Sunday, February 28, 2016

And the Winner Is....

Did you miss the big contenders for the Academy Awards at your local movie house? It's not too late to catch up. Read the reviews and watch the trailers for many of the movies that are up for a variety of awards tonight at the 88th Academy Awards ceremony. Just click Movie Reviews on the right side menu on Vicki's Vineyard home page -- and click older posts at the bottom of the reviews to continue to the next set of reviews.

See the list for ALL the nominees at: The Oscar Nominees

Maybe you want to choose winners in an official online contest. Go to: The Oscar Challenge and follow the instructions.

Or perhaps you'd like to pass out a list of nominees at home, so your family and friends can choose  their winners.  Have a surprise ready for the person who scores the most correct winners! Copy and paste from this ballot to make your own, or print the full ballot at: 2016 Oscars Ballot


ABC-TV coverage:

4 pm On the Red Carpet
5:30 pm The Oscars on ABC

Friday, February 19, 2016

Do You Have A Story or Review to Share?

Since many club venues offer open mic and jam nights for comedians and musicians, I'm offering an open blog for my friends and followers.

I invite you to submit an article to appear on 
Vicki's Vineyard. 

Image: Staten Island Arts
Shoot me an email about the topic FIRST, so I can give you the thumbs up. I will edit as needed to format and shape it for a blog audience. When it's published, you'll be free to post on social media  like Facebook, or forward via email to your friends who'll click into Vicki's Vineyard and read your  article. 

My email address is:

Check these topics on Vicki's Vineyard (right page menu) for examples:

Movie, book, or play reviews -- see At the Theater, Book Nook, Flicks

Your volunteer effort or other personal experience --see Sharing

A vacation story or place of interest -- see Travels

A favorite sports hero and/or event -- see Sports Heroes

Monday, February 15, 2016

2015 Movie Picks: The Hateful Eight

After Pulp Fiction received so much attention at the Cannes Film Festival in 1994 (and would go on to broad critical acclaim, and a pile of nominations and wins), I couldn't wait to purchase a ticket at the local movie house. The Quentin Tarantino flick was impressive, with fresh dialogue and storytelling that launched the screenwriter/director into Hollywood elite status. Eager to sample more of his work, I soon heard about Reservoir Dogs, the director's first feature film with Harvey Keitel in a lead role. I'd certainly witnessed Tarantino's emphasis on violence in Pulp Fiction, but in no way did it prepare me for the portrayal of violence in Reservoir Dogs, which also received widespread critical acclaim as an independent film noir. Nearly from the start, one or more characters suffers in agony from gunshot and razor wounds, and all die by the end. After that bloody mess, I swore I'd never watch another Tarantino film. More than a decade later, I finally sucked it up and paid good money for an evening with The Hateful Eight.

Quentin Tarantino doesn't disappoint in this odd nod to the western genre. He brings it in with twists, turns, and idiosyncratic characters who entertain, startle, and confound. But there were also scenes that prompted me to cringe when I thought he'd gone too far. A wild ride from the opening scene, the story unfolds with a stagecoach driver and his passenger, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a black officer from the Civil War now turned bounty hunter, traveling across the vast American plains with a blizzard only an hour behind. The plan is to reach Minnie's Haberdashery, a lodge where they will spend the night and take refuge from the storm before it hits. But there are delays along the way when three more characters, stranded in the snow, plead for a ride -- John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell), another bounty hunter, his prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and eventually, Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who will rule on Daisy's death by hanging. Needless to say, this quartet of hateful characters doesn't sing in harmony. Their exchanges fan the tension that's building in the tiny quarters of the stagecoach. But when the Major presents a personal letter sent to him by Abraham Lincoln, the travelers are hushed into momentary silence. (Note: The letter will become a point of conversation at the lodge as well, and will lead to a confession that heats up the hateful stew brewing near the boiling point.)

As much as a third of the movie occurs before the arrival at Minnie's. Strangely, she and her husband are missing, but four more characters have checked in for the night to complete the roster of eight. Quirky conversations ensue to provide comic relief in some cases, and conflict and confusion in others. Suspicions fill the room like a thick fog until all cards are played and the inevitable occurs. Poor  Daisy has already suffered more than her share of damage at the hands of the bounty hunter, but the entire gang lines up for a bloodbath of finales. At times, it's comic, and at other times, I had to look away. Throughout, I asked myself -- what's the point here? 

There is no redemption in The Hateful Eight. This is an exercise wherein character arcs, subplots, and conflicts result in violence with a heaping dash of comedy, surprise, and guts. Morality doesn't play a role or even a cameo, which is best exemplified in a story told by the Major to the old general (Bruce Dern) who's traveled from afar to find his dead son's burial site. In a clinical but lighthearted style, the Major informs the general that he knew his son and was with him when he died. In fact, he forced the boy to walk naked in the snow until he collapsed, and then raped him with brutal oral sex before he killed him. This little tale is chilling to the point of freezing, a callous disregard for anything sacred. One has to wonder if the audience will tire of these gimmicks at some point, since they appear to serve no purpose other than shock.

The score soars across the expanse of the terrain, through the duration of the film, to stir anticipation and tension, and to win at least one Golden Globe for the film. The gray and white outdoor photography, with the blizzard front and center, foreshadows the violence that is ripe to explode inside the lodge. A late whodunit adds a bit of intrigue to the somewhat aimless storyline.

Tarantino fans must surely revel in their director's latest achievement. I have to admit I enjoy much of the filmmaker's style, but I still question his hunger for heavy-handed violence that serves the sole purpose of annihilation. Even if it's intended as a parody of the American western, there are no good guys and bad guys like we see in classic westerns. Tarantino's characters are all bad guys. Nobody comes out alive, and nobody has any redeeming qualities. So I ask myself, "was it worth it to spend an evening with them?" Hard to say.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

2015 Movie Picks: JOY

He's done it again. David O. Russell taps Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, Bradlee Cooper, and assorted sidekicks to concoct a movie with a four-star dysfunctional family that makes me feel so much better about my own. JOY is the story of a spunky girl who graduated high school at the top of her class, got accepted into a fancy college, and took a detour to another life when her parents divorced. She married the wrong guy, had two kids fast, divorced the guy, and moved back home with her mother (Virginia Masden) and a doting grandmother (Diane Ladd). Oh, and Joy's ex-husband hangs out in the basement until he can get his music career going. If that isn't enough of a premise, the estranged father (Robert DeNiro) gets kicked out by his girlfriend and lands back in this animal house to drive everyone more crazy than they already are.

As a child, Joy created her own miniature cutout buildings and fences, and now she has an idea for a new mop that can be manufactured in her dad's auto repair shop. Her creation proves far superior to anything on the market, because it's much more absorbent, you never have to touch the mop fibers that soak up nasty spills, and you can easily wring it out by sliding a handle up and down the pole. When Joy demos her mop to shoppers in a store parking lot, they walk past her without even a nod. Despite a series of disappointments and setbacks, she perseveres and eventually discovers QVC, the new TV shopping network, and is on her way. A few twists and turns like bankruptcy and extortion are down the road, but they can't stop her. For the books, to date, the real Joy Mangano has acquired more than one hundred patents for household items.

The energy and acting chops of the cast feed the family frenzy, hilarious one minute and heartbreaking the next. Jennifer Lawrence in the title role captures the steel determination of the single-mother entrepreneur who doggedly pursues every lead and overcomes every failure to show the naysayers what a mop can do. One of the more dramatic scenes depicts Joy flying cross-country to hunt down a manufacturer in another state and demand payment for atrocious over charges and patent theft. Diane Ladd delivers as the sympathetic grandmother who always knew Joy would make something of herself, in contrast to Dad, who reminds Joy she'll never amount to anything. Bradley Cooper's character is the QVC sales guru who swoops in long enough to tell Joy it didn't work on TV, sorry. But even he has to step aside when she insists she's the one to sell her own mop, not some paid talent they put in front of the camera who had no idea what to do with it. In the most poignant scene in the film, Joy freezes as the camera rolls for live television. No spoilers here.

A 25-year-old, Louisville, Kentucky girl, Jennifer Lawrence continues to amaze. Her embodiment of roles is astonishing, from Winter Bone (still have to see it) which won her an Oscar nod, to Silver Linings Playbook (best actress awards), and American Hustle (best supporting actress awards). As Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, Lawrence catapulted all of us into another stratosphere based on the dystopian Young Adult series.

Her gifts shine again in JOY. Lucky us to to witness the talent.