Friday, January 8, 2016

"The Danish Girl" And the Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "The Danish Girl" and the DVDs "Jimmy's Hall" and "Self/less."  The Book of the Week is "Brave Enough," the new book by Cheryl Strayed.  I also bring you up-to-date on my "1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project with "An Autumn Afternoon."]

The Danish Girl

Inspired by the real lives of Danish artists Lily Elbe, born Einer Wegener, and Gerda Wegener, this is the story of a husband and wife who must deal with the husband's recognition that, though he was born a man, he was really a woman inside.

Einer (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda (Alicia Vikander) are a happily married couple living a bohemian artists' life in Copenhagen in the 1920's.  Einer is a successful painter and Gerda is trying to make a name for herself as a portrait artist.  However, Einer has been repressing his true feelings.  

But they come to the fore when their ballerina friend, Ulla (Amber Heard), fails to show up for a sitting and Gerda needs to finish the portrait. Gerda asks Einer to pose in silk stockings and to hold the tutu over himself and when he does this, something awakens in him.  Later, Gerda thinks it would be fun for Einer to pass himself off as a woman at a party.  Slowly, but surely, Einer's true desires start to come out as he takes on the persona of "Lily."  Soon Lily takes over, and, though Gerda thought it was fun at first, she has to eventually come to grips with the fact that Einer feels he is really a woman inside.  They seek professional help, but all the psychiatrists and doctors think he is suffering from a variety of mental disorders, until finally, one doctor understands what Einer/Lily is suffering from and offers to help Lily become a fully realized woman.

Director Tom Hooper, who won an Oscar in 2011 for his direction of the Best Picture "The King's Speech," oversees probably one of the most beautifully photographed and designed movies this year or in any year.   I expect he will be nominated for an Oscar for this. The film plays like a series of impressionist paintings, so props need to also be given to cinematographer Danny Cohen and production designer Eve Stewart.  Likewise Grant Armstrong and Tom Weaving for Art Decoration, Michael Standish for Set Decoration and Paco Delgado who all contributed to the incredible, dreamy look of this film. 

Based on the novel by David Ebershoff about the real life Lily Elbe who was the first to undertake sexual reassignment surgery and adapted for the screen by Lucinda Coxon, this is a very timely film as discussions of transgender issues are in the forefront today, but it's also the kind of movie that could make some people feel very uncomfortable, not for its subject matter, which is actually treated in a very sensitive way, but from the vulnerability shown by the actors.  Redmayne pulls no punches when it comes to showing how sensitive a journey like this would be for someone who felt he or she wasn't born into the right body.  Likewise, Vikander holds her own with Redmayne as she explores what it would be like for someone who loved that person. 

Eddie Redmayne puts in another spectacular performance as Lily.  He has the most expressive eyes of any actor and his face records every nuance of emotion as Einer moves closer to his desire to become Lily. Redmayne's physical transformation from the more masculine Einer to the shy and tentative Lily is miraculous, much as his physical transformation from the healthy Stephen Hawking to the man stricken with ALS was in his Best Actor Oscar win last year in "The Theory of Everything," but this one is an even more difficult acting tour de force as Redmayne, through his expressions and mannerisms, makes us believe he really is Lily. I can't think of another actor this year who could match his performance, so I am expecting not only an Oscar nod for Best Actor for his performance, but that he will win Best Actor two years in a row (You heard it here first, folks)!

Alicia Vikander is right with him with another outstanding performance that is sure to earn her a Best Actress nomination. She is the hot new actress with her breakthrough role in "Testament of Youth" followed by "Ex Machina." The supporting cast which includes Amber Heard and Ben Whishaw, as a man in love with Lily, and Matthias Schoenhaerts ("Far from the Madding Crowd") as Einer's childhood friend are also first rate.


Rosy the Reviewer says...Ring, ring.  Is this Mr. Eddie Redmayne?  Oscar calling...again.

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

Now Out on DVD

Jimmy's Hall (2014)

Jimmy Gralton returns to 1930's Ireland after ten years in the United States only to find the poverty and oppression as bad as when he left.  He decides his community needs a dance hall.

Jimmy, a Communist political activist, returns to County Leitrim to be with his ailing mother intending to mind his own business and not cause any trouble.  But County Leitrim is also a place where the Catholic Church rules with an iron fist and the fallout of the Irish War of Independence still lingers.  It is also the place where Jimmy had started a dance hall ten years earlier.  Now at his return, the dance hall remains empty.  The local young people beg Jimmy to reopen it so they can dance and have something to do.  Jimmy decides to fix up the hall for the community for dancing, boxing, art classes, gymnastics and a place for the community to share their political views.

But as soon as he starts work on the hall, Jimmy runs into opposition from the Catholic church where the old priest feels he and the Church are the sole arbiters of education, hence Jimmy needs their permission. Plus the old priest does not approve of Jimmy's communist leanings. This just motivates Jimmy more because he remembers what he went through before he left.  He decides to take on the powers that be to have the hall open once again.

As the community members meet to help fix up the hall, Jimmy shows them how people dance in New York City.  Let's just say that really makes the old priest mad -- all that shimmying and gyrating and pelvic thrusting - and a sort of 1930's Irish version of "Footloose" emerges.

As the young people in the community rally around the hall and they start poetry readings, art classes, sharing their political beliefs and having dances, the old priest is not having it.  He likens the activities to Communism and starts taking names.  He tries to shame the congregation from the pulpit by reading those names during a sermon.  One father, hearing his daughter's name, whips her. 

Jimmy is approached by a political group to give a speech about what is happening in the town and to rally the village to stand up to the landowners and the church.  People are losing their homes and now the hall has come to symbolize standing up to the landowners and the other powers that be and a metaphor for the old ways vs. the new. 

"It's not just a building."

However, Jimmy risks being shut down, deported and forbidden to ever return to Ireland.  He takes the risk

Jimmy, played by a very handsome Barry Ward (where has he been all of my life?), still holds a torch for Oomagh (Simone Kirby) "the girl he left behind," but she now married with children. Still, it is evident she still has feelings for Jimmy. They don't do anything about it, but when they dance together in a gorgeous love scene, hearing the music only in their heads, it's easy to see the love that might have been.

And speaking of dance, the dance sequences are gloriously fun and life affirming.

Director Ken Loach, whose small films champion the working class, likes to let his camera linger, so his films are not for people who want a quick thrill or fix.  His films are for the serious moviegoer who appreciates quiet films about real people, films that carry a message.  "Footloose" was fiction. This was a true story.

Rosy the Reviewer says...A little film with a big message. If you don't know Ken Loach's film, this is a nice introduction. 

Self/less (2015)

A dying rich man pays to have his consciousness placed into a younger body, not realizing what the ultimate implications will be.

Ben Kingsley has perfected the art of the contained, menacing bad guy who simmers beneath the surface.  Here he plays Damian Hale, a cutthroat real estate mogul - think a Donald Trump type except with better hair - who finds out he is dying and hears about a thing called "shedding," from a company called Phoenix Biogenics, where his consciousness can be transferred to the shell of a younger body.  

So here is the premise:  what if you were dying and you had the opportunity and the $250,000,000, to stay alive and still be you, except in a younger, and in this case, handsomer body?  A Ryan Reynolds body. Would you?  duh.

That's what's happening here.  Ben is old and more of a character type and he gets to become Ryan Reynolds.  Duh.  Sounds like a good deal to me except....DRAMATIC MUSIC...let the side effects begin!

Damian is told by Albright (Matthew Goode), the mastermind of Phoenix Biogenics and shedding, that if he opts for the surgery he must appear to have died, he can never make contact with anyone in his old life again and he has to take a bunch of pills to keep hallucinations at bay.  Old Damian says, "Hell, yes!"

After the "surgery," young Damian (Reynolds), who used to be old Damian, must learn to walk and talk again, take a bunch of pills to keep things all working the way they are supposed to, and eventually gets a new identity, he is Edward now, to start his new life in New Orleans in a very flash house in the French Quarter.  He enjoys his newfound youth such as playing basketball with the locals.  He meets Anton (Derek Luke), who takes him out to show him the good life in New Orleans clubs. And our Edward makes the most of the nightlife! So remember, it's really Ben Kingsley inside that hot face and body, so our young Damian/Edward is really a mature guy in a young guy's body.  And remember that our old Damian was not a very nice guy.

Unfortunately, what old Damian wasn't told was that he was getting a shell with a past and Damian starts having hallucinations about a life he doesn't remember.  So he sets out to find the source of those hallucinations and finds Edward's old life, wife, Madeline (Natalie Martinez) and child.  When the worlds of old Damian and young Damian collide, all hell breaks loose, especially when Albright fears Damian will find out the truth about the surgery and spill the beans.

But what the bad guys don't realize is they are really dealing with old Damian Hale who didn't get where he was by being a woose. 

Ben Kingsley is always good in his stiff, upright steely way and it's kind of fun to think it's really him inside the hunky Ryan Reynolds.  I have great affection for Kingsley because he starred in one of my all-time favorite films: "House of Sand and Fog."

Reynolds is also fine, but when did he go from being a romantic comedy heartthrob to a serious actor?  He hasn't done a romantic comedy in ages. And what is it about his teeth? Have they gotten bigger?  I first noticed them in "The Woman in Gold."

Matthew Goode as the doctor is working on perfecting the handsome, clean cut charmer which works really well as a bad guy.  You may remember him from "Downton Abbey (Henry Talbot)," "Dancing on the Edge (Stanley)," "Death Comes to Pemberley (George Wickham)," "The Good Wife (Finn Polmar)" or "The Imitation Game (Hugh Alexander)." He's all over the place!  Another Downton Abbey alum, Michelle Dockery, plays old Damian's daughter, a radical who doesn't want his money and who doesn't approve of him.

Like "Face/Off" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," this film directed by Tarsem Singh with a screenplay by brothers David and Alan Pastor, begs the question: how many are wandering among us who are not really who they appear to be?  

I hope you have learned from my blog by now that there are perfectly good movies out there that come and go in the theatres because they are not accompanied by a lot of hype when they are released, and this is one of them.

I really liked this film.  It had all of the elements of a wild ride: a little scifi with the body implant aspect; it's a thriller as Damian realizes his body has baggage to deal with and Albright and his henchmen are after him because he might talk about this, uh, controversial procedure (to say the least), and it's a strange romance as you remind yourself it's really Ben Kingsley kissing Madeline, not Ryan Reynolds. So is Reynolds playing Ben Kingsley playing Reynolds?

The ending is a bit far-fetched but that's OK - it's a satisfying ending.

Though I hate to say this film appeared on a couple of "worst movies" lists, it just goes to show that film is a very subjective art form.  But you can trust me. It's fun.

Rosy the Reviewer says...moral of the story: "Money can't buy happiness or a younger body, so be happy with what you have for as long as you have it" or "beware of controversial medical treatments that involve dying and then returning in someone else's body."  Not a good idea.

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

266 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

An Autumn Afternoon (1962)

An aging widower living with his daughter and younger son arranges for his daughter to get married and in so doing makes the ultimate sacrifice.

Shushei Hirayama (Chisu Ryu, who has starred in most of director Yasujiro Ozu's films) is a widower who lives with his daughter, Michiko (Shima Iwashita), and his son.  His daughter is unmarried and seems to have devoted herself to taking care of her father. He was a naval captain in WW II who now wears a suit and works in an office.  He spends his evenings hanging out with his cronies and reminiscing. Hirayama's older son is married and has adopted western ways, but is still dependent on his father for financial help.  Hirayama's friends urge him to find another wife and to find a husband for his daughter.  Hirayama sees that times have changed and accepts that his time is over.

This is the last film by Uasujiro Ozu who did the wonderful "Tokyo Story," which I reviewed back in May and which is also one of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die." His films about aging and loneliness are poignant and right on.  Getting old's a bitch. 

Why it's a Must See: "[Director] Yasujiro's final film and only his second in which the director's favorite actor, Chishu Ryu [plays] a widower trying to persuade his ...daughter who lives with him that she should get married.  The pair's mutual awareness that such a change would leave him lonely is counterbalanced by their love of one another, creating a dilemma for each that is both banal in its everyday universality and hugely significant for the individuals involved.  Ozu negotiates this precarious balancing act with his customary mastery, exercising his unerring eye for the telling detail, leavening the proceedings with genle humor, and using the palette of colors to maintain a beautifully becalmed mood of understated melancholy."
---"1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die"

"An Autumn Afternoon" is the time when Hirayama's daughter marries and it's also the autumn afternoon of an old man's life.  It's also a fitting title for director Ozu's last film.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Ozu really knows what it feels like to get old.
(In Japanese with English subtitles)

***Book of the Week***

Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed (2015)

Cheryl Strayed talks about her love of quotations and here shares some selections from her books, essays and talks. 

The first quote Strayed loved was one her material grandmother shared with her when she was eight: "Love many, trust few, and always paddle your own canoe."  It helped her believe that she could do anything.  When she was 12, a quote from Madeleine L'Engle's novel "A Ring of Endless Light" resonated: "Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light." 

Ever since then, she says she has been a quote collector because,

"The best quotes don't speak to one particular truth but rather to universal truths that resonate -- across time, culture, gender, generation, and situation -- in our hearts and minds...Most of all, they tell us we're not alone.  Their existence is proof that others have questioned, grappled with, and come to know the same truths we question and grapple with too."

That is what she is hoping this book will do.

In Strayed's usual "one foot in front of the other" candid style, she explains that when she needs inspiration or encouragement, she turns to quotes.  So she put this book together as a "book of yes," to hopefully do the same for her readers.

If you are a fan of Strayed's book "Wild" or her blogs, "Dear Sugar" and  "Wild Sugar," you will enjoy this compilation of quotes from her writings and talks.

Here are some I really liked:

"Nobody's going to do your life for you.  You have to do it yourself, whether you're rich or poor, out of money or raking it in, the beneficiary of ridiculous fortune or terrible injustice.  And you have to do it no matter what is true.  No matter what is hard.  No matter what unjust, sad, sucky things have befallen you.  Self-pity is a dead-end road.  You make the choice to drive down it.  It's up to you to decide to stay parked there or to turn around and drive out.'

"Stop asking yourself what you want, what you desire, what interests you.  Ask yourself instead: What has been given to me?  Ask: What do I have to give back?  Then give it."

"Be about ten times more magnanimous than you believe yourself capable of being.  You life will be a hundred times better for it."

"We are all entitled to our opinions and religious beliefs, but we are not entitled to make shit up and then use the shit we made up to oppress other people."

"We were all sluts in the 90's."

Rosy the Reviewer says...Strayed is indeed a wise and inspiring woman. 


That's it for this week.

Thanks for Reading!

See You Tuesday for

"My Oscar Nomination Predictions"

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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

My New Year's Resolutions: It's the Little Things

[UPDATE:  I wrote this at the beginning of 2016 and reading this again at the end of 2016, I realize the futility of making New Year's resolutions so I am not going to do it anymore!]

Well, here it is again.  That thing every year that I dread.

New Year's Resolutions - a list of things I need to change, improve, stop doing or start doing, usually things I don't want to change, improve, stop doing or start doing.  Common New Year's Resolutions are to lose weight, stop smoking, stop drinking, be nicer, exercise, get a better job, stop moaning, well, you know the drill.

There was only one year that I can remember that I didn't feel the need to make the usual New Year's Resolution to lose weight.  That was the year I had lost 50 pounds and was down to a weight I liked, though still pounds over what I was when I met Hubby.  But since I have gained back half of that over the last five years or so, "losing weight" is back on the list.

I have my 50th High School Reunion coming up this year and, though I have never been to a high school or college reunion, this year I am going to do it. I have found several of my classmates on Facebook and interact with them on almost a daily basis, so I would love to see them again in person.

I know something like a high school reunion is usually a catalyst for people to lose weight or make some other changes.  Having something to work toward is often a motivator.  For example, my daughter and her husband have taken up running and to motivate themselves, she plans to run a half marathon and he plans to run a marathon, so they see their runs as training for those upcoming events.  Likewise, you would think my high school reunion would be the same kind of motivator for me.  I want to surprise my old classmates with how great I would look, right?  But you know what?  For me, thinking of having to get myself in shape for the reunion and what my classmates might think of me if I don't has the opposite effect.  It stresses me out so much that I head straight for the salted caramel ice cream!

Last year I tried to get around this whole resolutions thing by having an "Un-Resolutions" list, not a list of what I was going to change or do, but a list of things that I was NOT going to do in 2015.  As I review that list (which I probably immediately forgot as soon as 2015 rolled around, which is fairly typical.  Guess how long people keep working on their New Year's Resolutions?  I think by February most people are saying, "New Year's Resolutions?  What are those?"), I can see some advantages to these types of resolutions.

Anyway, let me recap some of last year's "un-resolutions."

--Don't gain any more weight.
Did that.  I'm still fat but I didn't get any fatter.

--Don't add any more bad habits to my life
Mmm, does upping my daily Starbucks nonfat sugar free vanilla latte from a tall to a grande count? Or cutting my toe nails with scissors?

---I am not going to enable my wine-guzzling poodle anymore
Oops.  I can't say that I have not given him a sip or two over the last year, but after an unfortunate incident where he fell off the bed, I have definitely cut his intake down.


---Not buying clothes I don't try on
I completely forgot about that one

---I vowed to NOT stop watching TV.
You're damn right!  Can't miss the last season of "Downton Abbey," the next dose of "Game of Thrones," my daily dose of "The View (I think of them as my dysfunctional friends)" or "Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars!" *

The rest consisted of my not stopping my quest to get Oprah's attention, not ordering Hubby around, not bitching about the state of the world and not beating myself up if I couldn't live up to my un-resolutions, all of which were met with varying success over the last year.

So if you are someone whose resolve to change flies out the window some time between January 15 and February 1, I recommend that "un-resolution" approach.

However, since I already did that, I thought I would go back to the traditional list, though instead of giving myself a very tall order as Hubby has done -- his resolution every year is "to be a better person" to which I always reply, "Good luck with that," I would concentrate on some little things.


All of the experts say that if you set resolutions that are unquantifiable, all-encompassing and vague, you might as well not make them at all.  In Hubby's case, his quest "to be a better person" includes losing weight, drinking less, working out more, making more money and probably finding the fountain of youth.  Ain't gonna happen.

I, on the other hand, the wiser and more practical one, if I do say so myself, have decided that this year I am going to give myself some small, more attainable goals to achieve.

Yes, losing weight will always be on the table but that's not something I need to resolve every year.  It's something I need to resolve every DAY!

So here are
"My Little New Year's Resolutions for 2016."

1.  Walk Tarquin every day (that it's not pouring down rain).

I live in a lovely wooded area and people are out walking their dogs all of the time, and I like to walk.  However, I have discovered that despite the lovely scenery and my desire to walk off my big butt (which I will continue to do as my Fitbit dictates that I walk 10,000 steps per day - I talked about that journey in my blog post "Fitbit on my Shoulder"), I am not a dog-walking person. 

I am not sure what it is...perhaps it's Tarquin's desire to pee on everything that stands upright or his pulling on the leash or that inevitable poop that I will have to clean up and carry around for the entire walk (why does it always happen at the beginning of the walk?  Why can't he wait to do that when we are closer to home)?

The only problem with this resolution is what to do about Freddy.  Hubby walks Mildred, the collie, because she is a friendly, good walker.  Freddy is getting on in years and seems to hate everyone and everything.  He pulls on the leash, barks and growls at other dogs and generally makes the whole experience unpleasant.  But I get it.  It's no fun getting old.

(Freddy is the one in the Seahawks shirt - another story entirely)

2.  Meditate every day

I was really good about this for a long time and touted its benefits in a blog post a couple of years ago.  I felt myself becoming very zen, liking my fellow men and women, and feeling, well, happy.  But then life started getting in the way and I would never seem to have the time.  Unfortunately, Hubby can really tell the difference when I don't meditate. If I am crabby or start yelling or bitching or having a rant, he says, "Did you meditate today?"  Of course, if he asks me that I yell, bitch or rant even more. 

3.  Cook real food and less of it
I love to cook and for some reason I have a thing about casseroles. But the problem with casseroles is that they are usually meant for a crowd.  Now that it's just the two of us, if I make a casserole it sticks around in the fridge for a week or more as we work on it.  That wouldn't be such a problem, but I really like to try different recipes, so sometimes it can be two or three casseroles and that's when I hear Hubby say, "Cripes. What are we going to do with all of this food?"  Hubby is actually the one who came up with the "real food" idea, meaning simple food - a protein, a veg, a starch.  So I am going to work on that, though it's not nearly as much fun as my mother's Tater Tots Casserole or my Ravioli Lasagna for a Crowd.

4.  Go to bed by 11
It is a miracle that Hubby and I have remained married for over 31 years from the standpoint of our personal clocks alone.  Hubby is decidedly a morning person and I am a night owl.  He gets up every morning at 6am and starts work at 7am.  To do that, he needs to get to bed by 11pm and he usually does that.  I mean, sometimes a program on TV won't be over but, even though he has already invested over an hour on it, he will get up and start pulling down the shades. 

"What are you doing?  The Bachelor** hasn't given out the final rose yet." 

To which he will reply, "Gotta go to bed now, it's 11." (Just an FYI, I know what you are thinking.  Hey, "The Bachelor" is over by 10. I know, but we have everything pre-recorded on our TIVO so we often watch a program later than its actual time so we can avoid the ads).  But anyway, Hubby is like Cinderfella.  When the clock strikes 11, he's off to bed no matter what, in case he turns into a pumpkin.

I, on the other hand, could easily stay up until two or three in the morning and sleep until noon.  It's not quite that drastic, but I just can't imagine going to bed before midnight, and now that I am retired, I don't need to get up early anymore, so why not?  But as my mother used to say, "Nothing good happens after midnight."  Of course she was saying that to my teenage self who was always trying to get a later curfew, but she was right.  If I stay up late, I am more likely to have that extra glass of wine or that piece of chocolate cake that shouldn't be in the house anyway, so I am going to try to change my body clock to be more in sync with Hubby --- but no way am I getting up before 9am!

5.  Wear hats
On a trip to Canada recently, I was reminded of the fact that one of the things I don't like about traveling is having to fix my hair everyday (when I don't have to go anywhere or be seen by anyone except Hubby, I usually don't do anything with my hair and look like hell).  I don't have the kind of hair that looks good with a brush and a fluff.  I need to hot roller it every time I want to look decent, so I travel with a little hot roller set of 10 rollers, never enough to set my whole head of hair and it's all just a major pain.  So I thought, mmm - that's what it sounds like when I think -- "If I wear a hat that looks good on me that I can also wear indoors and out, then that solves the old hair problem, right?"

What do you think?

6.  Finally, I have some "projects" that I want to continue to work on.  I may be retired but I don't want to appear brain dead.

Tarot Card reading - I want to be able to do this without consulting the books. I find it fun and meditative and who knows, I might discover a second career as "Madame Rosy, Seer of All Things."

Take some Oprah courses - I have one that I purchased that I haven't gotten to yet.  Who knew I would get into the whole self help thing?  I had an ex-husband who was into all of that and I used to poo-poo it.  That might explain what happened to that marriage!

Read more - I read, but mostly at the gym on the elliptical.  I am one of those gym-goers who wouldn't go if I didn't have a book and ear buds blasting my favorite music.  That works OK but I need to carve out some reading time at home.  Reading used to be my favorite activity, but I don't do it as much as I used to. To sort of quote "The Godfather," "Just when I thought I was out, [it pulls] me back in!"

Continue to find ways to market my blog - I'm still hoping Oprah will discover me.  But until she does, hey, why not make a small New Year's Resolution yourself to share my blog with your friends and family who you think would enjoy it?  You would be making an old retired lady very happy.

So those are just some little things I am going to "resolve" for the New Year.

I am going to stick with the little things.  I can certainly master wearing hats, cooking less and going to bed earlier in the New Year.

I don't think we should use the beginning of a new year as a catalyst for setting ourselves up for failure by setting big goals and expectations that we might fail at. I actually find the end of one year and the start of another rather depressing.  It's a reminder that another year has passed and I didn't live up to my resolutions that I set.  Also as I get older, it's a sign that yet another year has passed...period.  I wonder, how many are left?

I am not saying to not have New Year's Resolutions if that motivates you to make some needed changes.  But instead of setting goals to make ourselves look better or even be better, I think the end of the year should be a time of real reflection on a larger scale.

Instead of making New Year's Resolutions to lose weight, exercise more or stop spending so much money, maybe at the end of each year we should be asking ourselves...

  • Am I happy?
  • Am I with the right person?
  • Do I have a good relationship with my children?
  • Am I doing with my life what I should be doing with it?
  • Am I showing love to those I love?
  • Am I reaching out to those who need my help?
  • Do I take good care of myself?
  • Do I deserve a wonderful 2016?
  • Am I grateful for what I have?  Family, love, health, (fill in the blank ___)?

If the answer to any of those questions is "No," then perhaps it's time to forget those New Year's Resolutions and spend 2016 doing some soul searching.

Over the years I have done that too.

But at my age, I've decided that basically it is a good year if nothing bad happens. 

So 2015 was a good year and that's my best hope for 2016.  If I am able to make some changes, then that's an added bonus.

And I am sending your way, my best hopes that 2016 will be a good year for you too! 

And don't be too hard on yourself if you have forgotten your New Year's Resolutions by February 1st!  You are not alone!

*Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars
**The Bachelor
Television shows listed were for illustrative purposes only and do not necessarily reflect household viewing habits.
(But I think Ben is going to pick Olivia)!


Thanks for Reading!
See you Friday

for my review of the new movie

"The Danish Girl"


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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Friday, January 1, 2016

"Joy" and The Week in Reviews

[I review Jennifer Lawrence's new movie "Joy" and the DVDs "The Man From U.N.C.L.E" and The Who documentary "Lambert & Stamp."  The Book of the Week is "Down the Rabbit Hole." I also bring you up-to-date on my "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "The Bird with The Crystal Plumage"]


The story of a woman whose little invention saves her from a life of underachieving, based on the life of Joy Mangano, known for her invention of the Miracle Mop.

Joy starts out in life as a cheerful, inventive little girl.  She was valedictorian in high school and ready to head to college. But when her parents divorced, she stayed behind to help her mother cope and her father with his automotive business.  She married the wrong guy, had kids, got stuck in a dead end job and all of that promise and hope for the future that she had as a girl seemed to disappear.

Joy's mother, Terry (Virginia Madsen) is confined to her bedroom of her own volition so she can watch soaps all day.  Joy's ex-husband, Tony (Edgar Ramirez), an aspiring singer, lives in the basement and is soon joined by her father, Rudy (Robert De Niro), who has been kicked out by wife #2.  The two men hate each other.

Joy's grandmother, Mimi (Diane Ladd) lives with her, too, but she seems to be the only one who believes in her. (In fact there is a scene where Joy's grandmother gives her a pep talk very similar to Viola Davis' in "The Help" when she tells the little girl, "You is smart...You is kind...You is important."  Remember that one)? 

Anyway, so Joy is pretty much holding it all together but barely. She makes the money, takes care of her kids, waits on her mother, fixes stuff around the house and takes charge of the family. She also has a sister who seems to hate her (Elizabeth Rohm). Hardly the life she had planned. What happened to that inventive little girl who was going to take the world by storm?

But one day while out boating with her Dad and his new girlfriend, Trudy (Isabella Rosellini in a great part) - yes, Trudy and Rudy - wine glasses and red wine are spilled all over Trudy's dead husband's expensive teak deck and once again, Joy takes charge and tries to mop it up.  When she wrings out the mop with her hands, she cuts her hands on the  shards of glass entangled in the mop.  Later, when her life is spinning out of control, Joy has an epiphany and the idea for her self-wringing Miracle Mop is born.

However, her tale doesn't end there. That wouldn't be any fun. This is a rags to riches to rags to riches story - a soap opera if you will - of a woman taking charge of her life.

And speaking of soap operas, if director and screenwriter David O. Russell's point was to make a soap opera, he did.  It's very soapy.  And in case we didn't get the message, he has peopled the film with real life soap stars (Susan Lucci, Donna Mills and others), all over-acting like mad and making fun of themselves in some very funny scenes.  But is Russell making fun of soap operas?  Or is he saying that not only was Joy's life a soap opera, but life in general is a soap opera?

And that's the problem I have with this film.  I didn't know if it was a comedy or a drama, whether I was supposed to laugh or be moved and when some feminist points were being made about overcoming obstacles and making something of yourself, I felt like I was being hit over the head.  I thought Russell was more subtle than that. And I hate to say it, there were also times when I wished I had my TIVO remote and could just fast forward through some of it.  And that made me sad, because so far I have loved Russell's films for their inventiveness and freshness.

Russell, who hit home runs with "American Hustle" and "Silver Linings Playbook," once again works with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, though if you are expecting a lot of screen time for Cooper and a little romance with Lawrence, you will be disappointed.  He is pretty much wasted here as the QVC executive who gives Joy her shot.  When I saw "Hustle" and "Playbook," I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  With Joy, I just died.  Though some scenes were funny or touching, it didn't hit a home run this time. 

However, Russell is great at setting the mood with his pop culture references and music that evokes the time, so it's still mostly an enjoyable film experience.  I was just expecting more.

Jennifer Lawrence is fine, as always, if a little young to play Joy, but though she is the star she ends up playing straight woman to the quirky cast of character actors surrounding her: De Niro, Ladd, Madsen, Rossellini and Ramirez, all of whom stand out more than Lawrence does.  Ramirez is especially good and is hyped as the new hot young actor, so watch for him.  And Melissa Rivers as her mother, Joan, who in addition to being a comedian was a huge QVC star hawking her jewelry line, puts in a nice cameo performance.

Not sure why Russell chose the real life Mangano as his inspiration.  I mean, inventing a mop? But not everything in the film really happened.  If you are interested in what's true and what's Russell's imagination, check out this great article but NOTE: SPOILER ALERT!

And finally, I can't help but ask: what is the deal with women cutting their hair when they are at a low ebb or crossroads? Joy does it here when she needs to steel herself for battle and I have seen that cliché in at least two other shows in the last month.  Is that a guy thing?  A reverse Samson thing?

Rosy the Reviewer says...a stylish, well-acted soap opera, but disappointing as a David O. Russell film.

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

Now Out on DVD

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

CIA Agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin come together to fight an evil global criminal organization bent on proliferating nuclear weapons.

Based on the 1960's TV show of the same name, Henry Cavill stars as the suave but slightly nefarious Napoleon Solo and Armie Hammer as his more serious Russian counterpart, Illya Kuryakin. Illya is charged by the KGB to capture or kill Solo because he is the CIA's most dangerous operative.  Likewise, Solo is suspicious of Illya because, well, it's the 1960's and he's a Russian.

Illya and Solo "meet cute" in a men's toilet where they get into a huge fight, not realizing yet that they are to be partners.  This sets the stage for a love/hate relationship throughout the film with lots of banter and one upsmanship. They criticize each other's clothing choices and one ongoing joke is how much better the Russian technology is than the American. 

The Russians and Americans are forced to work together on this because the bad guys have a scientist who can make nuclear weapons and they need to find him before he does. This is a very common spy movie plot - didn't we just see this in "Spectre?"

Solo and Kuryakin must work together to infiltrate a criminal organization run by a countess (Elizabeth Debicki) and her brother to find the scientist.  They enlist Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander, whose performances in "Ex Machina" and "The Danish Girl" have made her the hot new actress on the rise) to help them, because it's her scientist father who is helping the bad guys against his will and her uncle Rudi (Sylvester Groth) is one of those bad guys, a Mengele-inspired torturer, as Napoleon soon finds out.

The Brits make an appearance near the end of the film, which gives Hugh Grant a nice little cameo.

This is not an update of the TV show. It's still the 1960's and it's still the Cold War. This is a bit of a prequel to the TV show as Solo and Kuyakin meet for the first time, so I smell a sequel.

My daughter and her husband were here over the holidays and I mentioned that I had this film on DVD.  They asked what the movie was about.  I said, "What???"  And then I realized they were both in their 30's.  Of course they had never heard of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."  That seemed impossible, but there it was.  For us Baby Boomers, however, that TV show starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum was a favorite of the 1960's and gave us some James Bond thrills, espionage and humor every week from the comfort of our living rooms.

This exchange reminded me just how long ago this show was on TV and the generation gap that exists between my children and me! 

And perhaps that's what might have happened with this film.

I am thinking that perhaps director Guy Ritchie is a bit too young for this as well.  He wasn't even born yet when the TV show was in its heyday from 1964-1968.  That could account for that je ne sais quoi that this film is missing.

Ritchie made a name for himself directing hard edged British gangster movies such as "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch," but is perhaps even more famous for having been married to Madonna. The influence of Quentin Tarantino on him is also quite apparent and perhaps that is what is missing here.  Tarantino is funny, but never in a suave, tongue-in-cheek way.  A lighter touch was needed.

And Cavill doesn't help.  He seems to be doing his best "Man of Steel," aka Superman, imitation here, and instead of suave and debonair with a bit of wink-wink humor that we came to expect of Robert Vaughn, Cavill comes off as a handsome robot. I couldn't help but think that if Hugh Grant were younger, he would have made a wonderful Napoleon Solo.

Hammer's Kuryakin has a bit of a psychotic side that I don't remember from the TV show.  When he gets upset, his hands start twitching and he looks like he is going to turn into the Incredible Hulk.  Though Cavil and Hammer are lovely to look at, they don't quite capture the chemistry that the original actors, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, had in the TV series.  However, speaking of Hammer, he is my new crush.  He is one nice big man.

Though I think that Ritchie missed the mark with his actors, what he is really good at is style and framing scenes.  From the costumes to the jazzy 60's bongo music to the set decoration to the split screens, he has captured the swinging 60's.  The look of the film is outstanding and I have been lusting after the earrings the women were wearing ever since!

Ritchie is also great at having funny scenes playing out in the background behind actors talking or other action in the foreground, with the actors not realizing what is going on behind them. One of those scenes shows just how cool Napoleon Solo is.  He stops to have a glass a wine and a bit of a snack in a truck while Illya is being chased by a boat in the background and when Solo is done, he calmly drives the truck into the water to save Illya.

The film is beautiful to look at thanks to John Mathieson's cinematography, but Thomas Wolfe was right.  "You can't go home again."  This film stands up just fine as a stylish spy film, but I wouldn't say it captures that special something that the "Man from U.N.C.L.E." TV series had.

But here is my question:  Why?  You know how I feel about remakes.  Is Hollywood so bereft of properties that we have to haul out perfectly good old chestnuts and redo them?  Don't we have enough spy thrillers with Bourne and Bond and Ethan Hunt?

And who is the audience here?  Baby Boomers who remember the TV show fondly?  Or does this film stand alone to act as an introduction to bring in new and younger fans?  I think the latter...but with a few tweeks.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fun and stylish spy romp that could bring new fans and a new franchise but Cavill and Hammer need to loosen up.

Lambert & Stamp (2014)

A documentary about an unlikely duo in postwar England who discovered one our greatest rock bands: The Who.

Postwar WW II England was ripe for the rock and roll music that came out of the 60's, with class barriers coming down and, despite the fact that the older generation still expected the young people to tow the line, the kids had other ideas.  The war had left the young with unrest.

Kit Lambert was an upper crust posh whose father was a famous symphony conductor and Chris Stamp was a working class guy from the East End whose father was a tugboat captain, but also the brother of Terence Stamp, who had already made a name for himself as an actor. Kit was openly gay in a time when it was a crime in England, and Chris was obsessed with girls, so they were an unlikely duo.  But both were looking around for something to do in the film industry, particularly they wanted to be filmmakers.  But after a short stint working for a film company and not making it past assistant, they decided, "Let's manage a rock group!"  They cared more about filmmaking than rock music, but they had the idea that they would discover and manage a rock group and then make a movie about it. 

The pair met Pete Townshend who had a band called High Numbers and he moved in with them.  Chris helped Pete with his writing and Kit tried to smooth Pete's rough edges and The Who was formed. 

The film uses "Tommy" as a touchstone.  There is the "before Tommy" and the "after Tommy." The band gives Kit credit for helping them make "Tommy" cohesive, but when Kit tried to appropriate the story, there was a falling out. 

Now everyone had some money.  The band members got married, had kids and Kit moved to Venice and bought a palazzo where he fell into doing drugs and mental illness that led to his demise.

Some of director James D. Cooper's filming techniques were irritating, with uneven transitions using psychedelic images and fuzzy, flickering film, but this is a classic rock story - hard scrabble to make it, then success and then a fall from grace with resentment and recriminations - with lots of unseen film footage of the early days of The Who and Swinging London.

The irony here is that Lambert and Stamp managed a rock group so they could make a movie about them...and now here it is 50+ years later.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Baby Boomers, fans of The Who and documentary aficionados will enjoy this look back at the 1960's.

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

267 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970)

When an American writer visiting Rome witnesses an attack by a serial killer, the killer comes looking for him.

Tony Musante stars as Sam Dalmar, a writer visiting Rome.  As he passes an art gallery, he sees a struggle between a man and a woman and the woman is stabbed.  He tries to help her but is caught between two sliding glass doors.  When the police arrive, it is discovered that the woman will survive her wounds.  When Sam is interviewed he tries to remember what he saw and feels like he saw something strange about the struggle but can't put his finger on it.  In the meantime, there is a serial killer running around Rome and eventually ends up after Sam and his girlfriend.  Luckily, Sam finally remembers that thing he couldn't remember.

Why it's a Must See: "...a particularly Italianate spin on the Hitchcockian thriller...[Director Dario Argento] mapped out his own subgenre with this, his first feature film."

---"1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die"

And in so doing, Argento was called the Hitchcock of Italian cinema.

This film has a "Rear Window" look and feel to it, though much of this film feels more like Brian de Palma than HitchcockDe Palma was certainly influenced by Argento. There is a particularly terrifying scene when the killer is trying to get into Sam's girlfriend's apartment by hacking away at the door with a knife.

The film is beautiful to look at, thanks to Vittorio Storarro's cinematography.  He went on to film "Last Tango in Paris" and "Apocalypse Now," among others.  However, there are some old-fashioned, melodramatic devices used, such as extreme close-ups of eyes highlighted by dramatic music.  Arty, perhaps, for the 1970's, but almost laughable today.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a good old-fashioned thriller with a story that still holds up, though the production values are a bit old-fashioned.  But if you are a fan of Hitchcock and De Palma, you will enjoy this.

(In Italian with English subtitles)

***Book of the Week***

Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny by Holly Madison (2015)

A look inside the Playboy mansion by one of Hugh Hefner's girlfriends.

Holly Madison, born Holly Sue Cullen, moved from Oregon to Los Angeles to make her fortune as so many young attractive girls do. Through a series of events and big boobs, she eventually found herself living in the Playboy mansion as one of Hugh Hefner's girlfriends (she eventually rose to #1 girlfriend) and the star of the reality show "The Girls Next Door."  Though it all seemed glamorous at first, she soon realized that life in the mansion was not what she thought it would be.  It was a series of rules, obligatory nights out and in and a curfew, not to mention some "ew" factor nights in bed with Hef, that thankfully she doesn't go into detail about.  Sorry.

I know what you are thinking.  What is a smart, discerning person such as myself doing reading a book like this?  Don't judge me.  We all have our guilty pleasures, and strippers, Playboy Bunnies and what goes on inside the Playboy Mansion are a few of mine. It's also research.  Even Gloria Steinem was interested.  Remember when she went undercover as a Playboy Bunny?  So I am in good company.

Holly Madison also doesn't want you to judge her either. She wants you to be sure that you know she is NOT a bimbo, so she uses big words like zeitgeist and epitome and quotations from "Alice in Wonderland." It also looks like she wrote this herself or she paid off her ghost-writer to not get billing.

And I will say, she does not glorify life with Hugh Hefner nor does she pull any punches about the women she lived and worked with, especially Kendra Wilkinson, who she does paint as the resident bimbo.  Madison was able to parlay her little brush with fame into a stint on "Dancing with the Stars" and a show in Las Vegas, but is now happily married (not to Hef) and has a baby.  Her purpose in writing this book, I guess, was to warn other pretty girls that free rent has a price...or something like that.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you ever wondered what it would be like to be Hugh Hefner's girlfriend or what life in the Playboy mansion is like, this is for you...or not.

That's it for this week.
Thanks for Reading!

See You Tuesday for

"My New Year's Resolutions"

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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). 

Go to, find the movie you are interested in.  Once there, click on the link that says "Explore More" on the right side of the screen.  Scroll down to External Reviews and when you get to that page, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.
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