Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Movie Day: “Belle”

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

belle_poster

Today’s Cinema Society screening was a film that’s been getting great buzz after playing at various festivals and opening in limited release on Friday. It’s a beautifully shot period piece about a little known piece of British history involving the illegitimate, mixed-race daughter of an aristocratic admiral and her relationship with the high-born family that raises her – all against the backdrop of changing attitudes toward slavery.

From the distributor, Fox Searchlight:

BELLE is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson), Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet her status prevents her from the traditions of noble social standing. While her cousin Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) chases suitors for marriage, Belle is left on the sidelines wondering if she will ever find love. After meeting an idealistic young vicar’s son bent on changing society, he and Belle help shape Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England.

I was amazed during the Q&A with the film’s director, Amma Asante, that she made the film for a mere $10 million. It has the look and feel of a big-budget Merchant-Ivory production with gorgeous castles and costumes and settings. And what a cast of actors, including newcomer Mbatha-Raw as the title character. And, of course, the story is fascinating – how aristocratic society accepted Belle because of her lineage and, after her father dies, her inheritance, but bars her from even such basic opportunities as attending dinner parties with the rest of her family. My only criticism was that there tended to be a bit of over-writing with too much information in too much detail, not to mention a lot of speechifying. But it’s definitely worth a viewing.

 

Movie Day: “Joe”

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

 joe_movie_poster.1

Our Cinema Society screenings are back in full swing following the break for the Santa Barbara Film Festival in January-February, and “Joe,” an indie that was shown at other festivals, was yesterday’s offering. I didn’t go since I had work to do, but Michael went and reported that I didn’t miss a thing. It was that bad. Actually, it was so bad that several people walked out about a third of the way in.

Here’s the copy the Cinema Society sent us prior to the screening:

A gripping mix of friendship, violence and redemption erupts in the contemporary South in this adaptation of Larry Brown’s novel, celebrated at once for its grit and its deeply moving core. Directed by David Gordon Green, JOE film brings Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage back to his indie roots in the title role as the hard-living, hot-tempered, ex-con Joe Ransom, who is just trying to dodge his instincts for trouble – until he meets a hard-luck kid, (MUD’s Tye Sheridan) who awakens in him a fierce and tender-hearted protector.

Michael said the kid was good, just as he was in “Mud,” and there was a moody, haunting quality to the setting, but moody only gets you so far. This was a story about a bad guy getting even with another bad guy. Lots of bad guys, in other words, with nobody to root for except the kid, along with a lot of gratuitous violence. I’m not a Nic Cage fan, so I had another incentive for sitting this one out.

I guess what I’m saying is see this one only if you have nothing better to do.

Now Playing on My Kindle: “This Is Where I Leave You”

Friday, March 14th, 2014

This-Is-Where-I-Leave-You

Somehow, Jonathan Tropper’s NYT bestselling novel, This Is Where I Leave You, had escaped my notice, or at least until recently. I started reading about the movie version, which Tropper adapted and which opens in September, and I figured I’d better get on this. The movie stars Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda, among many others.

But back to the novel. Tropper has managed to craft a story that’s a true comedy-drama. It’s so funny at times, particularly the dialogue, and so painfully poignant. Not easy to pull off for any author, but I’m now a huge fan of Tropper’s. I loved this book. Loved. It.

It’s the story of the Foxman family, a crew of non-observant Jews who find themselves sitting shiva after the family patriarch dies. The narrator is Judd, one of the Foxman sons, whose wife Jen has been having an affair with his boss, a shock jock in the Howard Stern tradition. His world rocked by both Jen’s infidelity and his father’s death, Judd trudges off to spend a week with his mother and siblings with whom he doesn’t exactly get along. His older brother Paul holds a lifelong grudge against him. His younger brother Phillip is a charming liar who can never be trusted. And his sister Wendy slings one-liners at him like nobody’s business. And then there’s their mother, a sexy author of parenting books who has a secret love life that stuns everybody.

Along the way there are old friends and girlfriends who resurface and neighbors who show up to pay condolences and Jen, Judd’s perfidious wife, who announces she’s pregnant with his kid.

Oh, the complications.

There are so many twists and turns in this story and Judd takes us through all of them with his uniquely sardonic voice that’s both screamingly hilarious and heartbreakingly sad.

Publishers Weekly said of Tropper in its review, “he has the ability to create touchingly human characters and a deliciously page-turning story.” Yup, he does and he did. I’m already on to his latest, One Last Thing Before I Go.

My Current Obsession

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Kevin-Spacey-in-House-of-Cards

Now that I’ve finished watching Season 2, I’m feeling bereft, lost, hungry for more. “House of Cards” is addictive that way. I’ve been trying to wean myself off of the show but instead I read and re-read everything I can get my hands on about it – interviews with the writer and the cast, reviews from the critics, articles about the similarities between the fictional characters and real-life members of Congress.

What makes the show such irresistible television? Part of it is that in this era of stalled government, it’s a kick to see bills actually get passed. Another part is the snappy writing and fast pace. And then there’s Frank and Claire Underwood, two of the most nakedly power crazed people ever. Kevin Spacey is wonderfully droll and conniving as Frank, but it’s Robin Wright’s Claire who is the more complex of the two. She’s loyal and smart and sexy but the coldest thing since the North Pole. And let’s face it: she’s a gorgeous fashion icon. I mean seriously. Take a look.

There’s her haircut…

Claire's haircut

Her clothes…

Robin Wright dress

Her glasses…

Claire's glasses

Even her cashmere bathrobe is to die for…

Claire's bathrobe

Every now and then she gives us a peek at her softer side, but mostly she cleaves to an agenda and it doesn’t matter who’s caught in the crossfire. I can’t wait to see what she and Frank will do next, but that won’t happen FOR A YEAR. How will I survive until Season 3?

I’ve been watching and loving “True Detective” thanks to Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle.

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But there’s only one more episode to go and then the season’s done – and so is McConaughey, apparently. He announced after the Oscars that he’s not continuing with the show. Bummer.

So I’ll have to throw my affection elsewhere. Friends have told me to check out “Nurse Jackie” and “Orange Is the New Black.” But right now I’m not in the mood to dip into a new set of characters on the small screen.

Now the screen on my Kindle is another matter. I’m still reading like a maniac.

And Another Thing About the Oscars……..

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

My friend Chris and her husband Jerry were supposed to come to my house for the big night, but since Jerry’s an Academy member they decided to go down to LA and attend the ceremony instead. (The nerve.) It was Chris’s first time and she was as excited as a prom queen. She didn’t care that they’d be sitting in the bleachers. She just wanted to experience the scene for herself and who could blame her?

She texted me these pics.

The red carpet…..

red carpet

Oscars’ cute ass……

Oscars ass

Inside the theater in the nosebleed section before the action began….

oscars theater

Yes, it was a long ceremony, but she had a great time soaking it all in.

2014 Oscars: ZZZZZZZZZ

Monday, March 3rd, 2014
Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

I like Ellen DeGeneres. I do. She has a nice, innocuous presence on television and when her deadpan jokes work, they really work. I thought her opening routine last night was funny-ish, safe, not offensive – the opposite of last year’s debacle. But then a host’s job really begins, as Billy Crystal explains in his book. It’s a loooong evening and the show inevitably sags in the middle during all the technical awards, so a host needs to jump in during the breaks in the action and respond to whatever’s going on. Sadly, DeGeneres’s reliance on pizza delivery didn’t cut it. Not even a little bit amusing. The selfie with all those A-listers was cute, but enough with all the stuff about Twitter. I mean, don’t the movies matter? Isn’t that why everybody was there? To celebrate Hollywood, not social media?

(Oh, I must digress to say that my Oscar dinner was delicious. I’m still drooling over the short ribs and mashed potatoes.)

Back to the show….Well, first the dresses. Absolutely gorgeous were Cate Blanchett, Charlize Theron, Lupita Nyong’o, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams and Naomi Watts. Pure goddesses. On my not-so-gorgeous list were Anna Kendrick (too much going on), Angelina Jolie (she can never look bad, but the dress was too matronly), Anne Hathaway (didn’t love all those thingies on top), Jennifer Garner (her dress looked like a chandelier) and Julia Roberts (too lacy-dowdy). Loved Bette Midler’s singing live. Didn’t love poor Kim Novak, Liza Minnelli and Goldie Hawn, whose plastic surgery fails made me wince. Very sad to see how frail Sidney Portier has become. I missed George Clooney. I missed Jack Nicholson. I missed Warren Beatty, Jane Fonda, etc. Old Hollywood, in other words.

As for the awards themselves, I had most of them checked off on my Oscar ballot so I was pleased with the results. I was surprised that “American Hustle” was totally shut out, but once “Gravity” started winning all those tech awards, I knew it had the momentum for director Alfonso Cuaron. And I also knew that “12 Years a Slave” would take the top prizes. Just meant to be and deservedly so. Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto and Cate Blanchett were locks for their awards, but I loved all their acceptance speeches too, although Cate needs to learn the meaning of the word “exacerbate.”

Lots of good movies last year should have made for a livelier show, but I can’t wait to see what rolls into theaters in 2014.

 

Oscar Food Should Be Rich….

Monday, February 24th, 2014

short ribs

I hardly ever eat red meat anymore, but when it comes to special occasions and the tastes of my guests – and it’s watch-the-Oscars night at my house – I serve beef. This year the menu will feature beef short ribs. I’ll be using Ina Garten’s recipe, which is as bullet-proof as it gets and not only can be made the day before but is more flavorful when cooked ahead. I don’t use the whole bottle of wine as she does in the video, nor do I pour in as much broth, and I add more carrots plus my secret ingredient: cremini mushrooms. The result is delicious with the meat falling off the bone and the sauce perfectly suited to the mashed potatoes accompaniment. There will also be a Caesar salad without the eggs and anchovies (sounds sacrilegious, I know, but that’s how I roll when it comes to Caesar dressing), garlic bread and a chocolate something for dessert (one of our friends is bringing it). To start I’ll pull together some appetizers: hummus, guacamole, olives, cheeses or a combo of all. I always make sure to have enough for everybody and often overdo it. But hey, that way there are leftovers. :)

Long Time, No Post

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

woman overworked

Working, working, working. That’s been the story here, and every time I think about writing a post for this blog I go, “Nah. Too much trouble. Not enough to say.” Plus, I’d been writing post after post about the movies I’d seen in the run-up to the Oscars and after seeing them all I was tapped out.

But now it’s a week until the Oscars and I’m in countdown mode, the Oscars being my Super Bowl. I’ll be having people over as usual and have decided not only which movies and performances I think will win but also what the dinner menu will be. Which do you want first?

Fine. The movies. This has been a tough year to predict. After watching what other voting groups have done (Golden Globes, SAG, WGA, DGA, BAFTA, etc.), there’s really no clear Best Picture winner, only hunches. And with the individual performances the momentum has swung so many times it’s made my head hurt. That said, here’s how I see the big awards rolling out…….

Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey. He was so good in “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Mud,” has worked the awards circuit hard and rounded up a lot of good will for his shift from rom-com hunk to serious actor. And he’s getting such great reviews for his performance in HBO’s “True Detective,” which I’m loving, by the way, that I think he’s the one to beat. Runner-up: Chiwetel Ejiofor for “Twelve Years a Slave.” In any other year Christian Bale would have won for “American Hustle,” but not this time. And while Bruce Dern is a sentimental favorite, I think McConaughey’s weight loss for “Dallas Buyers Club” will seal the deal. Academy voters love weight loss/gain for a role. As for Leo DiCaprio in “Wolf of Wall Street,” don’t make me laugh.

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett. She’s as close to a lock as there is. Not everyone loved “Blue Jasmine” and there’s been a late campaign to say her performance was merely an imitation of her Blanche DuBois in “Streetcar Named Desire.” And then there’s the “Will the Woody Allen/Dylan Farrow mess turn voters against her” murmurings. I say she wins and gives a great acceptance speech to boot.

Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto. Another lock for his turn in “Dallas Buyers Club.” Maybe. Lately, I’ve been wondering if Barkhad Abdi from “Captain Phillips” might sneak in, especially after he won the BAFTA. I’m still pissed off that Tom Hanks wasn’t nominated for that film. (Leo stole his spot. Grrr.) But in the end I think Abdi was terrific but his nom was one of those “It’s great to be nominated” things and Leto will win.

Best Supporting Actress: Lupito Nyong’o. Her Patsy in “Twelve Years a Slave” was so memorable and heartbreaking that while Jennifer Lawrence is the “It” girl right now and was great fun in “American Hustle,” she won last year and…Well, it’s a horse race between these two and I think Nyong’o will edge her out. Honorable mention goes to June Squibb for “Nebraska.” She was a kick and I loved her, but….

Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón. All the Academy members I’ve spoken to have cited Cuaron’s technical wizardry in “Gravity” and his audacity to make a film with basically one character in it – in space, no less – and pull it off. I defer to them. I didn’t love the movie, but whatever. To me it’s a tough category because Steve McQueen (“Twelve Years a Slave”) and David O Russell (“American Hustle”) have been getting a lot of love too.

Best Documentary: “20 Feet from Stardom.” Okay, it’s the only one of the nominees that I actually saw, but I loved it. I thought about seeing “The Act of Killing” because it might really win, but it’s supposed to be so gruesome that I passed.

Best Foreign Film: “The Great Beauty.” I’m filing this one under protest because my favorites in foreign language weren’t even nominated. “Blue Is the Warmest Color” was ineligible and “The Past” was snubbed. Boo.

Best Picture: “Twelve Years a Slave.” By far the toughest category to predict and I hesitated before typing my pick. I probably enjoyed “American Hustle” the most. No, wait. “Captain Phillips” was my fave among this bunch. And I really, really liked “Her.” There’s been a late surge for “Gravity” and I suppose it could win. But in the end I think “Twelve Years a Slave” was a powerful story told in an unflinching way, and it deserves the statue. It was too long – some of the close-ups seemed to last forever – but I’m picking the film. I just am.

As a writer, I should include the two big ones for writers, but the Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay awards are simply too close to call. I can’t do it. May the best man (I wish there had been a woman in this group) win.

Next up: my dinner menu for Sunday night.

 

Movie Day: “August: Osage County”

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

 August_Osage_County_Poster.1

I feel guilty for what I’m about to write because “Osage’s” director, John Wells, was kind enough to come to our screening and stay for the reception afterwards and he seemed like such a nice guy. What’s more, how could I possibly not praise the goddess of acting known as Meryl Streep or America’s sweetheart known as Julia Roberts?

Well, because their new movie is only fun if you’re in the mood for high camp and two hours of dysfunctional people saying mean things to each other. Not that some of the mean things aren’t amusing. Mostly, though, they’re delivered by terrific actors who, this time around, must have been told to go broad or go home. There’s not an ounce of subtlety here. People yell, curse, break dishes, stomp around looking peeved and reveal a whole mess of secrets.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracy Letts, who adapted for the screen, “Osage” tells the tale of the Westons, who gather in the sprawling Oklahoma family home after the disappearance and death of the patriarch, Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard). His wife Violet (Streep) is battling mouth cancer, an addiction to pills and her own bitterness. Also along for the ride are the three Weston daughters, especially Barbara (Roberts), who’s brought her estranged husband (Ewan McGregor) and 14-year-old daughter (Abigail Breslin). And then there’s Violet’s sister (Margo Martindale) and brother-in-law (Chris Cooper) and their son (Benedict Cumberbatch). With that cast, how could the movie go wrong, right?

Beats me, except that I think Wells, a well-regarded TV director (“ER,” “The West Wing”) may have been over-awed by his stars and let them get away with theatrical murder. Streep, for example, doesn’t so much become Violet but plays her – i.e. it feels as if she’s doing a parody of a character, complete with the wigs, the makeup and the accent. I was aware every moment that she was acting. Ditto Roberts. She shows she can take on a darker role than her usual sunny romantic leading lady, but I became distracted by her relentless upper lip curl. She and Streep are entertaining when they’re cat fighting, but, again, it all felt over the top in a “Mommie Dearest” sort of way. I have no doubt that both actresses will get nominated for an Oscar, but if I were an Academy member I’d vote “no.”

 

Movie Day: “her”

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

her-movie-poster

I had high expectations for “her” since it’s been on many critics’ top ten lists, and it didn’t disappoint. Such an interesting, thought provoking and ultra romantic concept film that also happens to be gorgeously shot and beautifully acted. Yes, it’s too long but directors these days seem to have lost the ability to edit their work.

Set in the future in downtown LA, “her” stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, a lonely, sweet man who writes touching, special occasion letters for other people. His wife (Rooney Mara) has left him and he can’t move on, let along bring himself to sign the divorce papers. His only friend is Amy (Amy Adams), who lives in the same building and is going through her own marital breakup.

Into Theodore’s life comes his new computer operating system. He has the option of selecting a male or female voice for the Siri-like OS and picks a female, who calls herself Samantha. This voice emanates from Scarlett Johansson, so it’s husky and sexy and girlish all in one. Samantha is a highly intuitive OS, so she “gets” him in a way no real woman does. And they fall in love.

How this ingenious film tells their love story is unique and wonderful, and thoroughly captures the zeitgeist of how connected/disconnected we are with all the technology. Leave it to Spike Jonze, the director of “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation” to take us on another mind-bending trip.