Renee Zellweger is superb in “Judy”

My wife and I saw the marvelous movie about the a brief period in the career of Judy Garland simply called “Judy.” Renee Zellweger plays the part so well, you believe she is Judy. I encourage you to go see it, but do take some tissue.

The movie does a nice job of flipping back to past moments in Garland’s life to provide some context. It adds a great deal to the film and makes you pull for the adult Judy even more, in spite of her challenges.

The movie is directed by Rupert Goold and is based on the broadway play called “End of the Rainbow,” by Peter Quilter. Quilter and Tom Edge wrote the movie screenplay. Darci Shaw plays the young Judy, while key parts are played by Jessie Buckley who caretakes Judy while in London, Finn Wittrock who plays a young beau, Michael Gambon who plays the producer of the London show, Rufus Sewell who plays Sidney Luft (the father of two of her children), and Royce Pierreson who plays the pianist/ conductor. Her two girls are played by Gemma-Leah Devereaux (Liza Minelli) and Bella Ramsey (Lorna Luft). A key role is played by Andy Nyman as a Judy fan in London.

But, this is Zellweger’s movie to shine as Judy. We knew she could sing from “Chicago,” but she adds flavor to Judy’s older voice lessened some by smoking, drinking and other issues. The movie covers a five week period when she ventures to London for a series of performances at a large club venue. I will leave off the rationale and mission of the gig, as that is an important part of the movie.

Go see it and tell me what you think. For spoiler alerts, I will ask future readers to not read the comments.

“In her shoes” is punctuated by an ee cummings poem

My wife and I caught a movie from 2005 on HBO this week that was moving. The movie is called “In her shoes,” and stars Cameron Diaz and Toni Collete as sisters, with Ken Howard and Shirley MacLaine as their father and grandmother. Mark Feuerstein plays a great role as Collette’s fiancé. The movie is directed by Curtis Hanson and the screenplay was written by Jennifer Weiner and Susannah Grant

The movie is accentuated by a poem that was read by Diaz’ character at her sister’s wedding just before the vows. We learn during the movie, Diaz is dyslexic, so reading does not come easily. She is coached by a retired, blind professor ably played by actor Norman Lloyd, who you might remember as the regimented headmaster in “Dead’s Poet Society.” The poem is by ee cummings and is apropos. Here it is in all of its cummings’ intentional lack of punctuation glory:

I carry your heart

I carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
not fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

e. e. cummings

The poem is breathtakingly poignant. I have included one spoiler above with the wedding reference, but will leave it at that. MacLaine’s role is vital in the movie and she is at her best. If you have a chance, give it a look. You may need a tissue.

Rocketman and Yesterday

Yesterday, my son and I saw the movie “Yesterday” about a young singer who is in an accident caused by a blackout leaving him injured, but also the only person on the planet who remembers The Beatles. The movie stars Himesh Patel as the singer and Lily James as his manager and largest fan among very few. Yet, it is abetted by the role Ed Sheeran plays as himself recognizing the genius songwriting and Kate McKinnon as both performers greedy manager.

Last month, my wife and I saw “Rocketman,” a biopic about Elton John and his songwriting partnership with Bernie Taupin. While it differs from “Yesterday,” both feature the musical genius of the songwriters and performers. “Rocketman” stars Taron Egerton as John with Jamie Bell playing Taupin. “Rocketman” also stars Bryce Dallas Howard and Steven Mackintosh as John’s unsupportive parents, whose best adult support came from his Nan played by Gemma Jones

In both movies, the stars sing the songs. Egerton does a highly credible job of singing like Elton. Patel does not sing as well, but that is a key part of the story. He is an unsuccessful singer who starts singing great music, while Egerton is playing the singer. “Yesterday” is directed by Danny Boyle with the story and screenplay written by Richard Curtis and Jack Barth. “Rocketman” was directed by Dexter Fletcher with the story and screenplay written by Lee Hall.

Both movies are worth seeing. “Rocketman” reveals the musical genius of Elton John who could play songs after hearing them for the first time, even as a young boy. He was classically trained after his Nan helped him, but he could only go as he benefitted from a scholarship. Billy Joel, who toured with John later in their careers, noted John wrote backwards from most songwriters, writing the music to the words of Taupin.

“Yesterday” introduces the breadth of music by The Beatles to a younger audience featuring the songs of John Lennon and Paul McCartney with a few of George Harrison’s thrown in. The movie includes songs from early in The Beatles’ career as well as songs off The White Album. Please stay around for the credits as well, as you will fade out with a well-known song.

It is hard to pick which movie is better. Since, I am a huge Beatles’ fan, I would have to give the nod to the latter, although the critics liked “Rocketman” a little better. It should be noted, I also liked the movie of a few years ago “Across the Universe,” which had young actors singing The Beatles’ songs as part of the plot, not unlike “Mamma Mia,” which uses ABBA’s music. I think both movies are just shy of the success of “Bohemian Rhapsody” about Queen which won some Academy Awards last year, but they are still highly entertaining.

Since my wife could not join us, I am likely to go see “Yesterday” again. I think it is worth another go. It should be noted Lily James also played in the sequel to “Mamma Mia” which came out last year. In “Yesterday,” her singing is relegated to playing a chorus in early recording sessions, but she adds greatly to the movie.

When memories of loved ones pop up unexpectedly

I watched a poignant video where a young woman was presented with a birthday gift of a talking teddy bear. The bear had a prerecorded voice and she soon realized the voice was her father’s speaking to her using her name. It brought tears as her dad had passed away a year before.

This beautiful story made me think of two poignant movie scenes and a real story. The first movie scene is from “Peggy Sue got married.” Kathleen Turner played Peggy Sue, who went back in time to avoid marrying her boyfriend who eventually left her. The poignant scene occurs when she answers the phone at her mom and dad’s house and hears her grandmother’s voice, who had died years before her time travel occurred. It gives me chills to write this as she spoke to a departed loved one once again.

The other movie scene is from “Field of Dreams,” with Kevin Costner. After building a baseball field in his corn crop, the now deceased players of the Chicago White Sox, who had been banned for gambling, appear to play. But, the real reason he is inspired to build the field is his father comes to play as a young man and former ballplayer. When he asks his dad for a game of catch, it is a very emotional for me as I used to play catch with my father.

While these movies are dramatically poignant, we came across an old cassette tape of my father-in-law singing. Before he passed in 1997, he used to play guitar and sing in clubs, bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, church, senior living centers, etc. So, we just sat and listened to his crooning, as he performed old standards from the 1940 – 60s. It was a treat for my wife and me. One of my favorite memories is returning from New York at night, with him and my mother-in-law singing old songs like these while riding in the back seat.

Cherish your memories, especially when they unexpectedly pop up. Sometimes, all it takes is a prompt – a song, a movie clip, an old friend, or an old piece of clothing – to flush out the memories.

We bought a zoo – worth the watch

Our blogging friend Holly posted a poem about being courageous, which reminded me of a quote from the movie “We bought a zoo.” The quote is from the father, played by Matt Damon, when he passed on this piece of wisdom to his children, “All you need is twenty seconds of courage.”

But, I am getting ahead of myself. The movie also stars Scarlett Johansson, Elle Fanning, Thomas Haden Church, Colin Ford, Stephanie Szostak and a host of others. It is about the true story of a widowed father buying a run down, small zoo in a bold attempt to reconnect with his kids after they lost their mother.

It is a feel good movie about relationships between families, friends, colleagues and animals. It is peppered with poignant scenes, which I will forego to avoid spoiling it for others.

It is one of those movies I could watch again as there are multitude of interesting characters. The brother, played by Thomas Hayden Church, is the appointed steward of his brother’s wife’s money, as she knew of her husband impulsive behavior. Hayden Smith usually plays a comic foil, so it is a different kind of role for him as he is a conscience to Damon’s character.

Twenty seconds of courage plays a pivotal role in the movie. In essence, the key to making any kind of change is summoning up twenty seconds to act on it. If you can do that, the path forward will open or you will at least have an answer if it does not.

Give it a chance if you have not seen in it. If you have, let me know what you think. For those who have not, you may want to steer clear of the comments to avoid plot reveals.

Sentimental Journey

The older I have gotten it seems the more sentimental I have become. Certain scenes from movies will cause me to tear up or become emotional no matter how many times I see them.

Watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the umpteenth time on Christmas Eve, I am sucker for the ending. Especially moving to me is when Harry Bailey arrives and makes a toast to “My brother George, the richest man in town.” Seeing how George made such a difference through kind and courageous acts is compelling.

Another movie scene that gets me is the end of “Field of Dreams” with Kevin Costner. Ray Consuella, played by Costner, asks his father if he wants “a game of catch.” My Dad played catch with me often. So it gets me every time.

Yet, it is not just tears that can be evoked. There is no harder movie to watch than “Sophie’s Choice.” For those who have not seen this, it is Meryl Streep’s finest performance. Without giving away the plot, the movie climax will be as troubling as any you will witness.

The same holds true about a pair of movies that have similar themes. “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” and “Life is Beautiful.” They both are about Nazi persecution. While the latter is in Italian with subtitles, it is both terribly sad and uplifting at times, with the love of a father for his son and wife.

There are certain movies where we know the endings will be tough. “La Bamba” and the “Buddy Holly Story” are sad for the same tragic event which took the lives of three entertainers. “Terms of Endearment” was heading toward the ending from the outset. All are wonderful movies.

Yet, what seems to impact me most are parent/ child moments in movies. For that reason, I will end with “Steel Magnolias,” which had a wonderful cast surrounding the mother/ daughter relationship of Sally Field and Julia Roberts. Two scenes stick out – the first is the scene in the beauty parlor where we first realize Roberts’ character is diabetic as she goes into insulin shock. The second is the cathartic moment when Olympia Dukakis’ character offers up her sour-puss friend Weezer (Shirley McClain) as a punching bag for comic relief to the grief stricken mother.

This is by no means a complete list. What are some of your favorite sentimental scenes?

 

Two movies, two thumbs-up

We caught two of the recent movie releases and can give them both a thumbs-up. They are two very different movies – “Blade Runner 2049” and “The Battle of the Sexes.”

“Blade Runner 2049” is a sequel of a cult classic movie with Harrison Ford. It was a dark futuristic movie and the sequel does justice to the original. Ryan Gosling and Robin Wright star along with Ford, but the other supporting roles add greatly to the movie, especially Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Mackenzie Davis and Jared Leto. If you did not like the first Blade Runner, you won’t like this one. But, it does have a good plot and theme. I would add what seemed so science fiction when the first movie was made in the early 1980s, seems less so now, which is a little unsettling.

Gosling plays his role quite well as does Hoeks. De Armas’ role is quite interesting too, and she is ideally suited for it. I will try to stay away from further reveals, but encourage you to watch it. Some have called the movie sexist given some of the roles. I understand their point and would agree that parts of the movie are. I would counter that Wright and Hoeks have a lot of screen time and play key roles, so I will let you be the overall judge.

“The Battle of the Sexes” is about the lead up to the famous tennis match between former men’s champion Bobby Riggs and current women’s champion and advocate for women, Billie Jean King. Riggs was a renowned hustler who loved to gamble in conflict with his wealthy wife’s wishes. At the age of 55, he saw a chance to make money by challenging King, who initially turned him down.

King knew Riggs for what he was, a showman, and she was deep in the middle of the start of the women’s tennis circuit called the “Virginia Slims circuit” when they boycotted the USTA for the much smaller money being paid to women. Riggs did find another opponent in Margaret Court, who was married with one child, playing her on Mother’s Day. Although, the current number one player, Court was not prepared to play that day (and greatly underestimated the situation) and Riggs easily beat her, which drew a match with King.

I remember this national prime time match between King and Riggs, so the movie brought back a lot of memories. The other key subplot is King was dealing with her own Lesbianism which began to manifest itself during the Virginia Slims tour. To say, she was conflicted at this crucial time is an understatement. Her husband Larry stood by her for awhile, but to see his angst through this is also important, as she loved him and respected his input and support.

The movie stars Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs. Sarah Silverman, Alan Cumming, Andrea Riseborough, Elisabeth Shue, Bill Pullman and Austin Stowell also play key roles. Stone and Carell are excellent in their roles. Cumming, though, eats up the screen with his role, in my view.

Check them both out. Let me know what you think. Is Blade Runner too sexist? Do you remember the King/ Riggs’ match?