Friday, October 21, 2016

"The Girl on the Train" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "The Girl on the Train" as well as DVDs "Salesman" and "A Bigger Splash."  The Book of the Week is "I'm Your Biggest Fan."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."]

The Girl on the Train

A recently divorced woman drinks too much and rides a commuter train back and forth, fantasizing about the lives of the people she sees from the train until one day she sees something that rocks her out of her fantasy and pulls her into a real life murder case.

Rachel (Emily Blunt) and Tom (Justin Theroux) are divorced, but Rachel isn't handling the break-up very well. In fact, she is drunk most days and has black-outs.  She also compulsively rides a commuter train past where she used to live with Tom. Tom is now married to Anna (Rebecca Ferguson who you might recognize from "Florence Foster Jenkins") and they have a baby girl.  Rachel has been calling and texting Tom and even went to their house and scared Anna by entering the house and taking the baby outside while Anna was sleeping.  Rachel does this stuff when she is drunk and often doesn't remember what she has done. Rachel is a bit of a mess.

But Rachel is not only watching what is happening at her old house from the train.  She also watches a couple who live a few doors down.  They look so happy.  She fantasizes about their perfect life and even gives them names - Jess and Jason. Jess and Jason turn out to be Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans) and things are not at all what Rachel fantasizes about them from the train. 

One day Rachel sees Megan kissing a man and it's not Scott.  And soon after that, Megan goes missing.  Rachel feels she must tell the police what she saw, but when she tries to give evidence, police detective Riley (Allison Janney) immediately figures out that Rachel has a bit of a drinking problem and deems her an unreliable witness at the very least and actually a possible suspect in the disappearance of Megan.

You see there was that one night when Rachel was going to go see Tom and thought she saw Anna down in the tunnel under the train tracks, but Rachel was so drunk she fell down in the tunnel.  When she woke up in the morning, she was covered in blood and didn't remember what happened.  There was this red-haired man, there was Anna.  And did she see Tom?  Who knocked her down?

Rachel tries to sort all of this out as she becomes more and more enmeshed in what turns out to be a murder case after Megan's body is found.

This film was highly anticipated and touted as the next "Gone Girl."  Based on the best-selling novel by Paula Hawkins that I loved and reviewed a couple of weeks ago, it certainly had the potential.  However, I have never believed in comparing books and films.  I am not one to say "The book was better," because I consider a book and a film to be two different art forms.  One creates a story using the written word and literary devices, and the other uses visuals to tell the story.  One should not expect a film to exactly replicate a book nor can it.  The book and the film each create their own experience for us and we should weigh each experience separately.

That said, I can't believe I am saying this.  "I liked the book better." 

I think it's because I loved the book so much that my anticipation for the film was very high, so I was already setting myself up for disappointment.  But c'mon, people. The first mistake was setting the film in the U.S. When you read the book, you imagine Rachel taking the train into London every day.  And  Emily Blunt is a Brit, for gods sake. The second mistake was not giving enough backstory about Rachel and her relationship with Tom. The book had a unique way of unfolding the story by hearing from each woman's point of view.  It worked well for the book, but it didn't work that well for the film, making it choppy and incoherent at times.

However, I can't fault the acting, though I don't think Emily Blunt smiled once during this film.  Well, maybe once in a flashback. Emily Blunt is fine as are the other actors, but it's not enough to save the film.  Haley Bennett, though, she is a star on the rise. This role followed her starring role in "The Magnificent Seven," and she has three other films wrapped up for release in 2017, so keep your eye out for her. 

Directed by Tate Taylor with a screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson, the film was not able to capture the intensity of the book.  The script would have done better with a few more flashbacks showing how happy Tom and Rachel were once and a bit more clarity on what happened to their marriage which in turn would have helped explain why Rachel's life went to hell.  Likewise, Megan's history was unclear and her affair with Kamal wasn't even included. The characters were not fully fleshed out, making it difficult for us to care what happened to them. Add to that a timeline that was confusing and the film loses the impact of the book.

Rosy the Reviewer says...An engrossing potboiler, but another "Gone Girl" it is not.  Save your money.  Read the book. 


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


Salesman (1968)

A cinema verite experience that follows four traveling salesmen as they go door-to-door to sell expensive bibles, back when $40 for a bible was expensive.

I love documentaries and watch them regularly.  I even listed my "15 Must See Documentaries" back in 2014.  So it's no wonder that I love the IFC's "Documentary Now!," Fred Armison's and Bill Hader's satirical TV show that spoofs well-known documentaries.  They have brilliantly done their versions of "Grey Gardens," "Nanook of the North" and most recently the 1984 Talking Heads' film "Stop Making Sense."  Their satires are spot on, capturing the essence of the originals, many of them written by another SNL alum, Seth Meyers.  But despite my documentary watching resume, when I saw that an upcoming episode was called "Globesmen" and was a satire on "Salesman," a Maysles brothers film, I was surprised that I was unfamiliar with it.  So I decided to see it before I saw Fred and Bill's version.  And I am glad I did. 

NOTE:  Satires are much funnier and you can nod your head knowingly when you have seen the original.  Highly recommended.  The one thing about satire is that it often doesn't make sense if you haven't seen or you don't know about what is being satirized. That is the case here. I would not have gotten "Globesman" at all if I hadn't seen this one first.  That is not to say that "Globesman" doesn't stand on its own as a piece that satirizes door-to-door salesmen as a group, but seeing "Salesman" first really added to my enjoyment of what Fred and Bill did with it, so I could laugh at the recognition of the touches from the original and nod my head knowingly.

Anyway, on to the film.

Four salesmen who have given themselves the nicknames of The Badger, The Rabbit (he's the young, inexperienced guy), The Gipper (the unemotional straight man who knows how to take advantage of every situation) and The Bull (he's the closer) face rain, snow and sleet, just like our postal workers, as they go door-to-door to sell bibles to low-income Catholic families.  They hit the local Catholic church and get names from the local priest and then hit the road.  The camera follows them silently as they meet with the families and try to make their sales.

The Badger is Paul Brennan, our main guy.  He is shown driving in a snow storm headed to his next customer singing "If I Were a Rich Man" from "Fiddler on the Roof," an irony (or wishful thinking?) since we learn that Paul is in a bit of a sales slump.

This film captures the lonely life of the traveling salesman back in the 60's.  Remember the "Fuller Brush Man" who would go door-to-door?  My mother would always buy something from him because she "felt sorry for him." He probably gave her a hard luck story because what we learn here is that salesmen figure out their schtick and do what they have to do and say what they have to say to get the sale.

We not only follow the men as they make their rounds, but we are with them in their seedy hotel rooms, talking about their customers, playing cards, and smoking.  I forgot that we used to be able to smoke in hotel rooms. Some of the guys lament their lack of sales while another counts out his money. The film also captures the customers in their homes, seemingly unaware of the camera, hair in curlers, men wearing those unfortunately named "wife beaters."

One of the early popularizations of "Cinema Verite" was the PBS TV show "An American Family."  MTV's "The Real World" followed and now what we call "reality TV" is everywhere.  But is it really reality?  Can people really forget that the camera is there?  Maybe not all of the time, but what makes cinema verite exciting are those few moments when they do forget the camera is there and the reality comes through.  In "An American Family" viewers were shocked when Mrs. Loud asked her husband for a divorce.  This was before "scripted reality TV," where situations are set up in advance.  But even then, moments of reality do come through. We humans just can't help ourselves. 

Editing is everything in these kinds of films and this one is artful in showing the rah-rah salesman mentality these guys have to manifest in order to keep doing this kind of work (making cold calls on strangers) versus the lonely reality of their lives.  They sit in sales meetings listening to their bosses giving them inspirational speeches to get out there and sell and then we see them driving all alone in a snow storm to make the next call, being away from home 10 weeks at a time, trying to make a living and get sales from people who are not sure they want what they are selling.

My husband is a salesman and was transfixed by this film.  This film may have been made almost 50 years ago but the same principles remain.  When you are a salesperson, it's just you and the customer.  You need to do what you need to do to get that customer to want and need what you are selling and what you earn is up to you and how  well you can close that deal.

Directors Albert and David Maysles, who later gave us "Gimme Shelter," the aforementioned "Grey Gardens" and other wonderful classic documentaries, created the gritty, black and white world of the lonely traveling salesman, real life Willy Lomans all.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a must see documentary from some of our best documentary filmmakers.  See this one and then watch Fred's and Bill's take on it which I have provided below.  You are very welcome!

A Bigger Splash (2015)

A peak into the world of a rich and famous rock star and her entourage.

An early frame of this film sets the tone: we see a man and a woman sunbathing in the nude by a pool and then having sex in said pool.  Nudity and sex are the centerpieces here along with a strange, decadent ambience.  And then there is Tilda Swinton.  When she is in a movie, you can expect it to be strange and for her to take her clothes off.  But what am I talking about?  They ALL take their clothes off!

First of all, Tilda Swinton as a rock star is a stretch, but OK.  Tilda is Marianne Lane, an aging rock star who has had an operation on her vocal chords similar to the one Julie Andrews had that ruined her voice.  So for practically the first half of the film, Marianne doesn't speak so that her voice will recover and she won't end up like Julie, which adds a strange element to Marianne's characterization. I mean, she doesn't even make a sound when she has an orgasm! Marianne is on vacation on an island off of Sicily (Pantelleria) with her filmmaker boyfriend, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) when they are unexpectedly joined by old friend and producer Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and his daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson), and later another couple.

These people are all rich decadents who like to go to strange foodie places (eating out on a cliff), take their clothes off, lie about, hang out in the pool and have sex.  It's obvious that Marianne and Harry once had a thing but other than that, in most of the film not much happens. 

However, the first hour of this film zipped along as I tried to figure out if these people were ever going to get out of the pool to do anything, but in the second half I got my answer.  No.  However, there was a moment when I thought something was going to happen because about 85 minutes in some dramatic music came out of nowhere and woke me up.  It was operatic music so that usually signals that something REALLY big is going to happen.  And actually something sort of does.

There is lots and lots of nudity in this film, almost to the point of gratuitousness.  I have a soft spot in my heart for Ralph Fiennes ever since "The English Patient."  No one does brooding like he does, but then he also showed he could do comedy when he starred in "The Grand Budapest Hotel," and that endeared him to me even more.  He can do it all.  However, though I love you, Ralph, that doesn't mean I want to see your junk.  Nor do I want to see you dance.  I was embarrassed for you when you were dancing and singing along to the Stones' "Emotional Rescue".  Please don't do it again.  And was your character here supposed to be annoying?  Because he certainly was.

As I mentioned earlier, if Tilda Swinton is in the film, hang onto your armrest.  You are in for a strange ride. I find her to be infinitely odd but also infinitely fascinating.  She defines what acting is all about.  To be a good actor, you have to go for it and not worry about being vulnerable and possibly looking the fool.  And if you have ever seen some of the crazy personas she has created, not to mention the haircuts and make-up jobs she has donned, you know what I mean. 

Then there is Matthias. I am just going to call him by his first name because I not only can't pronounce his last name, I can't spell it either (he's Belgian). But despite his difficult name, his acting star has been rising ever since "The Drop" and the remake of "Far from the Madding Crowd." He is a versatile actor in the Tom Hardy kind of versatile, meaning he can play the sensitive leading man as well as the blood thirsty killer. Dakota Johnson is once again surprising and also shows her versatility.  In "Fifty Shades of Grey" she was a shy compliant sex toy; in "How to be Single," she was the serious, practical girl of the group and here she is a young seductress trying to steal Marianne's man.  Don and Melanie should be very proud of their daughter.

I have no idea what the title of this film means, but I think the pool was a metaphor for inertia and decadence and a big splash is a term for becoming famous.  With fame and wealth comes privilege so that when a bigger splash or event occurs, your fame and privilege even allows you to get away with murder. Or something like that.

This is another one of those films that came and went in the theatres.  It's aimed at an adult audience and those films just don't seem to cut it these days.  The same thing happened to "The Dressmaker," which I reviewed last week.  By the time I reviewed it, it was out of the theatres.  With our main moviegoers being between the ages of 18 and 30 and plunking down their money for mostly superheroes and horror films, these kinds of smaller films aimed at an older demographic aren't around for long, if they even get a big release at all.  And that's a shame. I may have some issues with this film, but I am in total support of films aimed at an older demographic that try to make us think.

Directed by Luca Guadagnino, with whom Swinton also did "I Am Love," this film had great potential.  The acting was first rate, we had big names and gorgeous scenery, but, alas, it just didn't add up to anything.  When I see something like this, I can't help but wonder what it was that made Tilda, Ralph, Matthias and Dakota sign on for this film. Despite my attempt at giving it some gravitas with my stab at a metaphor, it didn't really seem to have a point.

When Paul calls Harry "Obscene," Harry replies:  "We're all obscene.  Everyone is obscene.  That's the whole point.  We see it and love each other anyway."

So, I guess that was the point?

Rosy the Reviewer says...kind of a mess but a beautiful, sophisticated one.  If you like being a fly on the walls of the rich and famous (and decadent), and you also like gorgeous European scenery, nudity and liberal use of the "F" word, you might enjoy this.


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

230 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

What it was like to go to high school in Southern California in the 80's.

Travel back with me now to a time long ago and far away when Sean Penn was actually funny and seemed to have a sense of humor about himself.  Most of you have probably already seen this film and Penn's iconic character Jeff Spicoli.  But somehow this one fell through the cracks for me, so this was my first experience with the film despite having seen snippets of it over the years, most notably Penn as Spicoli.  Other than "Taps," a film Penn did right before this one, this was one of Penn's first starring roles and paved the way for his later success.  But who knew Jeff Spicoli would lead to Matthew Poncelet in "Dead Man Walking," an Academy Award and a Sean Penn who doesn't seem to find much funny these days?  Such are the strange ways of Hollywood.

Anyway, in addition to Penn as surfer/stoner Jeff Spicoli, the film also follows Brad Hamilton (Judge Reinhold), a high school senior who works at the All-American Burger, until he is fired for losing his temper with a demanding customer and then throughout the film we see him go through a series of similar jobs, wearing silly fast food uniforms, until he becomes a hero when he thwarts a robbery at a mini mart. Brad's sister Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a 15-year-old virgin who can't wait to not be one, and she and her more worldly friend, Linda (Phoebe Cates), talk endlessly about sex.  The film also follows Mike Damone (Robert Romanus), who is a hustler making money scalping tickets and fancies himself a ladies man, imparting his wisdom to his nerdy friend, Mark (Brian Backer), who is smitten with Stacy.  When Mark finally gets a date with Stacy, he freezes up when she tries to seduce him.  Mike moves in and gets Stacy pregnant and Stacy gets an abortion.  Just your typical teen-aged stuff.
At the end of the film as the credits roll, we get to find out what happened to all of the characters after high school, a device that I enjoy and that works really well in this film.
What I enjoyed most about this film was seeing all of the young actors who grew up to be stars:  In addition to Penn, there was Jennifer Jason Leigh (so young and innocent.  Who knew she was destined for the shocking "Last Exit to Brooklyn?" - if you see it, you will know what I mean), Phoebe Cates, Judge Reinhold (whatever happened to him?), a very young Forest Whitaker and if you pay close attention you will spot Nicolas Coppola, who grew up to be Nicolas Cage.  Ironically, despite the many young actors in this film who went on to fame and fortune, two of the actors who had the largest roles did not.  Who today has heard of Robert Romanus or Brian Backer?  Though both actors look to have had successful acting careers since "Ridgemont High," somehow they avoided the fame part.
This was director Amy Heckerling's first feature (she went on to direct "National Lampoon's European Vacation, "Look Who's Talking" and "Clueless") and Cameron Crowe's first produced screenplay (based on his book) and we know what happened to him: "Say Anything," "Jerry Maguire," "Almost Famous," "Vanilla Sky..." 

So this film definitely has classic movie cred and made a lot of successful careers for those involved.  And best of all, it was sharp and funny and captured what we all thought going to high school in Southern California was like.  The soundtrack featured some of our fave 80's groups:  The Go-Go's, Tom Petty, Debbie Harry, Pat Benetar to name just a few.
Why it's a Must See: "[This film] brilliantly melded the teen comedy with the coming-of-age tale in this surprisingly sensitive take on suburban high school life.  Featuring a bevy of young actors [it] holds up extraordinarily well under repeat viewings."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"
And that's a very good point. 

As I make my way through the "1001 Movies," one thing I judge it on is whether or not the film passes the test of time, i.e. does it hold up under modern day standards and mores?  Or do I laugh at the outdated language, clothes and views?  This film holds up remarkably well, telling a story of teenage angst and coming of age that defies time and place.  There was also nudity.  I forgot we had nudity in films in the 1980's. We've all been there. Well, maybe not the nudity party. I am talking about the teenage part. Some things just don't change. 
Rosy the Reviewer says...yep, you gotta see this one.  Let me know if you spot Nick Cage!

***Book of the Week***

I'm Your Biggest Fan by Kate Coyne (2016)

Author Coyne is an Executive Editor for "People Magazine" and a self-described "fan."  She clues us into the celebrities she has met and interviewed.

It's no secret that I am a huge fan of pop culture.  I unashamedly love movies, TV and celebrities.  And I have found my soul mate in Coyne. 

And for you snobs out there who look down your nose at anyone who watches The Kardashians on TV, just know that Coyne's education included elitist schools and culminated in studying at Oxford where she spent her days translating Anglo-Saxon religious poetry into English... while simultaneously watching episodes of "Friends."  Now that is one smart cookie...just like me!

This is the story of a fan girl who, when growing up, could not only name all of the actors in the TV shows of the 1980's, she knew every character's name as well.  She grew up to be a reporter for the New York Post's infamous gossip column Page Six, the entertainment editor for "Good Housekeeping," and eventually an Executive Editor of "People Magazine," the consummate magazine that follows the rich and famous.  What more could a fan girl ask?

Coyne grew up an only child and both of her parents worked full-time so the TV became a sort of de facto babysitter. She was a pop culture and TV addict who, growing up in NYC, dreamed of being a member of the Keaton or Seaver families. 

In a series of essays, Coyne shares with us other pop culture mavens her encounters with celebrities.  What did she discover?

  • Kate Gosselin is not a bitch (well, not according to her anyway)
  • Tom Hanks is really, really nice (we never doubted that but her encounter just cemented it 100% - I even love him more now)!
  • She was almost besties with Mariska Hargitay (and, of course, you knew that Mariska Hargitay was Jayne Mansfield's daughter, right)?
  • Yes, people, Tom Cruise is one charming guy (I knew that already)!
  • Wynonna is a good old girl and let's it all hang out

And Coyne is no slouch.  She is very funny and self-deprecating.  She tells us "Six Things Never to Order When Dining with a Celebrity," "The Five Dumbest Things" she said on National TV, how she embarrassed herself in front of Neil Patrick Harris and why Michael Douglas made her cry.

However, despite Coyne's unfailing devotion to celebrity, she has this to say at the end of the book:

"Yes, celebrities have amazing lives...At the end of the day, I still think I'm the lucky one.  Fame is not for the faint of heart.  I don't need to have a perfect size 0 figure, or even a perfect size 4 one.  When I do something wildly embarrassing, I don't need to call a publicist to come and handle the crisis.  I usually just need to eat some real food.

No, when it comes to stars, I don't live in their world -- I merely delight in visiting the outer fringes.  The day that the thrill of standing on a red carpet or meeting George Clooney or getting a thank-you note from Melissa McCarthy...ever wears off is the day I should retire.  Luckily, I don't see that day coming anytime soon.  I am older, wiser, heavier, and more humbled than I was when I asked for my first autograph.  I no longer ask for autographs, in fact, or even believe that every star is the greatest person alive who would love me if only they knew me...But I am now, and always will be, a fan.  A super-fan.  The biggest one of all."

Rosy the Reviewer says...a funny and smart memoir for celebrity watchers and those of us who are not ashamed to be fans, to wear our love of TV, movies and all things celebrity on our sleeves. If you love celebrity watching, you will love this book!  And now I am Coyne's biggest fan!

By the way, Kate, if you are out there, I DID know who Tom Courtenay was (inside joke)!

That's it for this week!

Thanks for reading!


(yes, I feel a Tuesday rant coming on!)


"From Finicky to Foodie to Finicky:
Confessions of a Baby Boomer and What She Ate" 

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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.

NOTE:  On some entries, this has changed.  If you don't see "Explore More" on the right side of the screen, scroll down just below the description of the film in the middle of the page. Click where it says "Critics." Look for "Rosy the Reviewer" on the list.

Or if you are using a mobile device, look for "Critics Reviews." Click on that and you will find me alphabetically under "Rosy the Reviewer."



Friday, October 14, 2016

"The Dressmaker" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the movie "The Dressmaker" as well as two documentaries available on DVD: "City of Gold" and "To Be Takei."  The Book of the Week is "Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud."  I also bring you up-to-date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with an early martial arts film: "A Touch of Zen."]

The Dressmaker

Myrtle "Tilly" Dunnage returns to her small rural Australian Outback town to seek revenge.

A long shot from above shows a train puffing over the Australian Outback and when it stops, out steps a fashionably dressed woman who says "I'm back, you bastards."  Meet Myrtle Dunnage (Kate Winslet) AKA as Tilly.

Tilly was sent away from her hometown of Dungatar after a disastrous incident that happened when she was a child.  She traveled the world and became a dressmaker, working at some of the great ateliers in Paris.  Now it is 1951 and she is back and it's the talk of the town.  She has come back to take care of her ailing mother, Molly (Judy Davis) -- but she has also come back for revenge.

She steps off the train dressed to the nines in a Dior-inspired dress of her own creation and is greeted by the local cop, Horatio Farrat (Hugo Weaving) who swoons over her dress. We discover that our local cop appreciates and likes to wear women's clothes, especially feather boas.  When Tilly arrives at her old house, she finds it in disrepair and her mother in bed with a possum to keep her company. Tilly's mother is eccentric to say the least and verging on dementia. Her strange lifestyle and the townspeople have dubbed her "Mad Molly" due to her strange antics. 

Tilly's mother doesn't recognize her (or pretends not to) and Tilly, not remembering what happened in 1926 when she left, asks her mother if she, Tilly, is a murderer. Tilly believes that she is cursed. Her mother says she doesn't remember any of it, either. After that question, the story unfolds that as a young girl, Tilly witnessed the death of a young boy, Stewart Pettyman, and, because she was there when he died, his parents blamed her for his death and had her sent her away. 

Tilly's starts a dressmaking business out of her mother's home and soon wins over the local women when she transforms the drab and bespectacled Gertrude (Sarah Snook) into a princess.  After her transformation, Gertrude charms the rich and handsome William (James Mackay) much to his social climbing mother's dismay. You see, Gertrude is the daughter of the local shopkeeper. Not suitable! Tilly's success with Gertrude leads the other local women to seek Tilly's services. The local women are all transformed by Tilly's dresses and there is a cute scene when we encounter them all dressed to the nines walking around the dusty town in the middle of the day. Tilly's success with her dressmaking business causes Mr. Pettyman (Shane Bourne), who is the local councilman and who still has it out for Tilly, to bring in a rival dressmaker, Una Pleasance (Sacha Horler), in a side-story that was an unnecessary distraction.

Tilly is out to shock the townsfolk and early upon her arrival in town, sashays to a rugby match where she does a modified strip tease causing the opposing team to be distracted and lose the game.  That is a good thing for local handsome boy Teddy (Liam Hemsworth) and he and Tilly start a relationship.

Tilly is not just out to shock the townsfolk, though.  She is also out for revenge for their blaming her for Stewart's death and sending her away.  However, in the course of her seeking revenge, she finds out just what happened that day with Stewart, why and how she was sent away, and her mother's big secret.  And, oh, yeah, she gets her revenge too.

Speaking of the pairing of Winslet and Hemsworth, considering that Kate Winslet is 41 and Hemsworth is 26, it's a strange pairing, but little is made of the obvious age difference especially since there is the implication that the two had known each othe when Tilly was still living in the town.  However, Winslet is a lovely woman that any 26 year old man would probably have a hard time saying no to. Likewise, those Hemsworth boys are lovely to behold.  Chris has always been a favorite of mine, but I also enjoyed Liam here, especially when he took his shirt off so that Tilly could measure him for a suit which was a fun scene with Molly lurking about and lusting after him.  Supposedly Hemsworth worked out and did some extreme dieting for that scene and Winslet remarked in a magazine article that she could hear his stomach growling during their scenes. But I didn't mind the age difference.  I certainly wouldn't kick him out of bed! 

Judy Davis as Molly is also wonderful (when is she not wonderful? She's had me ever since "My Brilliant Career"), though I found her character here annoying at first.  But as Molly warms to Tilly, the two play well against each other.

This is a strange little film.  Based on the novel by Rosalie Harn (screenplay by director Jocelyn Moorhouse and P.J. Hogan), it can't seem to decide whether it's a drama or a comedy.  It vacillates between the two.  There are certainly some very dramatic and serious, tragic even, elements to this film, but then Tilly's mother is a comic character until the end and the townspeople are a motley crew, to say the least.  The pharmacist has a hunchback that is so bad that when he gets going he can't stop his forward motion, so his wife sits outside the pharmacy with a pillow on her lap so he can stop himself by ramming his head into the pillow.  The side story of the other dressmaker coming to town to give Tilly some competition is a comical but distracting element, and William's mother trying to keep Gertrude and William apart has some slapstick humor.  In fact, all of the townspeople are comic characters which is at times jarring against the more tragic elements of the film.

Director Jocelyn Moorhouse made her mark in the 90's with "Proof (1991)," "How to Make an American Quilt (1995)," and "A Thousand Acres (1997)," so this is her first film in almost 20 years and it's a nice vehicle for Winslet who I find to be a lovely and talented screen presence, not to mention my enjoyment of the hunky Liam. But it's also welcome to see a film directed by a woman and driven by a strong female character. Moorhouse knows how to make films that showcase women. The film's location in the Australian Outback is also very atmospheric, thanks to the cinematophy by Donald McAlpine.  He captures the stark beauty of the Outback, which is a particular favorite film location of mine.

Rosy the Reviewer's a fun, though strange, little story but Winslet's, Davis's and Weaving's performances are worth the price of a ticket. And if you want to see it, better get to the theatre soon.  There was little hype for this film and it won't be around long, but it deserves to be seen.

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed888
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!

Now on DVD

City of Gold (2015)

A profile of Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold.

Food writer Johnathan Gold gets into his green pick-up truck and tours Los Angeles ("The City of Gold") to explore the food that defines it.  He is not your typical snobby foodie who extolls the virtues of a five-hour, 12-course French meal at prices that would defy most of us to partake. No, Gold's thing is finding those Mom and Pop storefront restaurants that just happen to have some of the best food in town.  He writes as a cultural commentator using food to comment on modern life. It's food criticism as storytelling and Gold is so good at it that he was the first food critic to get a Pulitzer.

But Gold wasn't always a food critic.  He was a failed cello player who discovered punk rock music.  Punk rock took him out of his shell and he played cello with some weird bands.  He also grew up in LA and you can feel the love he has for his city.

"I am an LA guy.  I drive.  I am my truck - my truck is me."

How very L.A.

Gold came to fame when he wrote a piece for The L.A. Weekly called "The Year I Ate Pico Boulevard," where he ate at every restaurant along Pico Boulevard (15.5 miles) and then wrote about it. 

If you consider yourself a foodie, you need to know who Jonathan Gold is.

Food and writing have been paired throughout history and that has turned food from fuel to an art form.  The French started it (of course) but now we have Yelp where everyone is a food critic. The film explores the role of the food critic and why we need him or her.  We may have Yelp but, take note, Yelpers and those who read your reviews, actual food critics have actual knowledge.

As Gold explores LA restaurants, he doesn't just appreciate the food, he appreciates where the food has come from - the culture of the food.  He says you don't have to travel far in L.A. to feel you have traveled far. He changed the food writing world when he started to write about the hard-to-find restaurants in small communities like out in the Valley.  Gasp!  The Valley? Who goes THERE?  He highlight's LA's self-contained cities of people who are not cooking for tourists, they are cooking for their communities.

"In this ordinary place, there happens to be extraordinary food."

That leads us to a bit of L.A. history where the sprawl happened because everyone wanted a yard.  Gold provides a culinary map that helps us understand the city.  He not only eats at the restaurants, he profiles the owners and their lives. According to this film, the biggest thing in restaurants over the last 40 years is diversity.  In the old days everything considered good was French and now it's all over the place. This is the story of immigrants passing down their family recipes here in the United States and Gold says we are luckier for it. 

Gold also bucked the tradition of being an anonymous food critic.  He felt that everyone figured out who the critics were eventually anyway, so why bother?  He reserves under fake names but doesn't bother to disguise himself.  He goes to a restaurant four or five times before he writes his reviews.  If the cuisine is unfamiliar, he might go as many as 17 times.  What a job!

Written and directed by Laura Gabbert, this film shows the real L.A. through the eyes of GoldEveryone thinks they know what L.A. is even if they have never been there.  Gold does know L.A.  It's his town.

So where should we eat when in LA?

Favorites highlighted are the Mariscos Jalisco food truck, Thai restaurant Jitlada, Nanjing Kitchen, Little Ethiopia, Tom's #5 Chiliburgers (and chili fries), Soban, rice bowls at Chego, Korean street food at Kogi, King Taco ("taco eating. The word taco should be a verb!"), Chengdu, and Attari Sandwich Shop to name a few.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a film about food and a food critic but it's also a love letter to Los Angeles, the city Jonathan Gold loves - The City of Gold.  Brilliant!

To Be Takei (2014)

Who knew Lt. Sulu would become an Internet phenomenon with over seven million Facebook fans at the age of 77?

In 1966 when the TV show "Star Trek" first aired, there were few African American or Asian stars on TV.  "Star Trek" changed all of that with Uhura and Sulu.

Today, at 77, actor George Takei (pronounced Ta-Kay - I bet you have been pronouncing it wrong, right?) is more famous than he ever was when starring on "Star Trek."  Who doesn't love George Takei with those memes and quotes that are all over the Internet?

This film chronicles Takei's life from his youth growing up in Los Angeles, followed by his family being sent to a Japanese interment camp in Arkansas during WW II, and his subsequent struggles to make his way as an Asian actor in a world where his first roles were uncredited voiceovers in "Godzilla Raids Again" and "Rodan" and the later roles available to him were usually stereotypical ones such as Japanese houseboys or evil Vietnamese soldiers. 

After the "Star Trek" TV show, roles dried up so Takei ran for L.A City Council and lost but then Mayor Bradley appointed him to the Southern California Rapid Transit District where he served for 11 years. But then along came the "Star Trek" movies, projects on Broadway and campaigning for marriage equality.  Like many gay people in the movie industry, he had to hide his homosexuality, but decided that he had to come out in order to stand up for gay rights.

We hear from his co-stars in "Star Trek," and others who George has known and influenced along the way. Today George is known for his social media memes, sayings on Facebook and for just being George Takei, beloved by old "Star Trek" fans and the younger generation alike.

The film also follows George and his husband, Brad, as they drive around Los Angeles.  George is the laid back one and Brad is the "nervous" one who handles George's business affairs.  As they drive and walk around, they  humorously bicker, George also talks about himself and we get to hear from George directly in that VOICE.  If ever a voice could be called mellifluous, George Takei has that voice.

Rosy the Reviewer says...who wouldn't want to spend 90 minutes with George Takei?  I could listen to that voice for hours.

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

231 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

A Touch of Zen (1971)

After her family is murdered, Yang is on the run from government officials, but is helped by Ku, a scholar/artist and some Buddhist monks.

Yang (Hsu Feng) was the daughter of a government official who, when he uncovered a plot by the evil eunuch, Wei, to overthrow the emperor, was murdered along with her entire family. Yang escaped but now she is on the run.  Hsu's henchmen are looking for her.

The film begins in a small village during the Ming Dynasty. Ku (Chun Shih) is a scholar and painter who is also a bit clumsy, clueless and unambitious.  His mother wants him to be a government official and scolds him for his lack of ambition. She also laments the fact that he is unmarried and that she will never have any grandchildren to carry on the family name.

Ku is approached by a stranger to paint his portrait but we discover that the stranger is a bad guy looking for Yang.  I couldn't help but notice that the stranger also has an uncanny resemblance to Donald Trump despite the Ming official headwear.  

When Ku finally meets Yang (and it takes 35 minutes before they even meet), who is living alone in an abandoned General's mansion, his mother starts to do a bit of matchmaking.  Ku is obviously attracted to Ms. Yang and when she lures him to her place they have sex.  After that encounter, Ku finds out that Yang is a fugitive on the run and somehow that sexual encounter has changed Ku from an awkward Ku into the brave Ku who wants to help Ms. Yang.  But when he goes to tell her he wants to help, he meets a so-called blind man who isn't really blind.  He is General Shih who is in disguise and working with Yang. The bad guys attack them, Shih kills them in the usual highly choreographed martial arts way, so now Ku knows that Shih is not blind.  Ku also knows that he is really truly screwed because now he is involved in all of this stuff.  Still with me? 

But Ku finally gets to do something.  He concocts a plan to spread a rumor that the General's Mansion is haunted and they booby trap the place to make the bad guys think they are being haunted by the undead.  Lots of fights ensue and the bad guys are killed but then Ku can't find Yang.  He tracks her down at a monastery where she has decided to become a nun.  And surprise, surprise.  She has a baby.  It's Ku's baby.  She lured him into having sex so she could give him an heir, something his mother wanted.  Now that is going above and beyond to help out an unhappy mother! When more bad guys show up at the monastery there is a huge battle with the monks that all ends in a very stylized, very "zen" way.

Why it's a Must See:  "There's a reason [why this film] is considered a benchmark in Chinese cinema: It's like a Rosetta Stone of the wuxia, or swords-and-sorcery, genre...[Director] King Hu is rightly regarded as the pioneering director of the wuxia film, in spite of the genre's existence in film was Hu who brought these traits to the cinema, combining them with the acrobatics and pageantry of Peking Opera and the underpinnings of Zen Buddhism."

The film is very stylized and arty with beautiful cinematography, but it's one of those films that likes itself so much that it lingers too long on every shot just in case we might miss how gorgeous it is.  Every shot takes FOREVER which I guess is why the film is three hours long and everything takes a long time to happen.

But it is an early martial arts film and what is really great about these Chinese martial arts films is the strong women warriors who can kick the bad guys' butts and Yang is no exception. The literal English translation of the movie's Chinese title is "Warrior Woman."  And another interesting facet of this movie is no CGI.  This was all down to the actors to be super acrobatic and athletic.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a gorgeously produced film with an interesting story.  I just wish it hadn't taken so long to get to the point.

***Book of the Week***

Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud by Elizabeth Greenwood (2016)

Ever want to fake your own death?  Well, meet those who have and get some tips in case you decide to do it too!

Greenwood was awash in student debt so was tempted to try to fake her own death.  "Is it possible to do that in the 21st century?" she wondered.  She goes off to find out.

She profiles some famous "fakers," such as "The Canoe Man," a guy who went kayaking (they call it a canoe in the UK) and was presumed dead for eight years only to discover he had been living with his wife in his own house the whole time.  He ended up turning himself in.  Greenwood also profiles others who faked their own deaths, but who made some mistakes that led to their being found out.

And then there are the people who Greenwood calls "The Believers," those who believe that Michael Jackson and Elvis are still alive and faked their own deaths.  Why do they believe that?  She investigates.

She then decides to find out if she could fake her own death and travels to Manila to get a fake death certificate.  She got the fake death certificate, but that's as far as it went.  But she also discovered there was a certain satisfaction to know she could disappear at any time if she wanted to.

"The impulse and instinct to begin again is as deeply imprinted on our psyches as it is to begin in the first place...What it comes down to is choices: how the assemblage of tiny decisions we make all day can, before you know it, accumulate into a mountain so high that jumping off with a hidden parachute appears to be the only way out...What have I learned from all this?  I've learned that faking your death is less romantic than I thought it would be.  The people I met traded in the dark and the bizarre, but they all still waded through the quotidian business of living...I've learned it is still possible to fake your own death in the twenty-first century, and, in some ways, it's easier now than ever..."

It's good to know that Greenwood's life improved and she stopped thinking about faking her own death, but here are some things she learned in case you need to disappear.

Some tips from those "fakers" who learned the hard way:

  • If you fake your death, don't come back.  Not for your wife.  Not for your girlfriend.  Not for your kids. 
  • If you plan to claim life insurance, be sure the policy is small (otherwise causes undo suspicion)
  • Don't fake your own death at sea.  Go for a hike
  • Don't bother with a stand-in body and elaborate funeral.  Spend your money on good authenticating documents.
  • Commit to a disguise
  • Use your real first name (then you won't have to worry about remembering who you are)
  • Don't Google yourself (you can be traced)
  • Don't drive (a simple ticket for a broken tail light can lead to your capture)

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fascinating look into a world few of us know about.

That's it for this week!

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 

for my review of

"The Girl on the Train"


  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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