Friday, September 11, 2015

"Mistress America" and The Week in Reviews

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


Mistress America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She is also opinionated and known for her bon mots:

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You have to pay for being stylish."

"Color can raise the dead."

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

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

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

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

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

I'm with you, Iris!

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

The Congress  (2013)

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this is where this movie lost me.

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

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

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

293 to go! 

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

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

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

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

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

***Book of the Week***


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for Reading!

That's it for this week.

See you Tuesday for

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


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Check your local library for DVDs and books mentioned.


Note:  Next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database). 



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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Make Someone Happy

"Be kind because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

This quote is attributed to Plato and Philo, but it is thought to actually have been first said by Ian Maclaren.  It doesn't really matter who said it.  What matters is that it is true and profound, and if we could only think that thought when we encounter our fellow humans, even when they are cutting us off in traffic or giving us the finger, it would be a better world.

But we are not saints. In the bustle and stress of everyday life, it is often difficult to be self aware and think of others.

I have spoken of my Dad often in my blog posts. He was not a famous person or a rich person and he certainly had his foibles.  But he was an extraordinary person nonetheless. 

I have never forgotten his telling me that you show love by doing something you don't want to do, but you do it anyway without expecting anything in return.

I think of that every time I remember how when he had to go somewhere himself he would let me have the car to drive around my friends when I was the only one who could get the car -- and he would walk. 

Or the time he drove all over our nearby big town to the Army/Navy stores trying to find me a Navy pea coat that I "had to have" because it was all the rage.  He was always doing that kind of thing. He made me very happy.

He also bought me a white sports car with a little white poodle to match so I wouldn't be sad and lonely while my husband was in Vietnam.  He was that kind of person.

I have tried to be that kind of person.  And I notice it and am appreciative when others do that.

Recently Hubby played in a reunion concert in our hometown.  Many of our old friends came including one who traveled over 100 miles in traffic to show support and spend those few hours with us. That effort made us very happy.

Meditation has also taught me that there really is something to throwing kindness and positivity out into the universe.  You never know when a smile or some small thing you do makes a big difference in someone else's life and makes them happy.

And the Universe gives it back.

I have talked before about smiling and being cheerful to flight attendants on planes
(see my post about traveling - Baby Boomer Style).

How difficult is it to give them a big smile when you get on the plane and say something complimentary like how smashing they look in their cute uniforms?  I did that on a recent trip to Italy and when I disembarked and thanked the flight attendants for taking care of us, one said to me, "There's that great smile again!"  So I know I made her day when I got on the plane and she made mine when I got off.

Another thing I like to do is wish people I encounter "great happiness." 
When I sit for an hour or two at a bar, as I am wont to do from time to time, and carry on a conversation with the bartender, or if I meet a young couple while traveling and we share travel tips, if it has been a positive encounter when we part I will say, "I wish you great happiness."  And I do.  And I can see the effect that has because think about it.  How often does anyone wish you great happiness?

One of my favorite instances of that was a recent trip to London. 

We found a pub near our hotel that was a classic one.  It had great food and was just like the pub - The Queen Victoria - in my favorite British soap opera, "Eastenders" that I have been watching for over 25 years. 

We ended our day there more than once, engaging the bartender and the wait staff.  On our last night there, when they were getting ready to close (it was one of the London pubs that still closed at 10:30pm), I wished them great happiness as I said goodnight and told them how much fun we had had. I said, "It's just like The Queen Vic!" The manager patted the bar, handed me a free drink and said, "Stay."  They closed up the bar and we got to stay afterhours with them as they cleaned up.  We learned how they all lived upstairs over the pub, how they came to be there and all kinds of personal tidbits. I felt like one of the locals.  It was the highlight of my trip.

Thanking your server.
In the same vein, when you have had a good experience in a restaurant, why not thank the server for taking care of you?

It goes without saying that you don't wave at your server, ignore him or her or act rudely.  If our server has been attentive and friendly, I will often say, "Thank you for taking such good care of us."  I know that makes servers happy, because how often does anyone take the time to do that?

Thoughtful gifts.
My Dad was the most thoughtful person I have ever known. 

We might be window shopping, and I might point out a coat I really liked.  By the way, before I go on, does anyone even know what "window shopping" is anymore? Window shopping is what people did for fun before social media took over. You would go for a walk downtown and look in the shop windows at things you couldn't afford and that was considered a lot of fun.

Anyway, after a window shopping excursion with my Mom and Dad, where I had expressed interest in a coat, weeks or even months later, when a gift giving occasion would come around, there that coat would be...with a hat and a muff thrown in! 

I think of that now and realize that my Dad would have not only had to remember what I had admired, but he would have had to make a special point to go back and get it before it was gone.  That made me happy to know that my Dad remembered and cared enough to do that, but I also know it made him happy to see me happy. 

I have never forgotten those acts of love and kindness and they helped to shape my own life.

(Here's something I have to share about that and it probably accounts for my rabid shopping tendencies.  My Dad used to say that when you see something "you can't live without," you must get it even if you can't afford it, because if you don't, when you have all of the money in the world, you will never find it and always regret it.  How's that for some kind of advice about money?  Psychologists would have a field day with that, don't you think)? 

We are not invisible busy bees going about our stressed-out lives in a vacuum.  We are humans who affect other humans. 

When you say something kind, when you smile, when you give a thoughtful gift, you make someone else happy. 

Yes, you might have to go out of your way a bit but that special effort can make someone's day.

It takes so little to do so much.

And you know what? 

You discover that you have made yourself happy too.

So go make someone happy!  The power is yours.

Thanks for Reading!

See you Friday

for my review of the new movie 
"Mistress America" 

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."

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to 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

Friday, September 4, 2015

"Straight Outta Compton" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Straight Outta Compton" and two feel-good DVDs "Cupcakes" and "Razzle Dazzle." The Book of the Week is "Life From Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family and Forgiveness."  I also bring you up to date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "The Evil Dead."]

Straight Outta Compton

A true-to-life biopic about the rise to fame of the rap group N.W.A that revolutionized the world of music in the mid-80's.

Like many bands, N.W.A. (and, if you don't know what those initials stand for, I will let you click on the link to find out - I ain't sayin it) started out with a group of friends writing songs and making music together in a garage in the late 80's.  Here the garage is in the mean streets of Compton, California, where young black men are routinely harassed by the police and confronted daily with the harsh realities of poverty, gangs and discrimination.  With what's been going on in this country of late, this film seems particularly relevant. Some things never change.

Out of that culture came rage and out of that rage came N.W.A., Gangsta Rap and West Coast Hip Hop, a group and set of music sub-genres that changed the face of music forever, making Dr. Dre (real name: Andre Romelle Young), Ice-Cube (real name: O'Shea Jackson)  and Eazy-E (real name: Eric Lynn Wright) big stars. (Arabian Prince (Kim Renard Nazel) was the other original member and they were later joined by DJ Yeller (Antoine Carraby) and MC Ren (Lorenzo Jerald Patterson). 

Eazy-E, wonderfully played by Jason Mitchell, formed the group and started Ruthless Records. They pressed and marketed their first song "Boyz-n-the-Hood" themselves. The popularity of that song brought the group to the attention of Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) who, seeing their potential, became their manager and brokered their first album, "Straight Outta Compton" with Priority Records, a company whose biggest star at that time was the California Raisins

The album took off and the band toured amidst many protests about the language and content of their music.  In Detroit, a riot ensued when they played their song "F**k the Police," after the police security detail specifically told them not to.  They were arrested but that only served to heighten their "gangsta" image and popularity.

The guys enjoyed the money and the glamour, but as these things do a rift formed in the band. Ice-Cube (played by O'Shea Jackson Jr.) became suspicious of Heller's business practices and his seeming favoritism toward Eazy and acrimoniously left to pursue a solo career. Likewise, Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) eventually questioned the money and joined forces with Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor) to form Death Row Records where he produced records for up and coming rap stars Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg.

Left on his own without Ice or Dre, Eazy started to unravel and realized Heller did not have his best interests at heart and his health deteriorated.  But he was eventually able to make up with Ice-Cube and Dr. Dre and they all start talking about reviving N.W.A.  Alas, that was not to be.

You don't need to be a fan of rap music to enjoy this film.  This has all of the same elements as some of the best biopics about bands ("Love and Mercy," "Jersey Boys"). The band forms in someone's garage, the band cuts a record, the band makes it big, then the band falls apart, one of the members hits the skids and then they all reunite. 
That is not to make light of the power of this film or the environment that produced N.W.A or the impact the group had on the music world. It's to say that this film is a classic.  It has the power of "everyman," or should I say "everyband."  Everyone can relate to these guys and their drive to "be somebody."  They were no different from any young guys wanting to be creative and have some power in life, except they were young black men trying to make it in a world punctuated by the beating of Rodney King and L.A. riots.
This was a time when my kids were teens and pre-teens and though they were young suburban white kids, they embraced the music because this music was new and loud and shook the walls of propriety.  We Baby Boomers had Jimi Hendrix and The Doors. My kids had Ice-Cube and Dr. Dre.  And now I finally know the lyrics they were listening to.  Yikes.
Directed by F. Gary Gray, with an outstanding script by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff and produced by Dr. Dre, Ice-Cube and Eazy-E's widow Tomica Woods-Wright, this is an engrossing recreation of the times that inspired gangsta rap and it pulls no punches.  The young actors are brilliant and uncanny look-alikes of the real artists, which is particularly no surprise for the Ice-Cube character, since he is played by the real Ice-Cube's son.  The music and performances are right on and the set decoration creates the world that grew N.W.A.
Rosy the Reviewer says...another great biopic and another Best Film of the year for me.

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

Cupcakes  (2013)

Six friends in Tel Aviv record a song on a mobile phone and find, to their shock, that it is the Israeli entry in the UniverSong Competition.

A group of friends are obsessed with the UniverSong competition, a sort of "Israel's Got Talent" and Eurovision combo.  They get together every year to watch the competition together. When Anat's love leaves her, the friends write her a song to cheer her up.  The song gets entered in the UniverSong competition and starts to get a lot of press. None of them really wants to do it but eventually each comes up with a reason to venture outside their comfort zones: Kerin, the timid blogger; Anat, the baker and mother whose husband left her; Efrat, the aspiring musician; Yael, the former beauty queen turned lawyer; Dana, the overworked political aid; and Ofer, a gay kindergarten teacher with a closeted boyfriend.

The UniverSong (based on the popular Eurovision contest) competition seeks the most popular song from across the globe and the various countries vote.  So even though the friends are reluctant to do this, the UniverSong machine kicks in trying to mold them into an ABBA-like group (ABBA won Eurovision), but eventually they realize they are being exploited and not being true to themselves. 

This is a musical comedy with fun songs and performances that is as sweet a confection as, well, cupcakes, but not sickeningly so. The soundtrack uses songs that have won Univision contests in the past including the freakish American win one year with "You Light Up My Life."

This is director Eytan Fox's satire on Eurovision.  Fox is a celebrated Israeli director who was born in New York City but moved to Israel when he was two. Eurovison is not very well-known to American audiences but it is a big deal in other countries.  Fox remembers his family and friends gathering together to watch when Israel first entered in 1973.  This is his take on remembering what it used to be like in Israel when neighbors all knew and helped each other.  He laments that it's not like that in Israel anymore.  But this is also a statement on how silly the Eurovision competition has become and how when something is sweet and pure (cupcakes), it's not long until someone tries to pervert it for their own gain. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...this is feel good movie about the power of friendship.  If you liked "Mama Mia," you might like this.

Razzle Dazzle (2007)

Mr. Jonathan (Ben Miller) is a politically active dance teacher who wants to do something important with his dance troupe but he also wants to win the Sanosafe Troupe Spectacular competition.

Mr. Jonathan has interesting ideas about how to choreograph meaningful dances. He wants to highlight political causes so in rehearsal he asks his girls how they would move if they were enslaved by a multinational corporation or if they were ants being oppressed and forced to make sneakers.  You get the idea. 

His biggest competition is Miss Elizabeth (Jane Hall) who wants to win at any cost.  She's not quite Abby Lee Miller but close and, yes, there are Dance Moms, one particularly obsessed with her daughter winning. Justine (Kerry Armstrong) is living out her own dance ambitions through her daughter, Tennille.  Other pushy Moms bribe judges and go to outrageous lengths for their children to get ahead.  These Dance Moms make the "Dance Moms" on TV look like saints.

The office manager (Denise Roberts) for Mr. Jonathan's dance school runs the Happy Valley Foster Home and decides who to foster by whether they can dance or not and the mostly mute goth costumer, Marianne (Tara Morice), has some questionable ideas such as employing a gas mask on one of the children that makes her pass out.

Mr. Jonathan can't stand that Miss Elizabeth keeps winning all of the competitions with her standard routines, in his eyes, boring and meaningless.  He decides that his winning piece will be about Afghan women under the Taliban, not a popular idea with the Moms.

Mr. Jonathan's bid to win is being filmed by a documentary crew so we are in mockumentary mode in the Christopher Guest tradition.  Think "This is Spinal Tap," meets Australian Dance Moms.  We see the rehearsals, the preparations and the private moments as they prepare for the big competition.

This is a funny faux documentary written and directed by Darren Ashton, and it's a biting but delightful send up of dance teachers and competitions. It's the age old story of the underdogs overcoming adversity to win but in a fun way.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are a Christopher Guest fan and like "Dance Moms" or "So You Think You Can Dance," you will love this little film.

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

294 to go!

The Evil Dead (1981)

Five college students travel to a cabin in the woods of Tennessee only to discover their little vacation involves demons
A shaky camera moves ominously fast across a swamp and a forest floor.
Next we see five college students - Ashley (Bruce Campbell), Scotty, Cheryl, Linda and Shelly in a car singing and kidding around and wearing really terrible early 80's clothes.  We know they are college students because one of them is wearing a sweatshirt that says "Michigan State." As they head to the cabin, they cross a bridge with a sign that says, "Dangerous Bridge," and one wheel of the car sinks into the weak boards of the bridge.  Not a good sign.  Either is the ominous music.
They make their way down a heavily wooded road accompanied by eerie music until they get to a rundown cabin where a porch swing is banging against the wall of the cabin.  They struggle to find the keys to open the door.
"Don't go in there!" (That's me talking to the screen from my armchair).
They inspect the cabin and settle in for the night but not before a clock stops working, a strange force takes control of one of the girl's hands while she is writing and a trap door starts to open by itself.
I would say those are all things that would make me say, "Time to leave."
When the door to the cellar opens to the sound of symphonic music and cymbals, one of the guys decides it's a good idea to go down there.  Huh?
"Don't go down there!" (Me again).
But of course he does.  When he doesn't come back, Ashley goes looking for him and encounters a closed door.
"Don't go in there." (I can't help it).
But of course he does.  Turns out Scotty has found a recording of a past occupant of the cabin, a professor who was studying "The Book of the Dead."  They play the recording and the professor says in the recording that his wife had become possessed and then he recites an incantation.
Well, folks, that incantation was not good. All hell breaks out now as one by one, the students turn into demons and make Ashley's night a living hell.
Horror films work on our basic fears:  dark basements, locked doors, the occult, unexplained noises, thunder and lightning, fog, dark woods - and it's all here along with incredible blood and gore.  However, there is a scene where one of the girls is raped by a tree and that doesn't really fall into my basic fears category.
In 1979 a group of Detroit friends raised $375,000 to make a horror film about five college students possessed by demons.  They wanted to make a film that was "the ultimate experience in grueling terror."  I'm not so sure about the terror part because it was so over the top it was laughable at times, but it was certainly gory.  Stands as one of the early "Don't go in there" films that inspired others.

Why it's a Must See:  "This 'ultimate experience in grueling horror,' as it immodeslty bills itself in the end credits, changed the history of its genre.  Sam Raimi took the gore of Italian horror movies and mixed it with a proudly juvenile sense of humor -- making its teenage heroes so vapidly wholesome that we cannot wait...for them to die or be zombiefied.  Such self-consciousness would subsequently come to dominate screen horror...Today, it is hard to see anything but comedy...but we must remember that in 1982 the film had the same terrifying effect on audiences as The Blair Witch Project seventeen years later..."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"
Rosy the Reviewer says...girls as ghouls and gratuitous gore.  Glorious. If you liked "The Blair Witch Project," this one is kinda like that so you might like it, but again, this one is very campy and very gory.

***Book of the Week***

Life from Scratch by Sasha Martin (2015)

A food blogger with an unhappy childhood seeks to cook a meal from every country in the world as a way to heal.

Growing up with an eccentric mother who eventually couldn't take care of Martin and her brother, Martin lived in a series of foster homes and eventually under the guardianship of her mother's friends, who moved to Europe, where Martin spent her formative years. She did not adapt well to her new family and changing environments, and when a tragedy entered her young life, it fell apart.  But the one thing that was a constant was her memories of cooking with her mother and her love of food. 

Later in life when she had reconnected with her mother, but was at loose ends after the birth of her child and haunted by her past, seeing the movie "Babette's Feast" and a gift of spice jars from around the world gave her the idea to cook food from every country in the world.  She embarked on that journey, eventually starting a popular food blog, "Global Table Adventure."  She gained some peace from that, learning to reach out and enjoy a sense of community.

"Though I may not have secured a new future, I'd secured something much better by filling those empty spice jars nearly four years ago. Cooking the world has opened my eyes to other ways of being, loving, and mothering.  Most importantly, it has taught me to savor the present moment...There's an ease to not knowing what will come next -- an ease I never could have felt before."

This book joins the many with recipes interspersed among the text. 
However, what sets this apart is her quest to prepare and eat a meal from every country and sharing many of those recipes. "Kabeli Palau" from Afghanistan; Bulgarian "Kompot;" Samoan Chocolate & Orange Coconut Rice Pudding." She shares her search for the sometimes strange ingredients and her successes and failures with the recipes. That quest and blogging about it helped her to express herself and to heal her sadness and regrets about the past and is the strongest part of the book. Unfortunately, it doesn't start until two-thirds of the way through.  I hate to say it, but some of the earlier parts of the book lumber a bit under Martin's rather slow-paced and sometimes melodramatic narrative.

However, I totally relate to her project and how her blog helped her at a time of change and stress. My blog has also helped me as I make my way through my "1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" and this strange realm called retirement.

So this is a strong entry in the memoir plus recipes genre and the self-help world of food as healer.  Hopefully it will spur others to find an interesting project that will help them express themselves and find a sense of community and peace.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like your memoirs with recipes, you will probably like this book.  Now stop me before cooking my way around the world becomes my next big project!

Thanks for Reading!

That's it for this week.

See you Tuesday for

"Make Someone Happy"


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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Why Movies Matter

When one spends a great deal of time doing a particular thing, it is only natural that one would question the importance of it.

You know, we all try to find meaning in life.  So it is no wonder that I question watching movies and writing about them as a meaningful way to spend my time.

But you know what?  It is. 

I wrote about how to "read a film," a couple of years ago.  In that post I talked about all of the elements that make a film great and how those elements help us enjoy films. I believe that understanding what goes into making a film enhances the enjoyment of it.  But that doesn't really constitute why movies matter.  It's much more visceral than that.

Here is why movies matter.

Movies are enjoyable.
Well, most of them are anyway.  And that is why we like to go to the movies and watch them at home.  For 90 minutes or so, we are transported from our daily cares and stresses and allowed into a world we can only dream of.  We can be a soldier in the Civil War ("The Red Badge of Courage") or an adventurer like Indiana Jones or even "The Queen."  Woody Allen had fun exploring this issue of living another life through the movies to comic effect in his wonderful film "The Purple Rose of Cairo."

And you know what?  It's perfectly OK to take a break from reality and enjoy yourself.

Movies create memories.
In that earlier post, "Reading a Film," I spoke about the bonding time I enjoyed with my Dad watching movies.  He was an only child, probably a lonely one, and spent many days and nights at the movies.  Later in life, as a Dad, he took me with him to the movies as my Mother was not particularly interested.  Likewise, he and I would stay up late on the weekends and watch the late movie that would come on every night at 11:30 (remember those?). 

So I have wonderful memories of those nights with my Dad.  My Dad was a softie so when there was a particularly sad scene or happy scene, he would chuckle softly and take out his ever present handkerchief and wipe his eyes, but pretend he was wiping his forehead.

I also remember going to see "Gone With the Wind" for the first time with my Mother when I was five.  Whatever you may feel about "Gone With The Wind" and its stereotypes, it was a powerful film, especially for a 5-year-old.  After seeing that film, I declared I wanted to be an actress, not so much for the "art," but because I wanted to wear Scarlett's clothes (c'mon, I was 5)! 

Seeing it again when I was 12, it was more about kissing Clark Gable!

I also remember at that screening when I was 12, sitting in the theatre waiting for the movie to start and reading the last few pages of the 1037 pages of the book.

Movies create bonds.
We all have our favorite films, movies that particularly affected us either through laughter or shared experience.  When we love a film, we often want to savor it and share it. Think of "Star Wars" fans who dress up as their favorite characters to see the films or at conventions. People get together to bond over their love of that film.  Many a person dressed as Chewbacca has bonded with another dressed as R2D2

My daughter and her husband have a particular affinity for "There Will Be Blood" and love to say the lines to each other in Daniel Plainview's voice, Daniel Day-Lewis' character in the film. It's annoying as hell but they enjoy it and bond over it.

Movies explore the human condition.
I once had an argument of sorts with someone (actually an ex-husband which is probably why he's an ex) who said that reading fiction was a waste of time. I couldn't believe it because I felt I had learned so much about life from reading some of the great novels.  Movies are the same.  When we go to the movies we can experience lives that are not our own; we can empathize with people going through things we have never gone through.  And through that, we become better people when we are more understanding of others. 

Movies are cathartic.
Whether it's a two hanky film like "The Notebook" or an inspiring film like "The Theory of Everything," movies make you feel something and allow you to release your emotions.  Nothing like a good cry to get the emotional kinks out and refresh you to face another day of life.

Movies inspire.
I know when I saw my first movies, I was inspired to be an actress and devoted over ten years of my life to that pursuit.  Movies show us lives, jobs, and pursuits we could aspire to.  They also get us fired up about causes and call us to action. They inspire discussion and controversy, all important in a country that reveres free speech.  They remind us of some of our dark history and inspire us not to repeat it.  They inspire us to overcome adversity.  They inspire us to be our best selves.

Movies are meditative.
Since I have retired and decided that I wanted to fulfill my dream of being a movie critic, I have started going back to seeing movies in the theatre.

When movies started coming out on VHS and then DVD and then through all kinds of various media, it seemed there was no real reason to get dressed, comb your hair, and head out into the night to fork over $10-15 to see a movie.  Why do that when you can watch in the comfort of your own home?

But now I know the answer.

Because sitting alone in the dark, just you and the flickering screen, is a sort of meditation.  It is for me, anyway, literally, especially now that I am retired. When I go during the day, I am often the only one there.  For those few hours that I sit in the dark, I am alone with myself and the story.

Which takes me to the reason why you should see a film in the theatre.

It's one of the same reasons why people go to church or join clubs or attend a lecture.

Movies let you tap into the collective consciousness.
You get to be with your fellow humans, all of whom are enjoying the same thing as you.  Sitting in a theatre watching a comedy and hearing others laughing is far more fun than sitting at home laughing all by yourself.  It reminds you that your fellow humans are just like you...human.  And you are a part of that rich fabric (just ignore the kids running up and down the aisles and the person in front of you texting and the kid behind you kicking your seat).

So movies are an important and powerful part of our existence.

I believe I am doing something meaningful and powerful by promoting films.

And if you doubt that power, remember this image - a two-year-old at his first movie.

Now you will have to excuse me, I am off to the movies!

Thanks for Reading!

See you Friday

for my review of the new movie 
"Straight Outta Compton" 

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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