Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Movie Day: “Calvary”

Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

Calvary poster

Now that I’m back in CA, it’s Cinema Society time again and if today’s screening was any indication we’re off to a very exciting Oscar season. Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, whose first feature was the highly praised “The Guard,”  this one tackles the Roman Catholic Church, sexual abuse, adultery, suicide and alcoholism, among other sins, and yet it’s darkly funny as only Irish humor can be.

The brilliant Brendan Gleeson plays Father James, a good, decent priest and widower who sincerely wants to help the members of his small parish. But from the film’s first scene, we learn that not everyone is happy with him. As the story moves along, we discover that he’s facing obstacles from many sides – obstacles that could result in his murder. Through it all, he continues to comfort his flock as well as his fragile daughter (an excellent Kelly Reilly) even as begins to wonder if he’ll have the courage to face his own personal demons.

“Calvary” is that rare movie that isn’t shy about dealing with big moral issues but treats them with such a delicate touch that it makes for riveting entertainment in the form of a mystery. If Gleeson doesn’t get an Oscar nom (I know, it’s early), I’ll be surprised. Chris O’Dowd is always terrific whether he’s doing comedy or drama and his work here is no exception. Nobody in the theater left before the Q&A and I felt privileged to chat with Gleeson at the reception for him and the director afterwards. He said the role took him a long time to recover from but that now he’s enjoying the glowing reviews. And why not. He earned them.

P.S. I watched “Chef” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” on the plane coming home yesterday and liked them both. Well, let me qualify. I liked “Chef.” It’s a sweet movie about food with a feel-good ending, so what’s not to like? I adored “Grand Budapest.” I was a big fan of Wes Anderson’s last one, “Moonrise Kingdom,” but the new one is even more ambitious and inventive. It’s on my Best list for sure.



Movie Day: “The Signal”

Saturday, June 7th, 2014


Today’s Cinema Society screening was….how can I put this delicately……an exercise in boredom. Admittedly, I was not the audience for it. I’m not into science fiction, nor do I have a huge connection to stories about college kids who grunt instead of talk but are really good with their computers (e.g. techies). And movies in which things explode a lot make my eyeballs bleed. I like narratives, and “The Signal” doesn’t have much of one. What it has is a young director, William Eubank, whose second feature film this is, and the “cool” factor of having premiered at Sundance in February. Herewith from the film’s publicity materials:

Three college students on a road trip across the Southwest experience a detour: the tracking of a computer genius who has already hacked into MIT and exposed security faults. The trio find themselves drawn to an eerily isolated area. Suddenly everything goes dark. When one of the students, Nic (Brenton Thwaites of “The Giver” and “Maleficent”), regains consciousness, he is in a waking nightmare.

Suffice it to say, our hero has a journey involving aliens and weird looking people and mysterious questions posed by Laurence Fishburne as the torturer in chief. I kept wondering if Fishburne has big alimony payments that forced him to take this role or if it’s just tough for actors to find work at his age.

I think the less I say about my lost afternoon in the theater the better, except that I wish I had those two hours back.

Movie Day: “Words and Pictures”

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

Words and Pictures poster

Today’s Cinema Society screening was a grownup movie. It’s about art – what a concept – and stars two of my favorite actors, Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen, neither of whom are capable of giving a bad performance.

A witty, wordy drama/comedy, “Words and Pictures” is set at a New England prep school where Clive Owen’s Jack Marcus is the honors English teacher and Juliette Binoche’s Dina Delsanto is the new art teacher. He used to be somebody – a published author/poet who once taught on the college level. But a bad “hobby” (his word) of guzzling too much vodka has derailed his career and his relationship with his son, not to mention alienated most of the other teachers and the school’s dean. Binoche’s Dina was a celebrated abstract painter who was brought low by rheumatoid arthritis, which has crippled her ability to move freely and have a normal life. The two characters clash, initially over his insistence that words are more meaningful than images and her assertion that a picture is worth a thousand words. Little by little, their sexual chemistry takes over and life becomes even more complicated for them.

It was a pleasure to see a film that celebrated language, and Owen’s character, a garrulous fellow, quotes some truly beautiful literature. And Binoche, it turns out, painted all the art we see in the movie; she’s been an artist since she was young and has had gallery showings in France.

The film’s writer, Gerald DiPego, does a nice job of bringing his lovers together, although the plot and its conclusion are as predictable as it gets. He came for the Q&A after the screening and I introduced myself because I worked at Dell when we published his first novel back in the ’70s. Having written screenplays for big studio movies over the years, he said he was thrilled to have gone the indie route with this new one. Nobody made me him rewrite – a rarity in Hollywood.

Overall, I recommend “Words and Pictures.” It’s charming, if predictable, as I said, and well worth a couple of hours.


Movie Day: “Belle”

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014


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


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


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


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.


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. :)