Friday, February 8, 2019

"Miss Bala" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "Miss Bala" as well as DVDs "What They Had" and "Suspiria (the new one)." The Book of the Week is "Hollywood's Eve: Eve Babitz and the Secret History of L.A."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with Fellini's "The Nights of Cabiria (Le Notti di Cabiria)"]

Miss Bala

Cautionary tale: What can happen when you are at the wrong place at the wrong time!

Poor Gloria (Gina Rodriguez).  She was at the wrong place at the wrong time.  But not just once.  It happened over and over and over...First she was in a night club that got shot up during an assassination attempt; then she was kidnapped by a corrupt cop; then kidnapped again by the assassins who are also drug dealers and gun runners; then she was kidnapped by the DEA and forced to work for them; then she was in the middle of a gun fight between the bad guys and the DEA; and if that wasn't enough -- she had to win a beauty pageant!

You had to have been there.

Gloria Fuentes is an L.A. makeup artist who hasn't lived in Mexico for quite some time, but when her friend Suzu (Cristina Rodlo), who lives in Tijuana, asks her to come and do her make-up for the Miss Baja California Pageant, Gloria heads to Tijuana.  It's not long before the two find themselves in the midst of an assassination attempt in a nightclub.  Gloria just happens to be in the ladies room when the gunmen gain access to the club through a window there.  The head bad guy, Lino (Ismael Cruz Cordova) grabs her but then tells her to take off.  She does but can't find Suzu.  She dodges bullets and ends up in a cafe calling and calling Suzu until she finally falls asleep.

When Gloria wakes up alone in the cafe, the dust has settled around the nightclub. She sees a police car so head over there and tells the cop that she can identify the gunmen.  He hustles her into his police car to drive her to the station except he doesn't.  He drives her to a hotel where the bad guys are holed up.  You see, everyone in Tijuana, or in this movie at least, are bent, which is hip talk for on the take, crooked, etc. You can't trust anyone. So now Gloria is a hostage of the bad guys and is taken to the home of that head bad guy, Lino, who had originally let her go. And can I say?  He is one hot bad guy.  And the rich head of a big drug/gun running/you name it cartel.

Anyway, she tells him she just wants to find her friend and he says he will help her if she does one little thing for him. You know how that goes.  Drive a car and park it around a corner.  She does that only to discover that the car was full of explosives and she had parked the car in from of a DEA safe house which Lino and his pals then blow up.

But Gloria manages to escape from hot Lino only to be picked up by the DEA who have had their eyes on her and who are not happy about her role in the explosion which killed a bunch of their guys.  Once again, she says she is a victim and just wants to find her friend.  The head DEA guy, Brian Reich (Matt Lauria), says OK, but now you have to help us.  Go back and plant this tracking device in Lino's phone. So now she has to be a mole for the DEA and...wait for it.... she has to also win the Miss Baja California beauty contest.

Exhausted yet?  Well, you can imagine how Gloria must feel.  Geez.

Will Gloria ever escape all of this bad stuff?  What happened to her friend? Will Gloria ever find her?  Will she win the beauty pageant?

Well, you know she will, but not without going through a bunch of other stuff and then turning all Scarface on everyone.  When she picked up the AR-15, I half expected to hear "Say hello to my little friend." I also expected to hear what Miss Bala meant.  At first I thought it was the name of the beauty pageant but then I looked it up. It means "Miss Bullet" in Spanish, so there you go... That sort of sums it all up. The message in this film is don't mess with Gina Rodriguez.  The other message is here comes a sequel!

Gina Rodriguez is not your classically beautiful Hollywood actress which is probably why she has been doing so well lately. She looks like a regular person.  Us regular persons can identify with her so when she goes through all of this impossible stuff we root for her.  And even if we don't believe in beauty pageants, we root for her to win that as well.

Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who also directed the first "Twilight" movie as well as the poignant "Miss You Already," with a screenplay by Gareth Cunnet-Alcocer, this is a remake of Gerardo Neranjo's 2011 film of the same name, and word on the street is that it's been given the Hollywood treatment and lost much of the message of the original.  I didn't see the first one, but this one screams of Lifetime Movie.  I mean how many sticky situations does this poor girl need to get herself out of?  

This is also the second or third film I've seen in as many months where Mexicans are portrayed as gun-toting members of drug cartels not to mention that practically everyone Gloria meets in Mexico is crooked or corrupt. I am not of Mexican descent nor do I live in Mexico, but even I am getting a bit tired and uncomfortable when I see these constant stereotypes on screen - drug-dealing Mexicans and Mexico painted as a hell hole.

So this film isn't going to do much for Mexico-United States relations, but it's a fast-paced, if sometimes unbelievable, ride, and Rodriquez certainly puts her all into it.

Rosy the Reviewer says...but I don't think it's worth rushing out to the theatre to see.  If this one sounds good to you, wait for the DVD.

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


What They Had (2018)

How a parent's dementia affects the whole family.

This is a really wonderful film, but I need to warn you at the outset that this is probably going to be less a film review than the story of my own experience with my mother's dementia.  However, I hope you will read it anyway as this is something so many of us have dealt with or will deal with.  And I do talk about the film.

Bridget (Hilary Swank), who lives in L.A., has arrived in Chicago with her teenage daughter, Emma (Taissa Farmiga).  She has been called there by her brother, Nick (Michael Shannon), because their mother, Ruth (Blythe Danner), is missing.  She has done a runner in the middle of the night. You see, their mother Ruth is suffering from Alzheimer's and their father, Burt (Robert Forster), is in denial.  When Ruth is found, the family has to come to grips and deal with what will happen next.

When Ruth ran off, she had made it as far as the train and was headed back to her old house in Aurora to talk to her mother despite the fact that Ruth's mother has been dead for years.

Personal story, verging on rant, #1: I can't tell you how close this hit to home for me. I have a personal experience very much like this.

My mother had a stroke at the age of 89, a stroke that caused dementia.  I lived thousands of miles away and my older sister also did not live in our hometown where our mother lived alone.  But I think out mother was losing it even before the stroke.  I am sure that people who experience early dementia know something isn't quite right and they become adept at hiding their confusion. They also come in and out of clarity. Since our father had died almost ten years earlier and our mother had lived alone ever since, only phone calls kept us in touch so things were probably deteriorating for our mother even before the stroke. The first time I realized my mother wasn't doing well was when she asked me if I had children.  What a shock that was since she loved my kids.  

Anyway, the decision was made by my older sister to put my mother in a facility.  I am not going to go into detail about how or why that happened but it happened. So I can totally relate to the tension and disruption in the family in this film as they all try to decide what to do about Ruth.  In my mother's case, when she was in the nursing home, she knew enough that she wasn't at home with her family and she, too, was a runner.  So much so that they put a tracking device on her.  But where there is a will there is a way.  The human spirit hangs in there no matter how the mind gets messed up.  Somehow my mother managed to get some money and to talk the doctor into taking off her tracking device and she, like Ruth, headed out.  She boarded a bus and was heading back home to be with her mother until someone ratted her out.

This film is also an uncomfortable reminder for someone my age.  

It brings back bad memories of what happened to my mother and it's not lost on me that Ruth could be me one day. Watching one's mother or father disappear right in front of you makes you challenge your own life.  That's what happens in this film. Bridget must make some decisions about her unhappy marriage; Nick is upset that his girlfriend dumped him because he is avoiding marriage; Emma suffers from depression and wants to drop out of college; and Bert refuses to let go of Ruth until it is all taken out of his hands in a sad twist of fate.

Based on the lives of her own grandparents, writer/director Elizabeth Chomko paints a sympathetic but unsentimental picture of the experience of watching a parent sink into dementia, and it rings true. Dementia is a strange phenomenon where one moment the person we have known is there and then just as quickly, gone.  Ruth seems perfectly OK and then, like my mother asking me if I had children, Ruth asks Burt and her daughter, Bridget, how they know each other. And like my mother riding the bus to find her own mother, so does Ruth. This is a sensitive portrayal of a family coming to grips with their mother's dementia, having to let go of what they had, while at the same time living their present lives and dealing with all of that.  Life has to go on.  Families either come together at times like these or are pulled apart.

Nick believes Ruth needs to be institutionalized. Bridget isn't sure and Burt is emphatic that she stay with him.  And it doesn't help that the doctors and caregivers are all much, much younger and spouting platitudes about how good old folks will feel hanging out with their peers and how much safer they will feel, especially since they can't leave!  The disconnect between the young and the old is apparent.

Who is going to care for Ruth?

Personal story, total rant #2: Here is how I feel about institutionalizing our old folks.  

I totally understand an adult child's fear that something bad will happen to the parent if he or she is living alone and doesn't appear to be able to cope.  I mean, they might burn the house down or fall and lie there for days. So putting our old parents in an institution takes that worry away, right? Well, folks, after seeing what happened to my mother, who did not go into the institution willingly, I think I would rather die in that fire or lie on the floor of my own home than experience some of what my mother did in the last three years of her life: the loss of privacy, the indignity, the loneliness knowing she was no longer with her loved ones.  But that's just  Perhaps there will come a time when I  will no longer want to deal with life anymore and will go willingly.

But this isn't just a story about Ruth and her dementia.  It's also about Bridget and Nick coming to grips with what is happening in their own lives.  There is nothing like seeing your parents waste away while at the same time maintaining a long-standing love affair to make you examine what is going on in your own life.

The acting ensemble is wonderful. Both Hilary Swank and Michael Shannon are the kinds of actors that disappear into their roles, which could account for why they are not bigger stars.  Swank has won an Academy Award and is a bigger name than Shannon, despite the fact that he has been nominated.  I think the problem for him is that he has played a wide range of quirky characters and disappears so completely you don't recognize him the next time you see him.  I mean, he has played every kind of role from a crazed real estate broker in "99 Homes (for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe)" to Elvis in "Elvis and Nixon" to a nutty, sinister FBI guy in "The Shape of Water (with Academy Award nominations in 2009 and 2017)."  I think nutty and sinister are the key words here.  He does nutty and sinister very well. But I think Shannon can probably do just about anything. 

Robert Forster and Blythe Danner round out the ensemble.  Both have had long, successful acting careers but Danner is probably one of our most underrated actresses.  I mean her own daughter, Gwyneth Paltrow, has won an Oscar, and in Danner's over 50 year career, she hasn't.  Where is the justice?

Rosy the Reviewer says...a wonderful little film that will give some comfort to those of us having to deal with our aging parents.

Suspiria (2018)

Turns out a bunch of witches are running a dance studio. I kind of thought that when I was taking dance lessons, but these are REAL witches!

The film begins in 1977 with a mysterious girl (Patricia, played by Chloe Grace Moretz) visiting her shrink, Joseph Klemperer.  She is strange, indeed, but even more strangely tells him that her dance school is run by witches.  Next the film switches to what looks like a farm of Amish people and the mother is dying.  Finally, we are back in Berlin watching Dakota Johnson in a god awful red wig seemingly new in town looking for an address.

Dakota is Susie Bannion, an American girl, who has come to Berlin to audition for a prestigious dance academy.  Even though she has little experience, Susie quickly becomes the protege of Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). What she doesn't know is that she has become part of a dance company run by witches who are always looking for "new blood," and I mean this literally.  They need the blood of young girls to keep their leader, Mother Marcos, alive. 

As for that girl who was seen early in the film visiting her shrink?  We discover that she has mysteriously disappeared from the school. She had left her journals in Klemperer's office and as he reads them he becomes increasingly alarmed and decides to visit the school to investigate.

It takes forever, and I mean F-O-R-E-V-E-R, for Susie to figure out what is going on and it all ends in an over-the-top orgy of blood and sacrifice and Susie's true identity is revealed, all of which will make you say out loud, "What the hell?"  Well, I did anyway.  Good thing I was home alone and not in a crowded theatre, though I have a feeling I wouldn't have been alone in saying that.

Other than over-the-top stories, which this one is, I also have a problem with actors using accents.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.  Here it doesn't because everyone is so inconsistent.  Sometimes the actors speak German (with subtitles); other times they speak with a German accent; and then some others don't.  I get it, already.  We are in Berlin.  Everyone is speaking German. Yes, they might speak in accented English to Susie, who is American, but I don't need to hear accented English when the Germans are speaking to each other.  If actors are going to speak in accented English, I just ask that it be consistent.

But here is something else I didn't like. The dancing is also awful.  I am not a particular fan of the Martha Graham form of modern dance with the strange gyrations, but here it is even worse than usual.  Lots and lots of writhing.  Speaking of which, is there ever going to come a time when Dakota Johnson is not doing some form of sexual writhing?  However, the dancing is used to good effect in a very disturbing scene. When Olga (Elena Fokina), one of the students, accuses the matrons of being witches, she attempts to leave.  She becomes disoriented and finds herself alone in one of the practice rooms and can't get out.  At the same time, Susie is performing a dance for Madame Blanc and all of her movements physically and violently inflict damage on Olga in the other room, as if she is Susie's voodoo doll.  As Susie dances, Olga's body is thrown around the room and contorted with bones breaking and protruding.  Very disturbing. If that was Fokina doing that, bravo!  Or kudos to the stuntwoman - Wow.

Dakota Johnson plays Dakota Johnson which is fine for this role but it is Tilda Swinton who once again amazes.  Let's just say that all of the speaking roles are played by women.  I was flabbergasted to realize that Dr. Klemperer was Swinton!  She also played Madame Markos and that is a sight to see.

Directed by Luca Guadagnino with a screenplay by David Kajganich, this is a remake of the 1977 film written and directed by Dario Argento. I reviewed it last year as part of "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project," it being one of those films we are supposed to see so we can die happy.  

So, how does this remake compare to the original?

First of all, I have to ask "Why?"  Why remake this thing? Wasn't once enough?  I certainly don't think this one will make the "1001 Movies" book.  And for some reason, Suzy has become Susie.  Again, why?  As per my original review, it takes forever for anything to happen, and for a horror film, that's not good, but in this remake it takes even longer. Also, in my original review, I was aware of the upcoming remake and pondered whether it would be as campy and cheesy as that one, and unfortunately, this new one is not, because campy and cheesy would have been a lot more fun than this movie was. And worse?  This one was two and a half hours long. 

But what do the two have in common?  I didn't like either one of them.  

Guadagnino also directed "Call Me By Your Name," one of last year's Oscar nominees for Best Picture.  I didn't like that one either.

Rosy the Reviewer says...even if you like horror, you can skip this one.  No, let's change that - especially if you like horror, you should skip this one.

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

108 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

The Nights of Cabiria (1957)

An eternally optimistic streetwalker tries to find true love only to discover what most of us women already know: men are scum.

Alright, that's a bit harsh.  But if this film is any indication of the true nature of men, I am right on target.

Maria "Cabiria" Ceccarelli (Giuliette Masina) is a sweet little streetwalker, working the streets of Rome.  She is not particularly thrilled to be a prostitute.  In fact she is rather ashamed of it, but she is a proud, optimistic woman who doesn't have a pimp and has managed to save enough money to buy her own place, though, like most of us, she yearns for love and happiness. However, she isn't a very good judge of character when it comes to men.  When we first see her, she is happily cavorting in a field with her new boyfriend, Georgio, who throws her in the river and steals her purse.  She almost drowns but is saved by some young boys who were hanging out by the river.

But Cabiria is your classic plucky hooker with a heart of gold and is an eternal optimist, who just wants to find happiness and a man she can trust, so when she meets Oscar (Francois Perier), an accountant who seems sincere and who wants to marry her, she jumps at the chance, sells her house and plans to run off with him, only to discover all he wanted was the money she got for her house. 

Directed by Federico Fellini, this is one of his more accessible films.  It has a great story, poignancy, and even humor, though we are left hanging as to what will happen to Cabiria.

He has said that of all his characters, Cabiria is the one he was still worried about, an especially poignant statement considering that Cabiria was played by Fellini's wife, Giulietta Masina, a lovely little gamine of a woman who seemed to be channeling Charlie Chaplin at times.

Fellini also said in 1961:

"I think it would be immoral to present a ready-made solution at the end of a movie."

So now we are left to worry about Cabiria too.

I find Italian Neorealism much more accessible in general than it's French counterpart, the French New Wave. I will take Fellini, Rosellini, De Sica and Visconti over Godard and Bresson any day.  But it is Giuiletta Masina who really makes this film work.  You can tell she was Fellini's wife because he focuses entirely on her.  She is indeed a lovely and charming character. So much so that Neil Simon took this story and wrote the book for the musical "Sweet Charity," which was also a popular film starring Shirley MacLaine.

Why it's a Must See: "Giulietta Masina...justifiably won the Best Actress award at Cannes for her portrayal of ...[Cabiria]...[This film] is--like another of Fellini's masterpieces, La Dolce Vita (1960) -- told from the perspective of the underclass, a glimpse at the proverbial other half gilded with optimistic joy but ultimately steeped in sadness."
---"1001 Movie You Must See Before You Die"

This film also won the Oscar in 1958 for Best Foreign Film Oscar.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this is a charming story with a charming, unforgettable heroine. When it comes to Italian Realism vs. French New Wave, for me the Italians win every time.

***The Book of the Week***

Hollywood's Eve: Eve Babitz and the Secret History of L.A. by Lili Anolik (2019)

A biography of writer Eve Babitz and the Hollywood she inhabited.

Eve Babitz is probably not a name you recognize but in the 1960's and 1970's she cut a huge swath in the pop culture world of L.A. 

However, I only know about her because I read her books, "Eve's Hollywood" and "Sex and Rage," fictionalized memoirs of her life in Hollywood. She was my contemporary, outrageous and hilariously funny and her books spoke to me, so I always remembered her but didn't really know that much more about her.  Turns out she was much more than a writer.  She was a Hollywood icon who first came to fame when she was 20 when she posed for a Julian Wasser photo playing chess - naked - with artist Marcel Duchamp, who had then dedicated himself to chess.

She was that kind of gal.  

Unafraid, in your face, funny, sexually active and loving to talk about it. She was also a troublemaker with an aura of danger, a 1960's femme fatale who made no apologies for her behavior and she was exhausting.  All very L.A. in the 60's.  She went on to have affairs with Steve Martin, Jim Morrison, writer Dan Wakefield, and Harrison Ford, to only name a few of her conquests, and she gained entry into the L.A. music and art world when she designed some iconic album covers, most notably the collage album "Buffalo Springfield Again."

The goddaughter of Igor Stravinsky and a graduate of the infamous Hollywood High, she grew up in a home filled with music and literary folks (her father was a cellist). She was a groupie before we knew what those were, a free spirit and a kind of West Coast Dorothy Parker, her opinions and witticisms legendary. She lived life on her own terms. When she started writing, she was discovered by Joan Didion and, after that, Babitz would go on to write seven books  However, she was also one of those exhausting types who never stopped having opinions and loudly proclaiming them as truths, and eventually she burned herself out, literally.  She overdid it with drugs and accidentally set herself on fire in 1997 while driving and lighting a cigar, causing third degree burns over half of her body.  After that she became reclusive and slipped out of sight.

But Anolik discovered her, became a fan and was able to track her down in 2012 to interview her for a "Vanity Fair" article ("All About Eve...and Then Some"), and Babitz was not exactly rediscovered, but discovered, because as Anolik write, Babitz had never been discovered in the first place.  

After Anolik's article, Babitz had a sort of Renaissance. People wanted to know more about her. She filled the "Sex and the City" void. Her books were reissued and articles were written about her and in 2018 at 74 she became the next big thing. Anolik takes pride in her role in that and now Anolik has turned that article and her subsequent friendship with Babitz into this biography, which beautifully captures Babitz's charm and the charm and excitement of L.A. in the 60's and 70's.  

But this is also as much Anolik's memoir of her admiration for and friendship with Babitz as it is a biography.

"Hollywood's Eve" isn't a biography -- at least not in the traditional sense.  It won't attempt to impose narrative structure and logic on life, which is (mostly) incoherent and irrational, lived moment-by-moment and instinctively rather than by grand design and purposefully; or to provide explanation...or reach conclusions...Here's what "Hollywood's Eve" is: a biography in the non-traditional sense; a case history as well as a cultural; a critical appreciation; a sociological study; a psychological commentary; a noir-style mystery; a memoir in disguise; and a philosophical investigation as contrary, speculative, and unresolved as its is above all else: a love story. The lover, me. The love object, Eve Babitz, the louche, the wayward, headlong, hidden genius of Los Angeles."

It's all that and also just a good old-fashioned enjoyable read.

Rosy the Reviewer need to acquaint yourself with Babitz, especially if you are a Baby Boomer.  Read this, then read her books or vice versa.  You will thank me.

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday


"What Men Want"


The Week in Reviews

(What To See and What To Avoid)

as well as

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). 

Go to, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll down below the synopsis and the listings for the director, writer and main stars to where it says "Reviews" and click on "Critics" - If I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.

Friday, February 1, 2019

"The Upside" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "The Upside" as well as DVDs "Bad Times at the El Royale" and "Operation Finale."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "The Man in Grey."]

The Upside

A man with a criminal record is hired to take care of a rich man with quadriplegia -- and yes, it's a comedy.

First of all, I have to say that I had no intention of seeing this movie.  Though I have always been a fan of Kevin Hart's, I was mad at him about "Night School (see last week's review)."  I also was not a big fan of Bryan Cranston.  Not sure why but he just always seemed like kind of a grump. And I also thought - heartwarming story of a guy with a criminal record being redeemed by caring for a disabled man. Fish out of water buddy film, opposites attracting, learning from each other.  Sounded like about a thousand other films.  So like I said, I had not planned to see this. but my Movie Pass finally kicked in with this one and I thought, OK, I want to get my money's worth out of Movie Pass.

Now let me stop for a moment and rant about Movie Pass.

For those of you who signed up, you will know what I mean immediately.  Movie Pass has turned into a real pain.  When it first started, for $9.95 a month you could see a movie every single day.  Sounded too good to be true?  Well, it was.  So when they figured out they were losing money, Movie Pass changed to your not being able to see the same movie twice.  Oh, OK.  That's fine because I rarely do that, but I guess the Marvel Superhero people do so they ruined it for people like me because they go not twice but many, many times.  So then Movie Pass had another think. Let's try this. Now you can only go three times a week...and then on and on until now I check into Movie Pass and discover only one movie that is available to see, or worse get the message for my local theatres that says "There are no more screenings at this theater today."  AND IT'S 8 AM!  So when I saw that I could use my Movie Pass to see "The Upside," I jumped at the chance, even though, like I said, I didn't really expect to like it. But I wanted to get my money's worth out of Movie Pass.

And that's how I found myself there in the theatre watching "The Upside"....

and loving every minute of it.

Philip Lacasse (Cranston) is a famous and very rich man who made his money writing about investing (based on the real-life man whose story this is - Philippe Pozzo de Borgo).  Unfortunately, for him, Lacasse was also a risk taker who thought he was immortal, as some rich men do, and took a hang-gliding adventure during a storm which didn't end well for him.  He is now a quadriplegic who needs constant care and unhappily for him he has not been happy with his caregivers and needs a new one.

Dell Scott (Hart) is recently out of prison and his parole office is hassling him about getting a job. But he's not in a hurry to get one but needs to at least show he is looking.  So when a job for what he thinks is a janitorial position comes up in a hoity-toity high rise in a hoity-toity part of town, he goes to the interview with no intention of taking the job, but rather getting a signature that would prove he interviewed so as to pacify his parole office.

So that is how Dell and Lacasse meet.

At the job interview, Lacasse has about had it with the politically correct responses of the applicants when Dell shows up and gives him very non-PC responses which Lacasse finds refreshing so he hires him immediately much to the distress of his assistant Yvonne (Nicole Kidman) who tells Dell "three strikes and you are out," and don't think she doesn't keep count!  She wants Dell gone.  Dell and Lacasse have a rocky start but forge a friendship where Dell teaches Lacasse the joy of fast cars and Aretha Franklin and Lacasse introduces Dell to opera and the finer things in life.

Now you would think that this smacks of sentimentality but that's why this film is so good.  It is not sentimental in the slightest.  There is no tenderness in Dell's care taking.  He stuffs food down Lacasse's throat, lets him fall over in his chair and makes no bones about how horrifying it is to him to change Lacasse's catheter. or, horrors, say the word "penis."  All great fodder for Hart.

Based on a true story and directed by Neil Burger with a screenplay by John Hartmere (based on the highly successful French film "Les Intouchables"),  Hart and Cranston are an enjoyable odd couple.

I was really mad at Kevin after seeing "Night School," but he has redeemed himself with this.  In this film he is still very funny (the catheter scene is good old Kevin), but he also gets to show his dramatic side.  And I warmed up to Cranston too. It's not easy playing a part when you are supposed to be paralyzed from the neck down and only have your facial expressions at your disposal as an actor, so I have renewed respect for him.  And then there is Nicole.  She seems to be everywhere these days and I like that because her presence in a film means it's going to be a good one. Let's just say she "classes up the joint." Whether the role is large or small, she brings a warmth and depth to everything she plays.

Rosy the Reviewer says...thank you, Movie Pass, for being so flaky or I never would have seen this wonderful film.

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


Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

A cast of misfits meet at the El Royale hotel in Lake Tahoe (think Cal Neva), each with secrets, that when revealed, cause havoc.

I had a lot of preconceptions this week because this movie was another one I thought would be bad, but once again I was wrong.

This film seems to be channeling a bit of Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" and the Coen Brothers' version of Stephen King's "Barton Fink."  It takes place in The El Royale, a hotel fashioned after the Cal Neva Lodge on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, so much so, that I thought it was actually filmed there, but it wasn't.  As here, the Cal Neva hotel was situated on the California/Nevada border and the border literally ran right through it.  You could be in California and jump across a line right in the hotel and be in Nevada which meant, what?  Right!  You could gamble! The hotel was also notorious for having all kinds of tunnels running underneath that supposedly Frank Sinatra used to smuggle women into the hotel. Old hotels are fertile ground for creepy stories and this hotel is no exception.

The film begins with a guy entering a room at the seedy El Royale, which actually looks more like a motel than a hotel, digging a hole in the floor, and burying a bag.  Before we know it, he is killed.

Now fast forward ten years to 1969. The hotel is still seedy but now we have  strangers, all with secrets, arrive at the hotel.

Enter vacuum salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm), a priest, Daniel Flynn, (Jeff Bridges), singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo) and not-sure-what-she-does, Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson), but she has a great name, all overseen by the hotel's one employee, Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman, Bill's son), who turns out to be a heroin addict.  But no one is as they seem. 

Turns out Sullivan is Dwight Broadbeck, an FBI agent sent by J. Edgar Hoover to retrieve illegal surveillance equipment that is supposedly in the rooms to film and blackmail guests; Emily has kidnapped her sister, Rose (Cailee Spaeny), from a murderous cult led by the handsome but nutty Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth); and Flynn is really a criminal named Donald O'Kelly who has come to retrieve that mysterious bag that was buried in one of the rooms ten years earlier.  It is full of money from a robbery of an armored car that O'Kelly's brother, Felix, buried and who was murdered in a double cross.  Sadly O'Kelly can't remember which room his brother buried the money in, mostly because he is also dealing with some dementia. As for Sweet, she doesn't have any real secrets.  She just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time...or as the film plays out, maybe the right place at the right time.

Sullivan finds a secret tunnel and discovers two-way mirrors installed in the rooms that enable anyone in the tunnel to spy into the rooms, and while trolling the tunnel, he sees into Emily's room where she has Rose tied up.  Suspecting a kidnapping, he reports it to his boss J. Edgar Hoover, who tells him not to interfere with the kidnapping but instead to sabotage everyone's cars so they can't leave. Sullivan also finds some incriminating film that could hurt the career of someone big and famous. Meanwhile, O'Kelly, thinking that the money is buried in Sweet's room, invites her to dinner and attempts to spike her drink but she sees him do that and gives him a punch, knocking him out.

And that's just the beginning.  Then, Billy Lee and his minions show up and all hell breaks loose.

Written and directed by Drew Goddard, the film started out as film noir and worked its way into horror, which is not surprising since Goddard also wrote and directed "The Cabin in the Woods," which I reviewed back in 2017 as part of "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project (because it's one of those 1001 you are supposed to see)." But this film is also a bit of an homage to all of the real life shenanigans that took place at the Cal Neva back in the day in the late 60's and early 70's, with the Vietnam and Nixon era, and Motown music all playing out in the background.  It's a very moody, atmospheric film where nothing is as it appears. And this is one of those films where you don't want to get attached to any of the characters because they just might not make it to the end, no matter how compelling their stories or how big a movie star they might be.

Speaking of the characters, what has happened to Jeff Bridges?  He has gotten old.  I don't mean he is actually that old but he seems to play all of his characters "old."  He does something with his mouth that makes him look like he has false teeth.  He does it here and he did that in "Hell or High Water" too. It's like he has stuff in his mouth like Brando did when he played Don Corleone. Very distracting. However, loved seeing Dakota Johnson playing something besides the victim of an s/m slimeball and Chris Hemsworth, is, well, Chris Hemsworth, just as swoon-worthy playing a bad guy as a romantic lead.  It's fun seeing him be bad. But I have to give it to Erivo, who when this film was made was a new, charismatic face in films (she shows up later in "Widows"). I liked her and cared about her character, something I didn't really feel for the others.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like film noir that harks back to those old black and white films, this is a wonderful modern version!

Operation Finale (2018)

Based on actual events, the journey that brought Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann to trial.

At the end of WW II, many Nazi officers were able to escape to Argentina and that's what one of the Holocaust's masterminds Adolf Eichmann did, setting up a life for himself there pretending to be Ricardo Clement (Ben Kingsley).  Through a series of events, suspicions arise that Ricardo is actually Adolf and this information is passed to West German prosecutor-general Fritz Bauer, who in turn relays this information to the Mossad and a field agent is sent to Argentina to investigate.  When the investigation shows that Clement is indeed Eichmann living in Argentina, we also see a group of unrepentant Nazis living happily there and continuing their antisemitism. Mossad agent Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) and his team are sent to capture Eichmann and bring him to Israel to face trial for his war crimes.

We all know how this ended because the trial of Adolf Eichmann played out on the television screen in the 1960's.  As a young girl, I remember it well, but even though you know the ending, the film is a thriller as Malkin and his team struggle to find and arrest Eichmann and then figure out how to get him out of the country.  It wasn't just a matter of grabbing him and taking him to Israel.  Eichmann had rights in Argentina and the airline company would not transport him without Eichmann's consent to leave the country.  How will Malkin get him to do that?  Plus there is a time constraint and time is running out. Director Chris Weitz builds the tension slowly as the film plays out with an edge of your seat urgency that is compelling in the last 20 minutes.

Kingsley and Isaac get some big actor moments as Eichmann is held hostage by Malkin  while they wait to get him out of the country and the two interact. Isaac plays the hero really well and we know Kingsley can do just about anything and in this case he is especially good at unrepentant evil.

The screenplay written by Mathew Orton uses a series of flashbacks within the story to remind us of just how evil Eichmann was.  I couldn't help but think and be shocked by the fact that there are not only hateful people out there who still idolize Hitler but there are also those who disbelieve the Holocaust, so movies like this are important reminders to all of us that yes, there was a Holocaust and yes, there are people among us, our fellow humans who are capable of doing such shameful, heinous and shocking things to other humans, to an entire race of people.  So be aware.

Rosy the Reviewer important reminder of human evil with a feel-good ending when the evil doer gets what's coming to him.

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

109 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

The Man in Grey (1943)

This is one of those films where a young trusting girl is taken advantage of by a brute and we discover that her best friend isn't her best friend at all but someone who is plotting against her.

Lord Ronan (James Mason) is a brute (I know, I already said that but it bears repeating) who marries the young and beautiful, Clarissa (Phyllis Calvert), just so he can have a "brood mare" and it doesn't help that Clarissa's best friend, Hesther (Margaret Lockwood), is a scheming cow who wants to take her place, not as a brood mare but as Lady Ronan.

The film begins when Clarissa and Hesther are young women at boarding school. While Clarissa is the pretty rich girl with a heart of gold, Hesther is the girl who has to work to pay her way, who gets no respect and, of course, is resentful.  But despite the fact that Clarissa is rich, she is a sweet girl with a pure heart and tries to make friends with Hesther.  Poor Clarissa is also a bit of a dummy because despite the fact that Hesther is not very nice to her, she perceives that she and Hesther are besties.  The two girls have their fortunes read by a gypsy fortune teller who tells Clarissa that she will have good fortune but to "make no friends of women," not very PC but in this case the gypsy was right. When the fortune teller looks at Hesther's hand, well, she refuses to tell her fortune.  It must have been really bad.  Like I said, Clarissa is not the sharpest utensil and all of that must have gone right over Clarissa's head because she doesn't make the connection with Hesther.

Later, Hesther runs off from the school with a man and Clarissa moves to London where she is the toast of the town.  There she meets Lord Ronan who is a grumpy guy who doesn't really like women much but realizes he needs an heir so he asks Clarissa to marry him even though they have never dated.  Like I said, Clarissa isn't the sharpest pencil in the box and she marries him and produces an heir.  Later we discover that Hesther has become an actress and she and Clarissa reconnect, with poor Clarissa thinking the two are still besties.  But in fact, when Hesther sees that Clarissa is married to a rich man and a hot one at that, she plots to take Clarissa's place.  It doesn't hurt that Ronan, too, becomes obsessed with Hesther, despite the fact that, like I said, I don't think he really likes women. Meanwhile, though, Clarissa isn't entirely stupid.  She realizes her life isn't very good married to Ronan so embarks on an affair with the handsome Peter Rokeby (Stewart Granger), who is a bit of a rake. but our Clarissa is so good and sweet and pure, she manages to turn him into a good person.  Sigh.

For those of you too young to remember, James Mason was Norman Maine in the first remake of "A Star is Born," back in 1954.  In that film, he was a likable, though complex, character...well, if you have seen the film or the remakes, you know the character.  Mason had that gorgeous voice but in his earlier films he played much less likable characters and this film is no exception.  Think Mr. Darcy but with no redeeming qualities.  But despite Mason's presence in the film and his titular role, the film is really more about Hesther, the evil scheming woman who wants to take Clarissa's place and who is the ultimate "bad seed," her character a jealous, heartless precursor to later incarnations like Alison in "Single White Female," Ellen in "Leave her to Heaven," Tessa in "Unforgettable," Ivy in "Poison Ivy" or even the ultimate bad seed Rhoda in "The Bad Seed."

I guess I am showing my age but this movie, directed by Leslie Arliss, is the kind of movie I enjoy.  

My mother took me to see "Gone With the Wind" when I was five and I used to stay up late watching old black and white costume films with my Dad, so I have been a sucker for costume melodramas ever since.  I know some of them don't hold up well today and they can be a bit uncomfortable e.g. the gypsy fortune teller here was portrayed in a very stereotypical way, not very PC, and I swear to God there was a little kid playing a key role as a young servant and he was in blackface, not to mention the "N-word" being thrown around, though I guess that would have been something effete snobby rich folks might have said in England back then, but all the same, I get squirmy watching these old films sometimes, but at the same time, I do love these plot heavy melodramas.

Why it's a Must See: "English cinema is perhaps best known for realist drama, but an important second tradition is the costume melodrama of which [this film] is probably the finest example...the real star of the film is its art design. Regency period England is faithfully resurrected with its ornate interior decor and European furniture, and its elaborate and elegant dress for actors and actresses alike. The sumptuous look...provides a perfect contrast to its exploration of the dark underside of aristocratic life..."
---"1001 Movie You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer don't watch old movies like this for anything deep or for social consciousness.  You watch them for the story and the production values, especially when they are kind of over-the-top which this one is, so recommended if you can get past some of the jarring stereotypes.  However, not sure it really rates as one of the all-time 1001 movies we need to see before we die.  But if you enjoy these old costume dramas, this is a good example of the genre.

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday


"Miss Bala"


The Week in Reviews
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