tom Towles), a gas station attendant and part-time drug dealer, who has just picked up his sister, Becky (Tracy Arnold), at the airport.  Becky has left an unhappy marriage and needs a place to stay.  When Henry arrives, he has a guitar case with him and gives Otis the guitar. Oh oh.  So much for that young hitchhiker. 

Henry and Otis had met in prison. Henry was there for killing his mother. We get a little insight into Henry's character when Becky asks him about killing his mother but that is the only attempt made to explain why Henry likes to kill people or why or how he chooses his victims though he gives some insight when he says to Otis, "It's always you or them one way or another."

We never actually see the murders, just the bodies, until later in the film, when Otis witnesses Henry killing a prostitute and gets the bug himself and the two end up killing a family together and filming it with a video recorder and then watching it on their new TV.

Later it becomes clear that though Henry kills practically everyone he comes across he is more of a gentleman than Otis, who is quite the perv, especially when he tries to rape Becky, his own sister.  Even Henry has standards.

This was Michael Rooker's first feature film role and he is amazing as the handsome but dead-eyed Henry but for me that doesn't save this film.  It's just too dark and intense.

Directed by John McNaughton with a screenplay by McNaughton and Richard Fire, this is a low-budget film (he used then unknown actors and spent only $125,000) that does a good job of showing the seemy side of life and the actual brutality of murder, something that is often trivialized or even glamorized in films today, but the film is very, very hard to watch and I had problems with why it was even made or why it was a must see. I felt guilty for watching it.

Why it's a Must See: "[The film] is loosely based on the story of real-life serial murdered Henry Lee Lucas.  It is exceptional for its realism of style and amoral viewpoint, and it remains with the viewer as one of the most disturbing movies ever made...Henry evokes horror through gritty realism and excellent acting.  The film is not fun to watch, but it is important in that it forces viewers into questioning our cultural fascination with serial killers."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"


Rosy the Reviewer says...very, very disturbing.

***Book of the Week***

Gold Dust Woman: A Biography of Stevie Nicks by Stephen Davis (2017)

A biography of singer Stevie Nicks who helped to make Fleetwood Mac one of the most popular bands of all time.

This is an unauthorized biography so rock and roll biographer Davis did not have access to Stevie herself so had to rely on existing interviews, articles and books about Stevie and the band, as well as the recollections of Stevie's friends, family and those she has worked with. But Davis has put together an entertaining biography that covers the basics of Nicks' life - her Welsh ancestry and her growing up years (she was born in Phoenix but her family moved to California when she was very young) as well as the ups and downs as she made a career for herself as one of rock and roll's leading ladies. 

Stevie came from a musical family.  Her grandfather had dreams to become a country singer and often brought Stevie along when he had local gigs.  In high school she started playing the guitar and writing songs and eventually met Lindsay Buckingham and they formed a duo - Buckingham Nicks. They worked the grueling music scene with Stevie waiting tables to make ends meet and hoping for a big break.  

In one of those classic Hollywood right-place-right-time scenes, it just so happened that Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac was looking for a replacement lead guitarist.  Fleetwood Mac was a successful rock band, but because of the loss of Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer, who both left the band under bizarre circumstances, they were faltering.  When a recording engineer at a studio where Nicks and Buckingham did some work recommended Lindsay, Mick offered Lindsay the job but Lindsay said yes only on the condition that they also take his girlfriend too -- and rock and roll history was born.  When Stevie and Lindsay joined the band, their songwriting, charisma and Stevie's flamboyant stage presence helped Fleetwood Mac become one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time.

Davis shares lots of inside information especially during the tumultuous time that they were all making the Rumours album, which could be called "The Break-Up Album."  All of the band members were in various stages of breaking up.  Davis also covers the personality clashes (according to Davis Buckingham wasn't a very easy guy to get along with); the-who-was-sleeping-with-who lineups; Stevie's relationships with Mick Fleetwood, Don Henley and Joe Walsh; the drugs and drinking that almost killed her; and her solo career that is still going strong. 

Rosy the Reviewer entertaining biography of one of the most glamorous and sexy women in rock and roll who at 69 is still sexy and still rocking.


Thanks for reading!

See you this Tuesday for a

Special Edition of

Rosy the Reviewer:

"My New Kitchen,


I Survived a Kitchen Remodel But Told My Kids if I Ever Decided to do Something Like That Again They Had My Permission to Put Me in a Home! "



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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). 



Friday, October 20, 2017

"Victoria and Abdul" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Victoria and Abdul" as well as DVDs "Cloud 9" and "Certain Women."  The Book of the Week is actress Katey Sagal's memoir "Grace Notes."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "The Actress."]

Victoria and Abdul

This film tells the "mostly" true story of Queen Victoria's relationship with a young Indian.

Judi, Judi, Judi.  Why did I doubt you?  When I decided to see this film, I had this idea that you were going to camp this part up.  The trailers played up the humor so it's not entirely my fault but I should never have doubted you.  You are a Dame for a reason. You are Britain's national treasure and this role shows that you are not only deserving of being a Dame (the female equivalent of a knighthood), but it showcases an actress at the top of her game. 

Dame Judi Dench has aged like a fine wine and this is a role of a lifetime. She is known for winning an Oscar for one of the shortest screen times on record (Best Supporting Actress for "Shakespeare in Love" - 8 minutes) and now she may very well win a Best Actress Oscar for one of the longest (Dench is in practically every scene).  Where she could have gone for laughs or over the top in her impersonation of Victoria, instead Dench chose restraint, subtlety and nuance - facial expressions and that twinkle in her eyes - to create the character of Victoria. But that doesn't mean there is no humor here.  There are many humorous moments.  At every turn her choices are spot on and you can't take your eyes off of her.  A stunning performance.

"Victoria and Abdul" is the story of Queen Victoria who, entering her 80's and at that time the longest reigning monarch in the world, is declining and just basically bored with the pomp and circumstance of being a monarch.  Her beloved Prince Albert has been dead for over 30 years, her Mr. Brown is gone (there was a rumored romance between Mr. Brown, her groundskeeper, and Victoria during the early part of her widowhood - Dench also played Victoria in a movie about that relationship 20 years ago) and her nine children are a pain in her royal arse.  She is basically just going through the motions and waiting to die.

Then along comes Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), a young Muslin sent from India to present Victoria with a commemorative coin from her Indian subjects in celebration of her Golden Jubilee.  Abdul is chosen for this honor because he is tall, and he is accompanied by another Indian, Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar), because he's, well, for the purposes of this film, funny. But he also represents a voice of those who hated the oppression of British rule. 

Abdul is told to present the coin to the Queen during a State dinner, but to not, under any circumstances, look at her. Naturally he does look at her and their eyes meet briefly.  Later, Victoria makes a comment about Abdul being handsome and requests his presence.  Abdul does not toady around the Queen as her household does, and she recognizes in him a source of companionship and joy.  He becomes her "munshi," a teacher.  She may be the Empress of India but she has never traveled there, forbidden to go because of a fatwah against her, so Abdul particularly piques her interest and she is eager to learn about India.  She gives Abdul royal household status, and he teaches her Urdu and about the Koran; they go on long walks together; and he is always by her side, her friend and confidant.  Victoria gets a new lease on life.

However, the royal household is not happy to have an Indian in their midst, especially one who is accorded status and especially an Indian who is not high born.  The royal household all work to discredit Abdul and turn Victoria against him which gives screenwriter Lee Hall, who adapted the book by Shrabani Basu, and director Stephen Frears the opportunity to explore the racism and class consciousness that abounded not only in the royal household but in Britain as a whole.  Queen Victoria might have been the Empress of India and the British may have ruled over India for almost 100 years, but that didn't mean the British had any understanding of those they ruled nor did they respect them.  There is a running joke early in the film where Abdul and Mohammad are called "The Hindus," when in fact they were Muslims, showing a lack of understanding by the British of the diversity that was, and is, India.

The British  really know how to make these historical films and director Stephen Frears in particular does a good job with royalty (he was nominated for Best Director for "The Queen" in 2007).  He also directed Dench in "Philomena" in 2013.

Besides Dench, other veteran British actors abound - Michael Gambon, Olivia Williams, Simon Callow - as well as an almost unrecognizable Eddie Izzard as Victoria's errant son Bertie, the Prince of Wales, who can't wait for his mother to die so he can be King.

But newcomer Ali Fazal as Abdul holds his own among these British veterans.  His eyes twinkle as he charms Victoria and you are never sure if he really cares for her or has decided she is his ticket to a better life.  That dichotomy gives his character and the film some weight.  I look forward to seeing more of him.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Ring, ring.  Dame Judi, there's a phone call for you.  Oscar calling.  (Oh, and I cried at the end, and you know what that means)!


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


Cloud 9 (2008)

A 67-year-old woman who has been married for over 30 years enters into an affair with a 76-year-old man.

I know I talk about French films and their obsession with sex.  Well, I should throw German films into the mix too.  The French have nothing on the Germans when it comes to sex in movies, if this film is any indication.

This is one of those films where you not only have to suspend disbelief - but actually there isn't much to disbelieve here - but you will need to suspend your prejudices against body fat and old people having sex because there is a lot of both in this film.  I seem to be on a roll these days reviewing movies about people of a certain age falling in love, struggling to find love and engaging in sex: "The Lovers," "Our Souls at Night," "How to be a Latin Lover," and "In the Courtyard," are just some of the recent films I have reviewed. on those topics.  And why shouldn't we see films like this?  Young, old, fat, thin, beautiful, homely, everyone wants to love and be loved and to, yes, have sex.

Inge (Ursula Werner) is a seamstress married to Werner (Horst Rehberg).  She is seemingly happily married in her routine life with Werner.  However, when she goes to customer Karl's (Horst Westphal) apartment to give him some trousers she has tailored for him, he makes a move on her and she immediately reciprocates.  Now Inge is not unattractive, but she is a rather plain, overweight, middle-aged woman who needs to comb her hair.  Karl is even older.  I mean OLD, but that doesn't stop him from making a move on her and she doesn't seem to mind because they get it on right there in his apartment with little foreplay.  And let's just say that the sex is up close and personal - wrinkles, wobbly flesh and all, and to cap it off we get to see Karl in full frontal, so steel yourselves.  I think I said "Yikes" to myself a couple of times.

Inge has been married to Werner for 30 years and though she is not unhappily married, she is bored and I don't blame her.  Werner's idea of fun is to listen to records that play the sounds of various train engines and to go on train rides to no particular destination.  Inge on the other hand is a horny 67-year-old who washes her husband's hair, supervises his exercising and sings in a choir and clearly wants more out of life. She embarks on an affair with Karl, and of course, new love always seems better and the old love starts to tarnish, and lots of sex ensues.  I couldn't help but wonder, where does this woman's libido come from?

The affair continues and Inge confides in her daughter, Petra (Steffi Kuhnert), who tells her to enjoy herself but not to confess to Werner.  Unfortunately, Inge doesn't listen to Petra and tells Werner to tragic effect.

This film is probably not for everyone. If seeing old people naked scares you, you should probably stay away.  I call this "Old people soft porn."  But I couldn't help but think while watching this that if this film starred young attractive actors with tight bodies instead of white hair, wrinkles, flab and everyday looks we would have no problem. The film makes the point that old love can be just as exciting as young love, at least for the participants anyway.  You might not want to watch them do it, but know they are.

As Inge said, "What's my age got to do with it?  If I am 16 or 60 or 80?"

But no matter the age or how long the marriage, the film captures the pain that an affair can cause.

This film is so real I felt like a voyeur.  The actors hold nothing back so the film has a "fly on the wall" reality to it.  We see Inge looking at her naked self in the mirror (don't we all do that? You don't?); we see her having sex with both Werner and Karl (not both at the same time. Dirty mind!); talking on the phone to her daughter and going about her life while at the same time in the midst of a mid-life affair. 

Written by Andreas Dresen, Jorg Hauschild, Laila Stieler and Cooky Zeische and directed by Dresen, it's all very stark and matter-of-fact but surprisingly compelling. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...Is this story a new one?  No.  Have I ever seen anything like it before?  No.  Did it move me?  Yes.
(In German with English subtitles)

Certain Women (2016)

Three separate stories about four Montana women whose lives loosely intersect.

Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladstone are the "certain women."

The film opens with a train making its way across a long and empty plain setting the scene and giving the stark Montana landscape a starring role and then the camera pans to a nondescript town.

Laura Dern is Laura Wells, a lawyer, who is trying to help Mr. Fuller (Jared Harris), who has been injured on the job and who wants to sue the company he worked for.  Laura tries to tell him that he can't sue because he accepted a settlement from the company.  She is frustrated with Fuller because she can't seem to get rid of him and because he won't believe her.  It isn't until they both get a second opinion from a MALE lawyer that Fuller believes her. She is also frustrated because she is coming to the end of an affair. Later, Fuller becomes suicidal and threatens to kill a bunch of people and the next thing she knows he is in a standoff with the police and is holding a cop hostage.  Now Laura finds herself negotiating a hostage situation with Fuller.

Michelle Williams is Gina Lewis who is building a house out in the country, building a new house being an interesting metaphor in light of her crumbling marriage.  You see, we recognize that guy that Laura Wells is having an affair with - it's Gina's husband.

Lily Gladstone plays a lonely Native American ranch hand.  One night she drives her truck into town and sees people going into the school so she follows them into a classroom where Elizabeth (Kristen Stewart) is teaching a class on school law.  She is a young lawyer who has taken on teaching a class in a town two hours from her town.  When she agreed to teach the class she thought the town was closer and is now bummed because she has to drive four hours twice a week to teach the class and has to work the next day. 

The young ranch hand sits in on the class and is clearly taken with Elizabeth and after class they go to a diner together.  This becomes a ritual.  The rancher shows up at the class even though she has not signed up for it. Elizabeth teaches the class and then the two go to the diner.  There is a touching scene where the young ranch hand picks Elizabeth up on her horse and they ride the horse together to the diner.  But then one night when the rancher shows up for class, Elizabeth is no longer there, having found a replacement to relieve herself of that long and tedious drive.  The rancher travels to Elizabeth's town to find her and discovers that their encounters did not mean as much to Elizabeth as they did to her.

Written and directed by Kelly Reichart (based on stories by Maile Meloy - Coincidentally, I reviewed Meloy's latest novel "Do Not Become Alarmed" last July), this film is actually three short films within a film. You keep watching to see how these three disparate stories are related.  Each segment is a character study, and the film as a whole is partly successful, the story of the rancher being the most compelling and the Michelle Williams' piece less so.  But when you have really good actors with really good faces, the actors could read the phone book and you would be captivated. 

This film isn't like reading the phone book, but it's leisurely paced and saved by very real performances and the formidable, barren, unforgiving beauty of Montana which also plays a big role highlighting the themes of loneliness, our inability to connect and emotional isolation - an isolated unforgiving land as backdrop to an unforgiving isolated world that many of us live in.  No matter where we live, no matter how small our world, we all have our stories.

Gladstone is the heart of this film.  Her face tells her character's whole story. She and Stewart are a good team.  Since the "Twilight" films, Stewart seems to be more interested in smaller projects like this and such films as "Personal Shopper," "American Ultra" and "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" which in my opinion haven't done much to further her career.  But somehow I don't think she cares. Dern and Williams are also good as we have come to expect.  All of the actresses in the film are skilled at their craft and can carry a quiet, thoughtful film like this.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a reminder that no matter where we live, no matter how small our worlds, we all have our stories.  If you like quiet, female-driven character studies brought to life by wonderful actors, you will enjoy this film.

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

165 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

The Actress (1991)
(Original title: "Yuen Ling-yuk" or "Ruan Lingyu")

NOTE:  This film is variously titled.  It is listed as "The Actress" in "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" with the Chinese title "Yuen Ling-yuk."  However, in IMDB, the film is listed under "Center Stage," original title Ruan Lingyu."  I also purchased the title under the name "Center Stage."

Biopic of famous Chinese actress Ruan Ling-Yu.

Maggie Cheung plays Ruan and herself in this two-and-a-half hour epic that explores the life of silent film star Ruan Ling-Yu, who was the most famous Chinese actress of the 1930's. She was known as the Garbo of Chinese cinema starring in twenty-nine films by the time she was 25.  She was also dead by the age of 25, having tragically killed herself supposedly because of the malicious treatment of her by the tabloids for her affair with a married man.

The film has a documentary feel combining documentary footage with re-creations of Ruan's life and film roles. Cheung, her co-star Tony Leung, and director Stanley Kwan (and others) playing themselves talk about Ruan's life and her influence on Chinese film.

Ruan had a love affair with Chang, an immature rich kid who liked to gamble. Much was made of the fact that Ruan's mother was a maid for the Chang family and that's how Ruan and Chang met.  However, he loses his fortune and when her interests turn elsewhere he sues her for alimony. Then she gets involved with Tang, a married man, and scandal surrounds her.  How is it that famous, powerful women always seem to get saddled with losers and users?

The film is slow to get going and a bit difficult to follow as it jumps around in time and much is left unexplained, but the film is buoyed by the performances, and I was pulled in by the moodiness and the lush beauty of the film itself.  The recreations of Ruan's famous movie scenes are fascinating as well as Cheung talking about playing the role of Ruan and is asked to compare herself to Ruan. 

Ruan was haunted by the attacks in the press and would ask her friends "Am I considered good?" 

"What can I do except to only fear is malicious gossip." 

It is speculated that Ruan killed herself because of the scandalous tabloid reports, but there are no easy answers here as to why she did it.

Cheung won a Best Actress prize at the 1992 Berlin Film Festival for her performance as Ruan.  She was the first Chinese actor to win a major European acting award and that was a turning point in her career.

Why it's a Must See: "Stanley Kwan's 1992 masterpiece is quite possibly the greatest Hong Kong film ever; perhaps only some of the works of Wong Kar-wai such as Days of Being Wild (1991) and In the Mood for Love (2000) are as comparable in depth and intensity."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

I wouldn't go so far as to say this is as good as "In the Mood for Love (which Cheung also starred in)," but this film has the same moody feel. The set design and costumes are beautiful with an abstract motif that reminded me of Picasso's Cubist period. 

Unfortunately, if you want to see this film, it does not appear to be readily available, though you might find it at your local library.  I had to order it from a company in China via Amazon.

Rosy the Reviewer says...despite some issues I had with this film, I am a sucker for biopics about actors and fell under the spell of Maggie Cheung's performance.
(In Mandarin with English subtitles)

***Book of the Week***

Grace Notes: My Recollections by Katey Sagal (2017)

The real life Peg Bundy reflects on her life.

Who can forget Peg Bundy of "Married... With Children" fame?  

Katey Sagal starred as Peg Bundy, and she and the show took TV by storm in the 1980's and helped make a name for the fledgling Fox Network.  However, Sagal probably wouldn't like my mentioning Peg Bundy at the beginning of this review because she makes it clear in her memoir that her role as Peg Bundy was her blessing and her curse.  You know, that whole type-casting thing.  People thought she really was Peg Bundy but she makes it clear that she was anything but.

Sagal was born into a wealthy but tortured family.  Her father was a well-known and successful TV show director and her mother was a smart, talented woman until her health issues took over.  Both of Sagal's parents died when she was a young woman so she made her way in the world pretty much on her own. 

Sagal never planned to be an actress. Sagal's gift was singing and that's what she planned to do - become a rock star.  She had success with that but her father urged her to try acting so she tried to do both but her real love was always the music.

However, when TV came knocking she took the opportunity and created the role of Peg Bundy on the fledgling TV show "Married... With Children" on the then very new Fox Network.  When that ended, she struggled  to rid herself of Peg until scoring the role of John Ritter's wife in "8 Simple Rules" in 2002 and then eventually a recurring role in "Sons of Anarchy," a TV show that ran from 2008-2014.  She was married three times and had two children with husband #2 - musician Jack White - and a daughter via surrogate with her current husband, Kurt Sutter, who was also the creator of "Sons of Anarchy." 

In what is really a series of vignettes rather than a linear tale of her life, Sagal shares the deaths of her parents, her struggle with alcohol and drugs and successful sobriety, her three marriages, the stillborn birth of one of her children and the highs and lows of her acting career (after many Emmy nominations for her role in "Married... with Children" she finally won an Emmy for "Sons of Anarchy). 

In the second half of the book, Sagal talks about each of her children, she shares her child-rearing philosophy and waxes about life.  When she talks about her early life and career in the first half of the book, especially her trying to make it as a woman in the Los Angeles music scene, the book is interesting but less so when she talks about her personal feelings about mothering, her kids and her husband.

However, to give her some slack, Sagal forewarns the reader early on that this book is more about putting down her thoughts about her life so it's there for her kids. Unfortunately, as the book wore on, that's what it felt like.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are a fan of juicy celebrity gossip type memoirs with lots of name-dropping, this isn't for you, but if you are interested in Sagal, this is a candid memoir and there are some surprises here about her life.


Thanks for reading!
See you next Friday 

for my review of  

"Blade Runner 2049"  


The Week in Reviews
(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)

 and the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before 

 I Die Project."


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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).