Friday, February 17, 2017

"Fences" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Fences" as well as DVDs "The Immigrant" and "May in the Summer."  The Book of the Week is Oprah's new cookbook "Food, Health and Happiness: 115 On-Point Recipes for Great Meals and a Better Life."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with Michelangelo Antonioni's "L'Eclisse"]


Troy Maxson is a working-class African-American living in the 1950's, doing his best to take care of his family, but he is haunted by the demons of his past.

Troy (Denzel Washington) is a garbage man whose goal is to be the first African-American to drive the truck. That is what he aspires to. Rose (Viola Davis) is his long-suffering wife. Troy and Rose live with their teenage son, Cory (Jovan Adepo), and Troy's younger brother, Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), who suffers from brain damage from a war injury, and who wanders the neighborhood with a trumpet around his neck preaching about how to get into the Promised Land.

When we first meet Troy he's on the back of a garbage truck with his friend and co-worker, Jim Bono (Stephen Henderson), and after work they both go over to Troy's house and sit in the back yard with a bottle of booze.  We can tell right away this is a regular thing. Rose cheerfully sits with them, bantering, but Troy does most of the talking.  He is a charming, fast-talker, but as we get to know him, we realize he has some bitterness about the past.  He's an ex-con who made a name for himself as a baseball player in the Negro Baseball Leagues, but never went any further, which he blames on the color barrier, but which is actually hinted at in the story that it was his age that kept him back.  He is also bitter about the struggles he has had to endure as a black man in the United States, the unfairness that he perceives. But Troy has created a life that works for him and he has accepted it.  He believes it is what it is and that's how it will always be.

So he is not happy with the fact that his son, Cory, is not also accepting the life that Troy has accepted and is not following in his footsteps.  His son is a good student and has been offered a football scholarship to a college, but Troy is not having it.  He believes that Cory will also be discriminated against, like he was, when he tried to play baseball. What good is football?  Didn't baseball let me down?  What good is college?  Get a trade so you can actually earn some money. 

Troy also recounts a story when his own father let him down by making a pass at his girlfriend, and he had to get physical with his Dad. Troy beat his father down and Tory says, that's when he knew he was a man.  Well, wouldn't you know, history repeats itself.  Cory and Troy have a moment of reckoning when Cory, too, must stand up to his Dad and make a decision about his life.

Though Rose and Troy appear to have an easy and loving relationship, a secret comes to light that threatens to hurt their marriage

Fences.  OK.  Huge metaphor, especially when Mr. Bono says "Some people build fences to keep people out and some people build fences to keep people in."  It's a rather obvious metaphor but here it works on many, many levels. 

There is the actual fence that Troy keeps trying to build and which acts as a device for characters to gather and where Troy can hold forth to his friend and his son about the unfairness of life.  Then there is the metaphor about the fences we have around us to keep others out - those fences that protect us from being hurt.  But then there are the fences that keep people from believing they can change their lives for the better, that hold then back, and those fences that block communication and engagement with others, especially those we love. And there is that damn racial fence, the one that Troy was fighting against his whole life.  Finally, though, there is the ultimate fence that Troy was building, that fence trying to keep something we all fear out: Death.

This is the role of a lifetime for Denzel, that one role that every actor hopes for and he rises to the challenge.  So now, the Oscars.  I thought that Casey Affleck had this in the bag after winning the Golden Globe for Best Actor and many awards since for "Manchester by the Sea."  But now?  After Denzel won Best Actor at the SAG Awards and after seeing this film, I am thinking that Casey's momentum has slowed and this is Denzel's year.

By the way, I hope Denzel doesn't mind my referring to him as Denzel.  I think of him as a one-name celebrity like Cher or Madonna or Bono.

And speaking of Bono, Stephen Henderson, who played Mr. Bono, Troy's partner-in-crime as it were, was wonderful.  His part was not a big one and he mostly acted as a foil and listener for Troy, but as an actor, listening is as important as emoting.  It gives the other actors something to play against and with, and Henderson was right in there with Denzel, helping Denzel along.

Likewise, Viola Davis is wonderful as Rose, the sympathetic, long-suffering wife who must come to grips with her role in Troy's life.  I am expecting that she will win an Oscar for this.

This is a faithful depiction of August Wilson's award-winning play of the same name (it not only won a Tony for Best Play, it won the Pulitzer Prize), which premiered on Broadway in 1987.  It is the 6th in Wilson's "Pittsburgh Cycle," and both Denzel and Viola starred in a revival of the play on Broadway in 2010.  That revival was nominated for ten Tony awards and won three:  Best Revival of a Play, Best Actor for Denzel and Best Actress for Viola. 

Denzel not only starred in this film, but also directed it, and I have to give him major props as a director.  It is not an easy task to bring a play to the screen.  A play is not by its nature a visual medium. It is a moment in time that is meant to be shared with an audience.  Plays are often very talky and when put on the screen, come off merely as filmed plays, rather than taking advantage of what film can do.  This film did not fall into that.  Denzel takes advantage of the visual power of film without changing the play, and the play actually benefits from that.  Denzel does a wonderful job of bringing this powerful play to the screen.

I have, however, one little, teeny, teeny tiny complaint. Viola, Viola, Viola. I could swear that you were wearing false eyelashes, at least in the early part of the film, and if I am right, would Rose in the 1950's, really be wearing false eyelashes as she works around the house?  At any rate, it was a distraction.  I didn't think housewives in that era wore false eyelashes while they were whipping up a meal.

But like I said, a teeny, teeny tiny little thing, the kind of thing I notice in movies, because, well, that's me,  but one that didn't stop me from crying at the end...and you know what that means...brilliant.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a brilliant play, a brilliant film and brilliant performances!

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


The Immigrant (2013)

It's 1921, and Ewa Cylbuski (Marion Cotillard) and her sister Magda have just arrived at Ellis Island from Poland.  When Magda is deemed too ill to enter the country and Ewa can't verify where she will be living, the two women are separated and set for deportation and Ewa is left to not only make her way on her own, but must find a way to save her sister.

The film begins with the image of the Statue of Liberty as seen by immigrants as they approach Ellis Island, a poignant image considering what is happening to some immigrants trying to enter the U.S. today. 

Ewa Cylbuski and her sister, Magda (Angela Sarafyan) have arrived in the U.S. but Magda is seen to have a lung disease and sent to the infirmary to recover.  If she doesn't recover in six months, she will be deported.  And to get her out, Ewa must pay for her care.  Ewa gives the agent at Ellis Island her aunt and uncle's address in New York. but he says that address doesn't exist so she is put in the line to be deported.  She is also charged with having low morals for something that happened on the ship, but we are not privy to this until later in the film.  Single women were not allowed into the U.S. in 1921 if they were deemed to have low morals.  Geez, does it never end for us women?  What about the guys with low morals?

Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix) just happens to be there. He also just happens to run a burlesque house.  It seems he does some volunteer work to help immigrants, but there is the air of a predator about him. He spots Ewa and offers to help her.  He pays off the immigration agent and takes her to his theatre.  We soon realize that he not only owns a burlesque house, he is a bit of a loon.

Bruno talks Ewa into working in his burlesque show and when a man comes looking for a woman to initiate his young son in the ways of the world, Bruno talks Ewa into prostitution with the help of some drugs.  He manipulates Ewa into prostitution and she acquiesces in order to earn the money she needs to save Magda.  Classic pimp stuff.

When Ewa finally escapes from Bruno's clutches and makes it to her Aunt and Uncle's, she thinks she is home free until they learn of that immoral "thing" that happened on the ship and report her to immigration officials so once again she is up for deportation.  And once again Bruno gets her out.  She becomes hardened and determined to do what she needs to do to save her sister so she seriously embarks on a life of prostitution.

Enter Emile (Jeremy Renner), Bruno's cousin and would-be magician.  Bruno and Emile don't get along, and especially when Emile takes a liking to Ewa and tries to get her away from Bruno.  Ewa final explains to Emile what happened on the ship, when she was taken advantage of, and Bruno overhears it and has a change of heart, because he is actually in love with Ewa.  Throughout, despite the degradation that Ewa has had to endure, her faith and her morals have kept her above it all.  However, ironically, Bruno's love for Ewa beings him down, even lower than he was before.

Cotillard won many awards for her performance in this film and deservedly so, but strangely, no Oscar nomination, which is surprising.  She is a remarkable actress.  She has that face that evokes intense emotion.

Joaquin Phoenix has made a name for himself playing strange, twitchy characters and this time is no different.  But he is a compelling actor, kind of like a train wreck.  You can't take your eyes off of him and can't wait to see what he will do next.

Jeremy Renner is not one of my favorite actors, and I don't know why.  He is a good looking guy, he is a good actor but for some reason I don't get him.  He has a kind of standoffish quality that in turn puts me off.

Directed by James Gray with a script by Gray and Richard Minello, this is a grim and compelling story, though beautiful to look at, and a poignant reminder of just what a harrowing journey it is to move to a new country to start a new life.  Who would choose to do such a thing if they weren't desperate?

Rosy the Reviewer says...wonderful performances and a story that particularly resonates today.

May in the Summer (2013)

May Brennan (Cherien Dabis), a half-Palestinian, half-American writer, high on the thrill of having just published her first book, returns from New York to her home country of Jordan where she plans to marry her fiancé, Ziad.  She is reunited with her sisters and her born-again Christian mother, but soon realizes she has walked back into a minefield of family issues.

May Brennan has just had her first book published.  She is happily engaged to Ziad and anticipating her wedding back in her homeland.  But reunited with her family in Amman, it's not long before her happiness is marred by her mother, Nadine (Hiam Abbass) and her planned boycott of the wedding (she is a Christian and doesn't approve of her daughter marrying a muslim) and the silly antics of her younger sisters, Dalia (Alia Shawkat) and Yasmine (Nadine Malouf).  It doesn't help that her father, Edward (Bill Pullman), suddenly wants to see her after an estrangement, and Edward's wife (Ritu Singh Pande) confesses to her that she thinks Edward is having an affair.  Suddenly May is losing control of her carefully planned life. 

The film is divided into four parts:

1. "Every person is a child at home."

May is marrying a Muslim and her born-again Christian mother, Nadine, is not happy about it, even though May's fiancé is secular. In fact, Nadine is boycotting the wedding.  She doesn't believe in interfaith marriages, especially since her marriage to Edward, an American, didn't work out. Nadine has never gotten over her divorce from May's father, who is now married to a younger Indian woman. When the girls go to see their father, they meet his wife, Anu, who later calls May, worried that her husband is having an affair. When May discovers her mother playing with a prayer knot that is meant to break a bond between two people, May realizes what she is up against. 

2.  "Don't look where you fall, but where you stepped."

May must traverse the many family pitfalls she encounters on the path to her wedding.

3.  "Love is an endless act of forgiveness."

The girls have all had issues with their Dad because of the divorce, but his second heart attack brings them back together.

4.  "There is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience."

We discover just who that prayer knot Nadine was working on was aimed at and secrets are revealed.

Written, directed and starring Dabis, this film is original in its depiction of a Christian family in the Middle East, something you don't see often.  It also reminded me of a Middle Eastern Woody Allen film. There is humor in the two storylines at work here:

May, her Muslim fiancé and her questioning their upcoming wedding, and the relationship between Nadine, her ex, Edward and his wife.

But Dabis also touches on an underlying serious theme of how life goes on in the midst of the unrest of war, especially vivid in a scene where the girls are having a bachelorette party and frolicking in the Dead Sea when a fighter jet roars overhead on its way to Palestine.  We see that life goes on despite living in a war zone.

In addition to directing, Dabis is also a lovely screen presence who exudes warmth and intelligence, and she has created and directed a story that does much to help understanding between cultures.  The other actors have created an ensemble that is a believable depiction of a dysfunctional but loving family, no matter the nationality.

In this time of divisiveness and suspicion of people who don't look like us, this film is a reminder that no matter what our religion or where we are from, we humans are all the same: we all have parents we love, parents who worry about us, dysfunctional families; most of us fall in love, marry and leave home.  We should look at how we are all the same instead of focusing on and fearing the differences.  We all have the same family issues.

Whether you live in Kalamazoo or Timbuktu, despite the political turmoil in the world, we are reminded that the everyday lives of us humans are not so different.  We live, we love, we grieve, we make mistakes, and we have mothers who try to run our lives. I know I did.

Rosy the Reviewer says.. a lovely small film that is big in helping us all understand each other.

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

214 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

L'Eclisse (1962)

Two beautiful people meet and have an affair...and that's about all that happens.

Vittoria (Monica Vitti), a young literary translator, breaks up with Riccardo (Francisco Rabal) after a long night of talking. Sometime later, Vittoria meets Piero (Alain Delon), her mother's stock broker, and they embark on
a brief love affair until the film has a very existential ending, which we have come to associate with Antonioni.

I first knew who Michelangelos Antonioni was when I saw "Blow-up (1966)."  If you remember the silent tennis match, you will know that Antonioni is all about faces and stillness and the camera lingering on shots.  He clearly loves Vitti because the camera lingers lovingly on her, and I get it. She is a beautiful woman.

But ten minutes into the film, not one thing has happened except Vitti looking tortured.  Enter Alain Delon.  Now we are getting somewhere.  What a handsome guy he was.

As I've said multiple times during this project of mine - to see all 1001 movies I am supposed to see before I die - I am struck by the fact that Italian Neorealism and French New Wave films blew me away back in my twenties. But I think I was tortured back then too.  Now, I get impatient and think "Get to the point!" or "People, get a life.  Quit moaning and staring off into space."

There is a lot of arty camerawork thanks to cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo - filming characters from behind, backing up, in a mirror, framed by a doorway.  At least the camerawork in Antonioni films are never boring - one interesting shot looks under a table and we see the table legs as well as Vitti's legs. 

But one must also wonder - what the heck are Antoniono's movies about?  They can be very opaque.  He likes a deserted, stark modern landscape and his characters saying existential stuff like this:

"There are times when holding a book or a needle or a man are all the same."

Well, I wouldn't go that far.

"We've avoided saying certain things.  Why bring them up now?"

Because I want to know what the heck is going on, that's why!

This is the third in Antoniono's trilogy about alienation and modern life (the others are "L'avventura" and "La notte"), and it is considered one of his best films.  Vitti and Delon, in addition to their exceptional good looks, also put in exceptional performances, despite all that starring off into space and moaning.

Why it's a Must See: "...conceivably the greatest film of [Antonioni's] career, but perhaps significantly it has the least consequential plot...though the stunning final sequence [is] -- perhaps Antionioni's most powerful accomplishment...[The film] is remarkable both for its visual/atmospheric richness and its polyphonic and polyrhythmic mise-en-scene."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...The film has its moments and the ending is provocative, but I can't help but wonder why a film about alienation needs to be alienating.
(b & w, in Italian with English subtitles)

***Book of the Week***

Food, Health and Happiness: 115 On-Point Recipes for Great Meals and a Better Life by Oprah Winfrey (2017)

A cookbook that also promises happiness and a better life?  I would expect nothing less from Oprah.

Leave it to Oprah to write a cookbook that will also inspire us.

"As long as I can remember, I've been the kind of person wh owants t oshare the things that make life better.  When I come upon something useful, something that brings me pleasure or comfort or ease, I want everyone else to know about it and benefit from it, too.  And that is how this cookbook came to be.  It's part of my life story -- the lessons I've learned, the discoveries I've made -- told through food...Because what I now know for sure: Food is supposed to be about joy, not suffereing.  It's mean to nourish and sustain us, not cause us pain.  When you eat consciously and well, you feed your body and your spirit.  And that makes all life more delicious!"

Oprah makes no bones about her struggle with food over the years but seems to have come to grips with it now that she has found Weight Watchers.  She can have bread again!  Though she attributes her success to Weight Watchers and gives WW points for each of the recipes, this is not a Weight Watchers cookbook per se, though the recipes are low fat, low calorie and "skinny" versions of comfort food.  It's more of a book of Oprah's reflections about food and her life with some great recipes thrown in.

Some standouts are "Smothered Chicken," "Fettucine Bolognese with Peas," "Pineapple Fried Rice," and "Indian Pumpkin Curry."

If you like "reading" cookbooks, this is a good one. It's almost Oprah's autobiography with recipes thrown in.

When The Oprah Winfrey Show went off the air in 2011, I wrote about how much Oprah still mattered.  She may not have a daily talk show any more, but she is still relevant.  I love her.  I have loved her since her very first show and I sure wish she would run for President!

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you love Oprah, or if you just love really good cookbooks, you will love this one!

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 

for my review of

"Fifty Shades Darker"

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

 and the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before 

 I Die Project." 

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Check your local library for DVDs and books mentioned.

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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, February 10, 2017

"Passengers" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Passengers" as well as the DVDs "Holy Hell" and "Don't Breathe."  The Book of the Week is songwriter Carole Bayer Sayer's memoir "They're Playing Our Song."   I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Gertrud"]


Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is one of 5000 passengers in suspended animation on a space ship heading to a new planet over 100 years away to colonize it.  When Jim wakes up, he finds himself the only one awake -- 90 years too early!

***Warning: This review contains what might be considered a spoiler, so if you are one of those people who goes berserk when someone reveals a twist then read no further.  However, the "twist" isn't even really a twist, and you will see it very early in the film and there are still other plot twists to come, so, in my opinion, this isn't really a spoiler.  But like I said, if you like to go into your movies not knowing anything, better not read this because I certainly don't want you going ballistic and blaming me for ruining this film for you.
There, I have done my due diligence.***

Jim Preston is a mechanic hoping to start a new life on another planet.  He and 4,999 other passengers and a crew of over 200 are aboard the Avalon in suspended animation hoping to do the same thing.  Their new planet, Homestead II, is over 100 years away from Earth so not only will these passengers be starting a new life, they will be starting it in a new century.

En route, the ship is hit by a meteor and there are some mysterious malfunctions.  One of those malfunctions affects Jim directly.  It wakes him up and, though initially, everything seems cool - he is greeted by an animated flight attendant, shown the amenities of the ship and led to his cabin - he soon realizes that he is the only one awake.  Well, there is Arthur (Michael Sheen), but he is a robot/bartender. 

Jim does everything he can to try to find out how to save himself and put himself back to sleep.  However, once it has sunk in that he is indeed alone and, since the Avalon won't arrive at its destination for another 90 years, he is likely doomed to die of old age aboard the space ship, Jim accepts his fate, upgrades himself to the best suite, plays basketball, has dance contests with holograms and hangs out with Arthur, getting as drunk as he can.   But after a year has passed, all of that gets old, Jim is lonely, suicidal and a bit nuts and basically lets himself go. He starts looking like Tom Hanks in "Cast Away."  

Then he sees Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) sleeping in her pod.  He reads her profile and watches her application video about why she wanted to travel to the new planet.  He reads her books and sits next to her pod, talking to her.  Slowly he starts to fall in love with her.  Now he has a moral dilemma.  Should he wake her up so he has a companion, knowing that he is also dooming her to his fate?

He tries to resist, but, well, you know the answer to that or it wouldn't be a movie starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, now would it?  However, what will happen when she finds out he woke her up on purpose thus giving her a death sentence?

This film was hyped as a space movie with a love story, but if you are expecting that, you will be disappointed.  It's actually a love story that just happens to take place in space.  It's your typical boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-tries-to-get-girl-back story, except it's in a space ship.

But this is still an enjoyable movie, at least the first half is engrossing, and there is also some humor when Jim settles into his solitary routine and finds out just what his ticket entitles him to (let's just say that he is not a "gold star" passenger) and the repartee between him and Aurora is just plain good old rom com. The second half falls down a bit, though, as Jim and Aurora realize they must save the spaceship, when it REALLY starts to malfunction. Much has been made about the ending ruining this film.  I didn't get that.  It was about what I expected.

This is basically a two-hander and the weight of the film falls on Pratt and Lawrence. For most of the film, it's just Pratt and Lawrence as they get to know each other and eventually have sex and fall in love.  Though I like both of these actors, I have to say that I found the chemistry between them a bit tepid despite a scene where they have spontaneous sex on a table.  The sex could have been hotter.  If there is going to be sex in a movie, I want it to be hot! But that's just me...

Sheen does a good job as a robot bartender and adds a bit of humor while constantly polishing glasses and acting as de facto counselor as most good bartenders do.  Larry Fishburne shows up unexpectedly, and except for his adding a tiny bit of plotline, doesn't have much face time or much to do.

Directed by Morten Tyldum with a script by John Spaihts, this felt like a space age "Titanic," but without Celine Dion singing "My Heart Will Go on (you might find that a good thing)! The cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto is outstanding as are the special effects and the set decoration.  It's a beautiful film to look at.

Rosy the Reviewer's not "Titanic," but it's an interesting love story starring two of our most popular actors.


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

Holy Hell (2016)

A documentary about a little known West Hollywood religious cult.

Will Allen, the director and "star" of this documentary, shares his experience as a young man when he was trying to understand his existence and the mystery of the universe.  So what do you do when you are raised Catholic and are questioning life?- why you join a cult, of course!

In 1985, Will was a young film student and he was also gay.  When he came out to his parents, his mother kicked him out of the house.  Will's sister had already joined a cult called "The Buddhafield," a group of people who were looking for "something more" run by the charismatic and mysterious, Michel, who liked to sport Speedos and Ray-Bans, so Will decided to join her.  Michel used your basic Eastern tenets of living in the now and no judgment to guide his followers.  When Will joined, he was made the filmmaker for the group, recording everything for posterity, so he had a birds-eye-view of the goings on.

Everything was going swimmingly - literally, naked pool parties and the like - but in year four, things started to get these things usually do when the leader gets that old taste of power and realizes he can manipulate his followers any way he wants. No sex was allowed among members, they couldn't read books, watch TV or listen to the radio.

Michel came up with something called "The Knowing Session," a way to find enlightenment.  Gee, I wonder what that could be....Oh, maybe something to do with....SEX?!  As time went by, despite some misgivings by some of the members, a sort of mass hysteria ensued as everyone fell into line with the more and more bizarre practices and demands of Michel.  It became one of those things where no one wants to say that the emperor is not wearing any clothes.

By 2001 people started to question (it took them this long?) and wanted to leave, but when they did, they were demonized, another common practice among groups like this.  Michel told those who wanted to leave that if they left, something bad would happen to them.  And then in 2006, it came to light that Michel had been having sex with all of the young men all along, despite the fact he acted like he was asexual and didn't want anyone else having sex.


I couldn't help but yell at the screen, as I am wont to do upon occasion while watching DVDs at home - "WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU PEOPLE???"

I grew up in the 60's and 70's and could have fallen for this kind of thing, though I was such a pragmatist and accused of being judgmental when I actually wanted to do something besides lie in the dark grooving on the latest Led Zeppelin album.  I wasn't very popular with the granola-eating, soul searching types.  Hey, I was in my twenties.  I thought I already knew everything.

As the public became aware of stories like "Heaven's Gate," "cult awareness" brought pressure on Michel and his followers, so he moved the group from L.A. to Austin.  There he decided everyone would build a theatre and learn ballet and put on a show -- a show they worked on for a year and then only performed for each other.

Turns out Michel was once a dancer with the Oakland Ballet.  Did he start out to become a cult leader?  The film doesn't really go there, but I don't think people do.  Did Jim Jones start out to become a cult leader who would eventually urge his followers to kill themselves?  Did David Koresh?  Did Marshall Applewhite?  It's hard to say but in all of those cases, it seems that megalomania set in, and this story is no exception. 

AND THEN...horrors.  Michel hadn't just been a ballet dancer.  Michel had been a PORN ACTOR.  Turns out his real name was Jaime Gomez and he was a wannabe actor who had a bit part in "Rosemary's Baby," until turning to porn.

Then everything really went to hell...holy hell!  The group fell apart and Michel disappeared, but Will eventually tracked him down in Hawaii where he had started ANOTHER CULT, now calling himself Ryji which means God King.  Will is able to confront Michel, who appears to be unrepentant.

During the course of the film, ex-members share why they were drawn in and at the end of the film, there is a montage of those who stayed, those who left and what happened to them.

This is about as close as we will ever get to watching a cult grow and how it all happens.  These were smart, good-looking young people whose search for "something more" led them to a charlatan.  A cautionary tale to be sure.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you ever shake your head and wonder, how could someone join a cult?  Watch this film.

Don't Breathe (2016)

If you are a petty crook looking for a quick buck and think that breaking into the house of an old blind guy (Stephen Lang) and robbing him is a good idea...DON'T!

Some young people - Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) - think they can break into an old guy's house and rob him.  They want to do one last gig and then get the hell out of the wasteland that is Detroit.  Rocky wants to do it to get money to move to California and Alex loves Rocky.  Money just seems to want to do bad things. They know the old guy is an ex-army vet (that should be a clue right there - "Don't go in there, girl!), and he has gotten a settlement for his disability so they are certain he must have money in the house. 

The old guy may live in inner city Detroit but he lives in a neighborhood where no one else is around.  You know that old saying, "If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?"  Well the saying for this film might be, "If an old blind guy lives in a house with no one else around, and you break into his house, will anyone hear you scream?"  He may be blind, but once he knows they are in his house and what they are up to, he goes on a rampage and the rest of the film is about those three kids trying to get OUT of the house, with a scary twist.  Don't all horror films have a twist?  How do you hide from a blind man?  You don't breathe!

Directed by Fede Alvarez, this is very much a "B" horror film starring unknown actors. The characters are not particularly fleshed out so it's questionable about whether you care what happens to them, but maybe that's the point.  Who are the bad guys here?  But it was a surprise box office hit and certainly will get your blood going and take your breath away!

Rosy the Reviewer says...moral of the story? Never underestimate us old folks!

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

215 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Gertrud (1964)

Gertrud (Nina Pens Rode) is a bored Danish housewife who decides to ease her boredom with a lover.

Gertrud, once a promising opera singer gave up her career and is now a bored housewife married to Gustav (Bendt Rothe), a boring lawyer.

The film begins with Gertrud and her husband, Gustav, talking in their drawing room.  The subject of one of Gertrud's old lovers comes up and Gertrud dramatically says, "I'm thinking of all the poor human beings who allow themselves to love..."  She says this looking off just barely into the camera.  In fact Gertrud has this habit of doing that, making some proclamation about love while looking longingly off into space.  In fact all of the characters do it.  They all talk about passion and love and betrayal but never once speak passionately or even look at each other. 

When her husband tries to kiss her, Gertrud pulls away and Gustav says..."I seek your lips and you give me your cheek."  You get the idea. When she complains that her husband works too much and loves his work more than her and says, "I don't want to be an occasional plaything," we know what that means, right?

So after a long drawn out scene, Gertrud eventually tells Gustav that she wants to leave him and that she is in love with another man.  There are actually three men in Gertrud's life: her husband, a young poet and a musician.  They all love her but because none of them is willing to put her before everything else in their lives, she rejects them all and eventually is alone, but still extolling the virtues of having loved.

Adapted from a 1906 play by Swedish playwright Hjalmar Soderberg, this was director Carl Dreyer's last film after a 40 year career in filmmaking, and it is famous as a two hour film that consists of only 90 shots and few set changes.

However, I found it to be very two-dimensional, almost like a cartoon, very staged and passionless for a story about passion.  Even when two people were talking to each other, they both didn't look at each other but instead addressed the camera.  So because of that, it is very difficult to judge the acting because obviously the director wanted it that way.  There is a certain poetry to the dialogue, but I'm sorry to say I was as bored as all of these characters seems to be.

Why it's a Must See:  "At its premiere in Paris, Gertrud was received with uncomprehending hostility by press and public alike.  Since then, it has come to be recognized as the last lapidary statement of one of the most individual of filmmakers -- a film, like its heroine, to be approached on its own terms."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...I agree with the press and the public.  After seeing this, I felt a little hostile.
(b & w, In Danish with English subtitles)

***Book of the Week***

They're Playing Our Song: A Memoir by Carole Bayer Sager (2016)

I am sure you know the songs "Nobody Does it Better," "I'd Rather Leave While I'm in Love" and "That's What Friends Are For," but you might not know who wrote the lyrics for those songs.  Well, it was Carole Bayer Sager, who not only wrote those songs, but hundreds more.  This is her story.

Sager, who I will refer to from time to time as CBS, shares her growing up years where she suffered with crippling, irrational fears about everything from imagined illnesses to flying, and it didn't help that she had an overbearing, overcritical and insensitive mother who passed on her own irrational fears to Carole. She admits in the book that her fears and desire to feel safe lead her to the wrong men.

While still in high school, Carole started writing songs with her girlfriend, Sherry, and they were signed by a publishing company to write songs, but though they worked together for three years, none of their songs were recorded.  However, when Sherry got married and gave up her collaboration with Carole, Carole signed with another company and collaborated with another composer, Toni Wine, which led to Carole's first recorded song, "A Groovy Kind of Love (first recorded by Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders and later by Phil Collins)," and she was off and running.

Though younger, CBS was a contemporary of Carole King who was writing songs in New York with her then husband, Jerry Goffen and their paths crossed briefly early in CBS's career when Carole King was already well-known.  CBS got up the courage to say that they should write a song together to which Carole King politely said, "Sure," but nothing came of it until later in both of their careers, whenthey actually did write some songs together.

As Carole's career progressed, she crossed paths with many famous people and she shares anecdotes.  She was best friends with Elizabeth Taylor (don't call her Liz!), wasn't a personal fan of Dionne Warwick's and has stuff to say about Clint Eastwood, David Foster and others. 

Carole had a three year relationship with Marvin Hamlisch which was more of a song-writing partnership than a romantic one, though marriage was briefly on the table.  However, their relationship will live in musical comedy history because it was the basis for the long-running musical "They're Playing Our Song." She has relatively nice things to say about Hamlisch, but not her husbands, one of whom was Burt Bacharach with whom she also wrote songs. She describes him as a germaphobe and calls him a narcissist. And those are the nice things! She contends that Hamlish didn't have any pop credentials when they met and Bacharach's career, despite his many, many hits in the 60's, was on the wane so she felt they were both attracted to her for her ability to craft pop hits.  Neither relationship lasted (Burt cheated).

She admits to being one of those women who didn't want to be confrontational so she sucked up her feelings, told the men what they wanted to hear, went along with them, all because she feared being alone and wanted to feel safe.  She used her song lyrics to express herself and say what she really felt.

"Alone for the first time, I asked myself why I kept repeating the same dramas with different men I was attracted to in my life.  Men who never really saw me...I kept choosing men I hoped would love me who could only see me as an extension of themselves.  Men who loved me for my talent, but not for myself...I was starting to understand that if I wanted a different result in my life, I couldn't keep walking down the same street and falling into the same hole.  I would have to put more value on myself and begin respecting and loving myself if I ever was going to be deserving of a man who really loved me."

See?  Even celebrities struggle with this stuff.

But happily she found love and a happy marriage later in life, and she finally felt that she was loved for herself and not just her musical talents.

She was not only a writing partner with Hamlisch and Bacharach but also Peter Allen, Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond and many others including Bob Dylan ("Under Your Spell").  She has written the lyrics to some of my favorite pop songs: Diana Ross's "It's My Turn," Patti LaBelle's and Michael McDonald's "On My Own," and the theme from the film "Ice Castles:" "Looking Through the Eyes of Love."

She describes her writing style:

"I prefer being in the same room with the composer.  He or she plays a couple of chords and I start to hear words and one line triggers a melody or a melody line triggers a lyric.  We become one, inspiring each other to write the best song we can, and if something sounds untrue or mundane or tired, we're both there to try for something better together...writing together will alwalys be my favorite way to craft a song."

Rosy the Reviewer says...wannabe songwriters will find this inspiring and those of us who like candid celebrity memoirs will find it juicy.

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 

for my review of


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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