Friday, December 8, 2017

"Wonder" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the movie "Wonder" as well as the DVD "The Dinner" and the documentary "Elaine Stritch - Shoot Me" now streaming on Netflix.  The Book of the Week is my new favorite cookbook - "Dinner: Changing the Game."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with Russ Meyer's cult classic "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!]


Based on the best-selling book, this film tells the story of young Auggie Pullman who was born with facial differences and who, after being home-schooled for the last five years, begins fifth grade at a mainstream school for the first time.

Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) is a young boy living in Manhattan with his parents, Isabel (Julia Roberts) and Nate (Owen Wilson), his sister, Via (Isabela Vidovic) and his dog.  He has been homeschooled by his mother for the last five years because he was born with Treacher Collins Syndrome, a facial disfigurement that has caused him to have many surgeries over the years which created their own facial differences. When going out, Auggie wears an astronaut's helmet so he doesn't have to endure stares from both kids and adults.  Fearing that he would be bullied at a public school, his parents had decided to home school Auggie, and Isabel had given up her career to teach Auggie, but now, as the film begins, they have decided it's time for Auggie to attend a regular school.

When Auggie arrives at school, the principal, Mr. Tushman, played by a warm and believable Mandy Patinkin, arranges for Auggie to have a tour of the school by Julian (Bryce Gheisar), Jack Will (Noah Jupe) and Charlotte (Elle McKinnon), and despite Julian's rather rude questions to Auggie, the tour goes well, but as these things go, later Julian becomes Auggie's biggest antagonist. Actually, that's a nice way of putting it.  Julian is actually a bully and he and his bully friends make Auggie's introduction to a real school a real nightmare.

Auggie has facial differences but other than that he is a regular kid who loves "Star Wars," video games and science, so despite the bullying that he endures, he makes friends with Jack Will and a little girl named Summer (Millie Davis) and, with courage, a sense of humor and a sweet personality, he eventually overcomes what is thrown at him and comes to terms with school.

Meanwhile, Auggie's sister, Via, has issues of her own.  She loves Auggie, but it's not easy having a brother who gets all of the attention.  She's a good kid but we are reminded that everyone has their own issues, some of which may not be apparent from the outside.  When Via returns to school after summer break, her best friend, Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell), ignores her, preferring to hang with a cooler crowd, and since Auggie and his issues seem to take up all of the oxygen, Via doesn't share her problems with her parents.

The film takes a tangent from time to time to show the viewpoint of some of the other characters. We see that everyone, even those without a disability or physical differences, is fighting some kind of battle.  Sound familiar?

Yes, that is the main message here.

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

Whenever the subject matter of a movie involves a disabled child, or in this case, a child with a facial disfigurement, it's very easy to fall into sentimental clichés meant to manipulate the heartstrings so I have good news and bad news. 

Which do you want first?

I actually liked this movie so let's get the bad news out of the way first.

  • I could have done without the whole side plot about Miranda and the reason why she stopped being friends with Via.  Totally far-fetched.

  • Owen Wilson's nose.  It's not really his fault but there was an SNL sketch once about how Owen Wilson's nose looks like a penis, and at a certain angle, it totally does, so now whenever I look at him I can't stop thinking about that.  So even though he does a credible job as Auggie's father, I couldn't take my eyes off of his nose.  But he also didn't really have that much to do in the film, either, except throw out the occasional bon mot or some incredibly wise advice for Auggie.

  • The story was told from a couple of different viewpoints - Via's, Miranda's, Jack Will's - but the film was not consistent in using that device and because of that, the device was jarring and distracting. If the writers were going to use that as a way to show that everyone is fighting some kind of battle, then I would have liked to have seen it carried out throughout the film with other characters such as Isabel and Nate. 

  • It all wrapped up just a bit too neatly. I'm not a huge fan of stories where everything turns out perfectly and the bullies change into good people, not because that's not a good message, but just because I don't believe it really happens in real life.  Bullies tend to stay bullies.

OK, that bit's over.  Let's get to the good news.

  • This is a good film that actually did manage to avoid the sappy sentimentality and emotional manipulation that usually accompanies movies about children with differences.

  • Julia Roberts.  That's all I need to say.

  • Though Tremblay and Roberts were fantastic and the rest of the cast were also excellent, that was kind of expected when you examine the pedigrees of most of these actors.  But the wonder here was young Isabela Vidovic, not just because she was a poignant and luminous presence, but because the story actually ventured to the issue of how siblings might view a brother or sister who gets all of the attention because of a disability. Yes, they feel love and compassion for their brother or sister, but there is also the accompanying hurt and neglect they feel when the sibling seemingly gets all of the love and attention which then leads to guilt for feeling that way.  The film did a very good job of showing that side and Vidovic was one of the reasons it worked so well.

  • The message:  Choose kindness.  You can't argue with that.

Directed by Steven Chbosky with an adapted screenplay by Chbosky, Steven Conrad and Jack Thorne based on the book by R.J. Palacio, this is a good movie - not a great one - but a heartwarming family film with a good message, though it's a sad commentary that we humans need to be reminded to be kind.

Rosy the Reviewer says...should be part of school curriculum.  Oh, it already is.  Good.

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

On DVD and Streaming

The Dinner (2017)

Two sets of parents get together to discuss a crime their sons have committed.

Paul (Steve Coogan) and Stan (Richard Gere) Lohman are brothers and their sons have gotten into trouble. Not just a tiny bit of trouble, either.  Some big bit of trouble that was all caught on video camera so Paul and Stan and their wives, Claire (Laura Linney) and Katelyn (Rebecca Hall), meet to try to figure out what to do about it before what the boys did is discovered.

They meet in a fancy exclusive restaurant that is difficult to get into.  Stan, a Congressman is running for Governor and is the more successful brother.  Because of that, he was able to get them into this exclusive restaurant and makes sure everyone knows it. That establishes the brothers' relationship early on. Stan is the more successful brother and Paul is very resentful of that.  But ironically Paul is happier in his marriage to Claire.  Stan is more interested in his career than his wife.  Paul is a teacher in a public school and he has always felt less than around Stan, but he also thinks that Stan is elitist and self-serving. Paul is a troubled man on the verge of mental illness. None of that is a good menu for a nice meal.  In fact, it all devolves into a dinner from hell.

Speaking of which, like a nice, or should I say, extravagant, meal, the film is divided into courses: Aperitif, Appetizer, Main Course, Cheese Course, Dessert and Digestif (like I said, this is a fancy restaurant), and through a series of flashbacks, we see how the relationships among the four have unfolded over the years; we see the crime that their sons have committed; and the simmering resentments that have piled up which keeps them all from taking responsibility for their sons or their own lives.

How far out of the range of morality will people go to protect their loved ones?

Richard Gere has always been a good actor.  I remember his first big role in "Looking for Mr. Goodbar."  OK, he wasn't just a good actor, he was also a hottie but now he has matured into one of our venerable actors.  That's what you get called when you can't play romantic leads anymore though he is aging nicely and certainly still could.  Men seem to get away with the romantic lead roles long after we women have aged out of them. But I don't think Gere wants to go that route anymore, and he is playing it right.  He is choosing age appropriate roles he can sink his teeth into and this film is a good example.

But Coogan, who in the past has been more identified with comedies, is the real star here as the jealous, sarcastic and dark brother who through the course of the film has a breakdown.

However, despite an interesting premise (which very much reminded me of the play "God of Carnage" and its subsequent movie version "Carnage"), excellent performances by seasoned actors and a good first half, the film, written and directed by Oren Moverman (based on the novel by Herman Koch), this is yet another American remake of a film that has already had Dutch and Italian versions, and sadly, it falls apart by the time the cheese course arrives. The film just goes on too long, and I wanted that dinner to end.

Rosy the Reviewer says...many revelations unfold throughout the course of the meal but unfortunately, by the time they got to the cheese course, I didn't care anymore.

Streaming on Netflix

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (2013)

A documentary on the life and times of Elaine Stritch, a true Broadway Baby.

Elaine Stritch is one of those actresses that you recognize but probably don't know her name.  But she was a Broadway icon, a New York City institution, who died in 2014 at the age of 89.

This film captures the last year of her life and is pure cinema verite with the camera following her around as she prepares for her upcoming one woman show and continues to work on the TV show "30 Rock."  The film is also interspersed with her TV, Broadway and movie performances over the years.

Stritch was one of those tough cookies who not only didn't mind being called a broad but actually called herself that.  She never made the transition from Broadway to the movies in a big way, though she did star in some films playing the wise-cracking friend, and she had a successful TV career culminating in her role on "30 Rock."

She of the smoky voice was a belter. She was also known as a scene stealer and her signature performance was Stephen Sondheim's "The Ladies who Lunch" in "Company" for which she was nominated for a Tony.

She also often forgot lyrics, especially when singing Sondheim, because as we all know, his songs were wonderful but wordy, but, in true "The show must go on fashion, she would carry on. 

Sondheim famously sent her a telegram that said: 

"I won't be there so feel free to make up your own lyrics!"

Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Hal Prince and others comment on Stritch's show- biz influence and it was substantial.

Stritch was a recovering alcoholic, sober for 25 years but once she hit her 80's felt it was OK to have one drink a day.  She was married once but her husband died of brain cancer and she never found love again.

The last year of her life, she wanted out of New York City after having lived there almost 70 years to which her nephew humorously observed, "You can't say you didn't give it a chance."

Born in Detroit, she maintained a home in the Detroit suburbs and that's where she died on July 17, 2014.  A year before she died she felt her time had come and she said, "It's gettin' there.  I hope I can at least be amusing about it."

I have always been a huge admirer of Stritch.  In fact, I love her!  And this documentary captures her perfectly.  She was at that age where you don't give a damn anymore and say what you think.  I'm almost at that point myself.

Sondheim's song "I'm Still Here" was also a signature song of Stritch's and pretty much sums up this remarkable woman's life.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you love New York, if you love Broadway, this is not to be missed. An amazing journey with an amazing broad. 

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

163 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1963)

Three busty go-go dancers kill a guy, take his Gidget-like girlfriend hostage and plan to rob an old man and his mentally challenged son who live on an isolated ranch in the desert.  However, turns out these three don't know what they are getting themselves into.

And that's about it.

Except the getting there defies description.

Director Russ Meyer was known for his campy sexploitation films that featured big-breasted women and dialogue with lots of sexual double entendres.  He was also a fixture on late night TV in the 60's and 70's with his thin mustache and conversation rife with sexual innuendo.

Varla (Tura Satana), Rosie (Haji) and Billie (Lori Williams) are go-go girls who have to endure the leers and jeers of their male audience yelling at them to go faster and faster as they gyrate.  That would make any girl mean and these girls are mean.  Varla is the leader and is adept at karate. She is so adept at karate that she can break bones with her bare hands and they does. The girls also like to race their cars in the desert. 

As they are racing around the desert in their souped-up sports cars, and for some reason, laughing maniacally as they do that, an unsuspecting couple come upon the ladies and the guy makes Varla mad.  Must have been those black socks he was wearing with his white sneakers and Bermuda shorts.  Not a good look and not a good idea to make Varla mad.  She breaks his back with her bare hands and the three take his girlfriend, Linda (Susan Bernard), hostage. 

When they all stop for gas, the attendant makes small talk about seeing America while ogling Varla's breasts, and she replies, "You won't find it down there, Columbus!"  He tells them about a nearby ranch where an old disabled man and his musclebound and dimwitted son live, and when the women discover that the old man has some money, they decide to rob him.  Unfortunately the old man is as evil as these girls and it all goes badly for everyone involved.

None of the stars are anyone you have ever heard of.  Tura Satana and Haji were both exotic dancers before starring in this film - geez, that's a stretch.  Tura's idea of acting was to yell every line and I guess Haji's was to have an Italian accent, and not a very good one.

Meyer's films are cult classics mainly because he was one of the first to give soft porn films actual plots.  His films were also notable for snappy dialogue (see Varla's comment to the gas station attendant above), having a sense of humor, creative editing and big boobs.  Lots and lots of big boobs. 

Why it's a Must See: "The film enjoys it's place at the top of many cult lists in part because of its several inherent delights - creative and flashy editing, smart black-and-white cinematography, a jazzy score, and plenty of innuendo - and in part because it is a fascinating barometer of the shifts occurring during the 1960's, especially with respect to cinema itself."
--"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

John Waters has called this film the best movie ever made.  But then John Waters is John Waters.  Let's just say that this was the kind of movie that was fun to see at the drive-in back in the 1960's.  The women also have a feminist bent if you equate tough women beating up men with feminism, but it's really not anything you can take seriously. These characters are like something out of a pop art comic book.

Rosy the Reviewer says...all I can say is that this movie left me speechless, but barring a drive-in to go to, it might be fun to get some friends together and be speechless together.

***Book of the Week***

Dinner: Changing the Game by Melissa Clark (2017)

We go from the dinner from hell (see review above) to some heavenly dinner ideas. My new favorite cookbook!

"[This book is] designed to help you figure out what to make for dinner without falling back on what you've eaten before.  It's about giving you options, lots of options.  Are you a vegetarian or just a vegetable lover? I've got you covered.  A die-hard meat lover?  A fish enthusiast?  A pasta aficionado?  A culinary explorer ready to take on a challenge?  Or the kind of cook who wants to revel in the comforting and familiar, but with a twist...In these pages, it's all here for you."

And boy is it.  And I am a bit of all of those people that Clark describes.

Clark is a staff writer for the New York Times where she writes a column called "A Good Appetite."  She has put together some exciting and delicious recipes that will bring you back to this cookbook again and again.  Just randomly opening the book to a page led me to a recipe I wanted to try.  I'm going to try that again right now.

Mmm, "Japanese Omelet" highlighted by brown sugar, soy sauce and mirin served with rice and edamame. See? I'm going to make this for dinner tonight!

Beautifully illustrated, there are whole chapters devoted to chicken, meat (including a whole chapter on ground meat), tofu, fish and seafood, eggs, pasta and noodles, beans and legumes, rice and grains, pizzas and pies, salads and, dips and spreads, everything from Thai Lettuce Wraps to Seitan Enchiladas to Chilled Cucumber and Corn Soup.  No need to always have the same boring protein, a starch and a vegetable for dinner anymore.

Clark really has changed the game when it comes to dinner.

Rosy the Reviewer says... I haven't found a cookbook like this in ages, one where I want to try every recipe from cover to cover.

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 

for my review of  

"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri"  


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

 and the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before 

 I Die Project."


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Check your local library for DVDs and books mentioned.

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

Friday, December 1, 2017

"Lady Bird" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Lady Bird" as well as DVDs "Maudie" and "Seraphine." The Book of the Week is "Seduced by Mrs. Robinson: How THE GRADUATE Became the Touchstone of a Generation."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Shanghai Express."]

Lady Bird

A year in the life of a 17-year-old girl growing up in Sacramento in 2002.

Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is a senior at a Catholic girls school in Sacramento, California.  It's 2002 and she is your typical seventeen-year-old girl in that she's not typical at all.  She has changed her name to Lady Bird and insists that everyone call her that including her family. Like I said.  She's 17.  Christine's Lady Bird persona is a symbol for just what it means to be a 17- going-on-18-year-old girl - changing personas, trying out new identities as she grapples with the onset of adulthood. One foot still in childhood and one foot ready to head out the door.

It's a year in the life of Lady Bird.

Lady Bird is in her final year of high school and like many people her age, she yearns to get the hell out of Dodge, er, Sacramento.  She calls Sacramento "The Midwest of California." She wants to go to a prestige college in New York City, but her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), a nurse, says, no way, they can't afford it, because Lady Bird's Dad, Larry (Tracy Letts) has just been laid off and finances are a problem, not to mention that Lady Bird's grades are not exactly stellar. But Larry is more sympathetic and helps her with financial aid applications, neither of them telling Marion. 

Lady Bird goes through the usual teenage angst: she finds a boyfriend (or two), loses her virginity, dumps her loyal chubby best friend, Julie (Beanie Feldstein) for a member of the cool crowd, and fights with her mother one minute and loves and needs her the next. Every day in Lady Bird's life is impulsive and intense. 

But what could have been just another run-of-the-mill coming of age story is a fresh, original one, full of life and affection thanks to Greta Gerwig's wonderful screenplay and deft directing.

Heretofore Gerwig has been known as an actress playing quirky young women - writer/director Noah Baumbach's muse in several of his hipster millennial character studies.  I have been a huge fan of hers and kept wondering when she would break out.  Well, she has, but in an entirely new and different capacity - writer/director. 

This film is just wonderful. 

It's so real that anyone from any generation over the last 50 years can relate.  I graduated from high school almost 40 years before this film takes place and yet Lady Bird could have been me.  Her mother could have been mine.  Come to think of it, raising my kids, I could have been Lady Bird's mother.  Gerwig has created characters and an adolescence we have all known and/or can relate to.

I am also guessing that this is Gerwig's real life story and a love letter to her family and Sacramento since, like Lady Bird, Gerwig grew up in Sacramento with a mother in the medical field and a father who was a computer programmer.  She went to an all-girls Catholic high school and attended Barnard College in New York City.  And like Lady Bird, Gerwig has described herself as an "intense child."  So duh.

They say the mother/daughter relationship is one of the most complicated and Gerwig has captured that essence in Lady Bird's relationship with her mother, and Laurie Metcalf, who has mostly toiled on TV since "Roseanne," is amazing. Her Marion loves her daughter and wants her to be the best she can be, but,  unfortunately like so many mothers, it is easier for her to criticize than to praise in order to get her daughter there.  She just can't bring herself to really show her daughter how much she loves her and how much she cares.  Just a stunning performance that could earn Metcalf a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. 

And speaking of Academy Awards, expect one for Gerwig for Best Original Screenplay.  Though she collaborated with Noah Baumbach on the screenplays for "Frances Ha" and "Mistress America," this is her first solo effort. There are so many layers at work in the story that there is something for everyone to grab onto and nod, "Yes."  The story is so real and compelling, I didn't want the movie to end. 

Saoirse Ronan, whose name is pronounced "Sur-Sha" (you are welcome), who first stunned as a very young girl in "Atonement" and then wowed everyone in  "Brooklyn (she garnered both Academy Award and Golden Globe Best Actress nominations)," is also spot-on in the many moods that are Lady Bird and could also get another Best Actress nod. 

But all of the ensemble cast are wonderful.  Tracy Letts, whom I admired in "The Lovers," is outstanding as Lady Bird's warm and understanding father, as is Lois Smith as a very cool and understanding nun breaking the stereotype of strict nuns in Catholic girls' schools.  But all of the actors bring realism and life to this story that is fresh, original and unexpected.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a not to be missed movie experience.  One of the best films of the year!  Oh, and I cried.

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


Maudie (2016)

Biopic of beloved Canadian folk artist, Maud Lewis.

Born in 1903 in Nova Scotia, Canada, Maude (Sally Hawkins) suffered from crippling juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and growing up was mocked by the local children and shunned by the community because she had a child out of wedlock, though that storyline is only briefly played out.  When both parents died, Maud's brother inherited everything, as was the way things were then, and he foisted Maud off on their aunt who wasn't much nicer to her.  She had a hard life but a happy spirit and occupied herself painting little cards and smoking. Lots and lots of smoking.

When Maud was 34 and she had enough of being treated like a child by her aunt, she met Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke), a fish peddler and 40-year-old bachelor-hermit, when she appeared on the doorstep of his one room shack answering an ad for a live in housekeeper.  It was a rough start, not just because Everett's house had no electricity or heat, but also because Everett was socially inept and wasn't very nice to Maud but she hung in there and her pure sweet heart eventually won him over. 

The two married over mutual need, not romance, but you know how these things work.  Though he lorded over her and he treated her like he didn't really care -  "You're harder to look after than a dog," to which Maudie replies, "I'm better than a dog" -  she grew on him and eventually knew how to get him to do what she wanted, and when her little paintings started getting noticed, his ears perked up.  Money was always on Everett's mind and there was nothing like a little extra money. 

Maudie and Everett were two lost souls who found each other in the early twentieth century wilds of rural Nova Scotia and somehow made that combination work.

"We're like a pair of odd socks," Maudie says to Everett.

Maudie's art is discovered and she and Everett sell her little paintings from their home and from the local grocery store.  Maudie also decorates the house with her painting and paints on everything she can from the walls to the stairs to the windows.

Naturally as Maudie's fame grows, her errant brother returns to try to benefit from Maude's fame but she will have none of it.  And it doesn't matter because Maudie's paintings never sold for more than a few dollars in her lifetime, but today she is considered one of Canada's finest folk artists and an originator of the Naïve Art Movement.

Maud's smoking eventually claims her and the film ends with an epilogue showing the real Maud and Everett Lewis.

Though Maud Lewis led a harsh narrow life, her story is one of courage and determination despite her crippling arthritis and crude living conditions.  Her artistic spirit lifted her up.

She looks out a window and says,

"The whole of life already framed...right there..."

Sally Hawkins is a wonderful actress and though Hawke is very good here and plays against type, this film is all about Hawkins.  She literally transforms her body into the crippled Maud, and as Maud ages, Hawkins believably continues to transform as Maudie's arthritis hunches her over and cripples her hands.

Written by Sherry White and directed by Aisling Walsh, this is a slow-moving character study that is not for everyone, but if you appreciate brilliant acting and hang in there, you will be rewarded with performances that don't get much better than Hawkins and Hawke in this charming, heartwarming story that will bring you to tears.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a very affecting and inspiring film that brings Maud Lewis's story to life because of two wonderful performances.

Seraphine (2008)

Another biopic about an unlikely artist - Seraphine de Senlis.

Born Seraphine Louis, Seraphine (Yolande Moreau) was an artistic savant who painted in the naïve style. Self-taught, she was inspired by her religious faith and by stained-glass church windows and other religious art with a little madness thrown in.


Like Maud Lewis (see review above), Seraphine was an uneducated woman who made her living as a house cleaner.  Her life was hardscrabble, but she found joy in religion, nature and her painting. She felt she was being called to paint by her guardian angel. 

By day she would clean and iron for her employers and at night she would paint by candlelight using animal blood from the butcher, clay from the fields and other "secret" ingredients to make her paint. German art critic, Wilhel Uhde (Ulrich Turkur) discovers Seraphine's talents and takes her under his wing. Uhde had discovered Rousseau and was determined to turn her into a painting sensation. 

The film is slow to get started and for Seraphine's talents to be recognized but once Uhde finds a painting by Seraphine, he is mesmerized despite the fact that her landlady thinks her paintings are silly.  He asks Seraphine if there are more and she reluctantly shows him her work.  Uhde becomes obsessed with Seraphine but she is not happy to be discovered.  However, she has a crush on Uhde who eventually tells her that he will never marry a woman, which is why he came to France. Then WW I comes along, Uhde goes back to Germany leaving Seraphine behind.  

Fast forward to 1927 Chantilly.  Uhde is back in France and believes that Seraphine is dead but when he attends a local art show he sees a painting that is most certainly by Seraphine.  He seeks her out and once again wants to promote Seraphine's art.  He becomes her patron and tells her that he will support her so that all she needs to do is paint, but this sudden change in circumstance doesn't sit well and she starts hearing voices and acting strangely. When the Depression hits and Uhde can no longer support Seraphine, she is disappointed, succumbs to madness and ends up in a mental hospital.  Perhaps there is a fine line between artistic genius and madness. She and her art became famous after her death.

Moreau, a Belgian actress who is the only Belgian actress to ever win a Cesar Award for Best Actress, has that je ne sais quoi, pardon my French.  You can't take your eyes off of her.

Written by Marc Abdelnour and Martin Provost and directed by Provost, the film was widely acclaimed and won six Cesar Awards (the French equivalent of our Academy Awards), including Best Film and Best actress.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a remarkably beautiful film marked by a remarkably beautiful performance by Moreau.
(In French with English subtitles)

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

164 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Shanghai Express (1932)

In the midst of a civil war in China in 1931, the notorious Shanghai Lily meets an ex-lover while on a train to Shanghai.

Captain Donald "Doc" Harvey (Clive Brook) is on his way to Shanghai when his friends tell him they are all sharing the train with the notorious Shanghai Lily, a "coaster."  The name means nothing to Doc who also doesn't know what a "coaster" is.  He is informed that a "coaster" is a woman who lives by her wits along the China Coast.  Well, we all know what "living by her wits" in a 1930's movie is a euphemism for, right?  Anyway, everyone has heard of Shanghai Lily, but no one knows what she looks like.  Since Hui Fei (Anna May Wong), a glamorous Chinese woman, is traveling on the train, one might think that she will turn out to be Shanghai Lily but no... 

When Doc finally meets Shanghai Lily, he realizes it is not a Chinese woman, but his old love from five years ago, a woman he has never forgotten (Marlene Dietrich). 

The film stars a very young and glamorously veiled Marlene Dietrich as a loose woman - how do we know she is a loose woman?  Well, first of all she smokes. And second, she wears her hat with a veil at night.  We all know that if you are a respectable woman, you only wear a hat with a veil during the day.  Only ladies of the night wear veils at night!  That's good to know, but I just want to know why we wore hat veils at all!

Anyway, the train is full of disparate characters all cloistered on the train. Everyone is kind of dodgy and suspicious. I felt like I was watching "Murder on the Orient Express" again!

The train is stopped by some Chinese soldiers and everyone is ordered off the train. They are looking for spies and eventually pull someone off.  Later, Mr. Chang (Warner Oland), who at first seemed like a charming businessman actually turns out to be the Commander in Chief of the Revolutionary Army and now he and his cohorts overrun the train.  He is not happy that one of his guys was arrested, so Chang takes Doc hostage in hopes of getting his man back.  In the meantime, he has nefarious plans for Doc, so Lily employs that age old plot device of a woman sacrificing her honor to the villain to save her man.  

Mr. Chang is described as a half Chinese, half white person.  However, Oland is not half Chinese and half white in real life but rather a Swedish actor, which isn't too egregious casting since the character is supposed to be half white.  However, Oland went on to fame as the Chinese detective, Charlie Chan, a strange bit of casting, indeed, for a Swedish actor. Sadly, in those days, ethnic characters were rarely played by actors in the appropriate ethnic group but by white actors in make-up, a practice that has fortunately mostly disappeared, though African American, Asian and Native American actors are still under represented in film today. 

The film was directed by Josef von Sternberg who in his heyday was an auteur and was also obsessed with Dietrich.  He made seven films with her and his obsession is apparent in his long lingering close-ups of Dietrich's high cheek-boned face, veiled, wreathed with smoke, adorned by feathers, you name it.  It's all about Dietrich all of the time.

Why it's a Must See:  "...the film belongs to Sternberg and Dietrich, and the strange fetishistic chemistry between them.  Together they created something deliriously unique in cinema; apart they were never quite able to recapture the same magic."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...though dated, this is classic Hollywood entertainment that is stylishly filmed and a good example of why Marlene Dietrich became such a cult icon.

***Book of the Week***

Seduced by Mrs. Robinson: How "The Graduate" Became the Touchstone for a Generation by Beverly Gray (2017) 

Can you believe it's been 50 years since we first saw "The Graduate?"

Well, you younger folks weren't even born yet but for us Baby Boomers, "The Graduate" was a big deal.  And it was a big deal for Dustin Hoffman, a small and unlikely leading man, because this film made him a big star.

Who can forget the word "Plastics" or the line "Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?"

This film appeared on the scene right when us Baby Boomers were wanting to distance ourselves from the world of our parents, when we were discovering sex and worrying about what we were going to do with the rest of our lives and young Benjamin Braddock embodied all of that. We could all relate to young Benjamin as he tried to decide what to do with his life.  But in the meantime, why not have an affair with your girlfriend's mother?  Shocking!

Gray, a Hollywood insider, presents a well-researched book about the making of this film, a film that no one had any idea would become such a classic.

"The Graduate was intended as a small, sexy comedy based on an obscure novel by a first-time author.  Neither its producer nor its director was a member of Hollywood's inner circle.  Its cast was led by a short, big-nosed New York actor who, in the eyes of the era's pundits, looked nothing like a leading man...But when 'The Graduate' hit theaters in late December of 1967, moviegoers instantly took notice...Young people clapped and cheered; their elders flocked to see for themselves what their offspring found so provocative.  Soon intellectuals, religious leaders, and even politicians were weighing in, trying to use 'The Graduate' as a key to understanding those unruly post-World War II children who were now coming of age in large numbers."


Gray uses the film as a social commentary on the coming of age of Baby Boomers, but it's mostly a very detailed behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film. Fans of the film might enjoy all of the details that Gray presents - that Gene Hackman was originally slated to play Mr. Robinson but was fired at the last minute or how they chose the church for the film's finale, but I have to wonder, outside of people who are obsessed with this film, how many people really want to read a scene-by-scene synopsis and analysis of the movie?

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are a super fan of this film you will love the juicy insider details, but if not, this just might be too much.  You might just want to skip the book and watch the movie instead.

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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