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The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Wes Anderson, the creative vision behind The Royal Tannenbaums strikes gold again with 2004's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, a fresh and strikingly original comic adventure wrapped in a riveting character study made innovative and entertaining thanks to this director's off beat style, some terrific performances, and some first rate production values.

Bill Murray turns in a dazzling performance as Steve Zissou, an egocentric oceanographer and filmmaker with his own oceanographic empire which includes an extraordinary vessel called the Belafonte and a loyal and hard-working crew, who seem to be under the watchful eye of Steve's estranged wife, Eleanor (Anjelica Huston), who also writes the checks to keep the business afloat (so to speak). As we meet this contemporary reboot of Jacques Cousteau, he has just returned from a journey where he claims that his best friend Estaban (Seymour Cassell) was eaten by a shark, who may or may not exist, but that doesn't deter Steve from making a journey to exact revenge on said shark, accompanied by his crew, a group of graduate students working as interns for college credit, a British magazine reporter (Cate Blanchett) who is five months pregnant with her married boss' baby and a grown son (Owen Wilson) he is meeting for the first time and may or may not have been aware of his existence.

This film definitely scores points in terms of originality...an unconventional story mounted on a unique canvas. Anderson has mounted a believable and emotionally charged canvas that, outside of fans of Jacques Cousteau, had to be completely foreign cinematic territory and centered it around a character who is brilliant and undisciplined, speaks without filter, and considers everyone in his orbit ends to a means, but we see a change in the man when he meets his son and the relationship that develops between Steve and his new son actually is the heart of this film and what makes it so completely watchable. The relationship is so beautifully realized that, knowing Anderson's previous work, I was afraid we were going to learn that the guy was not his son at all, but their relationship remains as we want it to until the final credits.

Wes Anderson gets the same kind of performance out of Bill Murray that he did from Gene Hackman in The Royal Tannenbaums...no matter what this guy did or how wrong he was, we just don't care because he is so damn likable and that might have something to do with this actor's history and our unconditional love for him, except Murray disappears inside this character and we believe and accept and are entertained by everything this guy does. Despite an inconsistent southern accent, Owen Wilson is charming as Steve's new son, Ned who actually has a viable chemistry with Blanchett in a role that seems thankless on the surface but Blanchett gives it substance. Also loved Willem Dafoe as an insecure member of Steve's crew and Jeff Goldblum as a fellow oceanographer who has a love/hate relationship with Steve.

This film is deliciously unpredictable with surprises throughout and Anderson has spared no expense in bringing this complex tale to the screen. The film features some beautiful cinematography, both underwater and above the surface, first rate art direction and set direction (the Belefonte is awesome), and terrific film and sound editing. But above all, this is a triumph for the director, co-screenwriter Noah Baumbach, and its one-of-a-kind star who confirms here he is a genuine movie star.



ADMISSION
An overly ambitious and unoriginal screenplay is the primary culprit in making 2013's Admission really rough going, but fans of the stars still might find it worth checking out.

The film stars Tina Fey as Portia Nathan, a tightly wound admissions counselor at Princeton who has been at her job for 16 years and has her pitch for the school down to a fine art and is in a dead end relationship with a professor (Michael Sheen). Upon visiting an alternative New England high school, she is immediately attracted to the head of the school (Paul Rudd) but finds the relationship complicated when she learns that one of his students (Nat Wolff), who wants to get into Princeton, might be the child that Portia gave up for adoption many years ago.

This is another example of a movie that has the genesis of at least three really good movies in it, but the attempt to meld all three ideas into a single movie just doesn't work. The film takes a really likable central character and has her putting her entire career on the line when she has always been the kind of person who has never colored outside the lines, so it was just hard to accept all the rule-bending that Portia does here for a child she gave up. The movie doesn't exactly shed a flattering light on the college admissions process either...something I hadn't really questioned before except in the case of athletic scholarships (an issue addressed in Blue Chips), but I couldn't help wondering what Princeton thought of this movie. I guess it wouldn't have bothered me as much if the story had been set at a fictional college.

Paul Weitz' direction is kind of pedestrian which I didn't expect with such an all-over-the place screenplay and there is some odd casting...Fey is OK in a role that seemed to be written for Sandra Bullock and she has some chemistry with Rudd, but the rest of the cast...Nat Wolff's performance was snore inducing and Michael Sheen's role seems to have been made much bigger than it deserved to be just because Sheen was playing it. The character seemed to keep popping up throughout the story for absolutely no reason than to legitimize Michael Sheen's paycheck. The only satisfactory support in the cast came from Lily Tomlin as Fey's mother, even though the whole sexually uninhibited mother producing the prudish daughter just seems played out too. There's a couple of nice story concepts introduced here and Fey and Rudd are likable together, but this one is for hardcore fans of the stars only.



Despite its lesser reputation, at least compared to other Anderson works, I freaking loved The Life Aquatic the first time I saw it.

I better revisit some time soon, to make sure, but I loved pretty much everything about it, so I hope it'll hold up.



Despite its lesser reputation, at least compared to other Anderson works, I freaking loved The Life Aquatic the first time I saw it.

I better revisit some time soon, to make sure, but I loved pretty much everything about it, so I hope it'll hold up.

I have a feeling it will, I absolutely loved it and really went into it not expecting to.



THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

Wes Anderson is a filmmaker whose work has inspired a cult audience but he has also found mainstream success, as evidenced by 2014's The Grand Budapest Hotel, a lavish and loopy comic adventure that is so stylishly mounted and brilliantly cast that it earned eight Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. I have to confess that it is only coincidental that I watched this after The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou...this one had been on my watchlist for a while but had no idea that Anderson directed it.

The film follows the incredible but entertaining adventures of Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge at the title establishment and the unlikely friendship he develops with Zero Mustafa (Tony Revolori), his devoted lobby boy (bell hop) that grows and flourishes between the first and second world wars. As concierge, Gustave was able to manipulate up close and personal relationships with hotel guests, particularly the older, female wealthy ones and when one of them (Tilda Swinton) ends up dead, Gustave's job and life are forever compromised, forcing him to go on the run with Zero, the jumping off point for one of the most outrageous comic chase/crime escapades ever put on film, whose originality is only surpassed by its unpredictability.

Anderson's Oscar-nominated screenplay is sophisticated and stylish, though it seemed to be peppered with a lot of adult language that didn't seem period-appropriate and might have had something to do with the film losing that award. Anderson was also nominated for his direction and there aren't a lot of wrong moves made here...a director who has developed a growing rep company with each film and somehow manages to create the perfect marriages of character and actor while never neglecting the technical aspects of perfecting story authenticity while never letting us forget we're watching a movie without actually breaking the 4th wall, something that Anderson has gotten down to a science. His camera work is deliberate and stark, creating striking cinematic pictures that linger in the viewer's mind, yet at the same time keeping his story moving at a such a lightening pace that there is no time to question the events unfolding in front of us. Anderson is a filmmaker whose work requires and demands complete attention and never has me looking at my watch.

Anderson has put together an absolutely brilliant cast here, headed by Fiennes, who has not been so charismatic onscreen since Quiz Show and Revolori is a revelation as young Zero. The brilliant supporting cast includes Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, F. Murray Abraham, and Jude Law. Anderson's care regarding the look of his story was rewarded with four richly deserved Oscars for costumes, hair and makeup, music score, and the breathtaking set design. A one-of-a-kind motion picture experience that will spark the imagination and tickle the funny bone.



A FAREWELL TO ARMS (1957)
Producer David O. Selznick put a lot of money into A Farewell to Arms, a 1957 remake of the 1932 film based on Ernest Hemingway's classic novel, apparently as a valentine to wife Jennifer Jones, but I think he chose the wrong vehicle.

Hemingway's novel was actually turned into a stage play by Laurence Stallings in 1930 and ran for 30 performances before becoming a film in 1932 with Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes playing an ambulance driver and nurse who have a star-crossed romance during WWI. This review is coming from someone who has never read Hemingway's novel nor saw the 1932 film.

On the positive side, director Charles Vidor did a credible job showcasing the absurdity of war, mounting some pretty believable battle sequences for the 1950's. I also enjoyed Rock Hudson's performance as Lt. Frederick Henry. Hudson had spent most of the decade up to this point becoming the king of 1950's melodrama and fresh off his Oscar-nominated performance in Giant, the actor proves he understands this genre. Also liked Mercedes Macambridge and Elaine Stritch as nurses who fall on either side of this star-crossed romance. It was fun seeing Hudson and Macambridge share the screen again after playing brother and sister in Giant. The screenplay did have some surprising adult touches too...I loved when Jones enters Hudson's hospital room during one scene, it fades to black, and the next scene we see Jones out on the terrace, out of her nurse smock and her hair down.

Jennifer Jones was another story...not sure if I was more annoyed by the character of Catherine or Jones' performance but actually I think it was a combination of both. From her opening scene where Catherine is telling Frederick about the soldier who died before she could marry him, I was never quite sure if Catherine wasn't confusing Frederick with that guy, coupled with Catherine's incessant need for constant validation and needing Frederick to say he loves her every ten seconds. By the time we get to the childbirth scenes, she is intolerable and can't believe Hudson isn't running from the hospital room screaming.

Hardcore Hudson fans might want to check this out, but I thought Jones was unconvincing and the movie was about 45 minutes too long, but judge for yourself.



THE ARTIST

I discovered I have recently been overusing the phrase "strikingly original" after my viewing of a remarkable piece of filmmaking called The Artist, a 2011 masterwork that became the first silent film to win the Oscar for Best Picture, as well as four other awards. In addition to being "strikingly original", this film is also funny, stylish, heartbreaking, profoundly moving, running roughshod over my emotions as an elegant valentine to Hollywood and the art of filmmaking, proving that film can stir emotion with minimum dialogue and maximum soul.

The film stars French heartthrob Jean Dujardin as George Valentin, a silent movie matinee idol at the height of his career in late 1920's Hollywood who meets an aspiring starlet named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) and though there is an immediate attraction between the two, it is also clear that for both of these people put their careers first, which experience a serious and irreparable fork with the advent of talking pictures, which George initially dismisses as a fad that will fade, but Peppy embraces and runs with. In true Hollywood fashion, George's career begins to crumble while Peppy becomes a huge star but never forgets George, who though he will always have feelings for Peppy, can never truly accept the fact that she is now a bigger star than she is. The plot does sound familiar, but the hook here is that everything that happens in this film is done with absolutely no dialogue.

The last time I saw an actual silent movie released theatrically was Mel Brooks' 1976 comedy Silent Movie, which was a parody of the filmmaking technique. This film is not a parody, it is an homage, a loving homage mounted in elegant and sophisticated fashion that is true to the film technique for most of its running time. I had resisted this film for awhile because knowing it was silent I knew it would require reading and I hate reading at the movies. It is initially unsettling that the title cards with the dialogue are actually in French, but very quickly into the story this becomes completely irrelevant. Writer and director Michel Hazanavicius has clearly done his homework, understands the art of silent film and makes everything that happens on the screen crystal clear and the inability to read French becomes a non-issue and for this alone, Hazanavicius deserved the Oscar he won for Outstanding Achievement in Direction.

Of course, in a silent film, music is a crucial component because it has to stir a lot of the emotions that are usually assigned to dialogue and Ludovic Bource's work here is masterful and won him a richly deserved Oscar as well...the music in the film turns on a dime as the scenes do and it ranges from full orchestrations to a single instrument from scene to scene but it is always appropriate and matches what is happening on the screen.

There is a lot of classic Hollywood inspiration present here...films like Singin in the Rain, Sunset Boulevard, A Star is Born, All About Eve, and The Bad and the Beautiful come to mind while watching but nothing here smacks of imitation or rip-off, it is purely homage and homage done with complete respect.

Jean Dujardin, a charismatic actor who reminded me of Gene Kelly in his prime, is a revelation in the starring role and won a richly deserved Oscar for Outstanding Lead Actor. Berenice Bejo, whose deep soulful eyes reveal an actress of depth, was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress, though I'm a little unclear as to why she was nominated in the supporting category, unless the studio thought she had a better chance of winning in the supporting category, because this role was clearly a lead. There were a few familiar American actors here too...John Goodman made a perfect movie studio head and loved James Cromwell as George's chauffeur and BFF. The film was shot in beautiful black and white and was robbed of the cinematography Oscar, as well as the one for art direction. but it did win for costume design.

This was a once-in-a-lifetime movie experience that had me laughing, holding my breath, smiling, and most importantly for me, fighting tears. When I have to fight tears, this is a motion picture that has taken complete control of me, a sign of a great film...this film is, in a word, a masterpiece. For true cinema purists.



IRON MAN 2

2010's Iron Man 2 is the busy sequel to the original Marvel comic smash that attempts a novel approach to the comic book sequel and achieves a semblance of success, even though I think director Jon Favreau may have bitten off a little more than he can chew here, stepping in front of the camera as well.

Favreau had to go a different route with the sequel as the basis of most sequels, the reveal of the secret identity, was not an option since the alter ego was revealed at the end of the first film. What Favreau chose to do here was to create a story wrapped around Tony Stark's legacy, which really wasn't addressed in the first film and creating some very personal risks for Tony that interfere with his battle with a mad man (Mickey Roarke) who knew his father teaming with a competitive weapons dealer (Sam Rockwell).not to mention a possible shift in allegiance for Tony's friend Rhodey (now played by Don Cheadle, Terrance Howard wanted too much money for the sequel).

Favreau came up with some good ideas here, but either let them get away from or didn't develop them enough. I liked the idea of the equipment that originally saved Tony's life is now endangering his health, forcing him to make Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) CEO of Stark Industries, but the health issues seems to resolve itself with little or no explanation and how Roarke was able to locate Stark so quickly was also a little hard to swallow and the appearance of Nicky Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and the soon to be Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) seemed to come out of nowhere just to set up the Avengers series. As always with an eye on the bottom line, Favreau does make sure that this story clearly sets up a third Iron man film as well, while leaving dangling plot participles here unaddressed. but it all happens so quickly under the guise of elaborate smoke and mirrors that we're not supposed to notice.

Don't get me wrong....the film is watchable as long as you don't think about it too much. Robert Downey Jr. still lights up the screen in the title role and the "will they or won't they" with Pepper is briefly addressed. Mickey Roarke was an offbeat choice for a comic book villain, but it worked and Sam Rockwell, as always, made every moment he had onscreen count. Loved Cheadle as the new Rhodey too...my first reaction to Cheadle in this role is that he is much too intelligent a screen presence for this kind of popcorn, but he seemed committed and made it work.

Of course, the technical aspects of the film are solid, with special nods to art direction and sound editing, but I think if Favreau had stayed behind the camera and spent more time working with Justin Theroux's screenplay than trying to get screentime, this sequel could have rocked, but as it stands, I've seen a lot worse.



Wow, I'm gone one day and you've reviewed three movies already!

Thanks for watching a recent reviewed movie of mine, A Farewell To Arms. Nice review, I liked that you gave the reader some background information about he stage play. I didn't know there was a play.

Jennifer Jones was another story...not sure if I was more annoyed by the character of Catherine or Jones' performance but actually I think it was a combination of both. From her opening scene where Catherine is telling Frederick about the soldier who died before she could marry him, I was never quite sure if Catherine wasn't confusing Frederick with that guy, coupled with Catherine's incessant need for constant validation and needing Frederick to say he loves her every ten seconds.
I believe Hemingway wrote Catherine as a neurotic and damaged, needy woman, who gets that way from the horrors of war. At the start of the film she has suffered emotional stress when her fiance is killed in the war. She tells Rock Hudson, she's not right in the head. So yeah, you're right she was weird, my wife raised the same questions after we watched the movie. I'm pretty sure her character was suppose to be so needy-annoying, almost a psychosis. I loved the scenes that were shot in the Alps and on Lake Como.



Wow, I'm gone one day and you've reviewed three movies already!

Thanks for watching a recent reviewed movie of mine, A Farewell To Arms. Nice review, I liked that you gave the reader some background information about he stage play. I didn't know there was a play.

I believe Hemingway wrote Catherine as a neurotic and damaged, needy woman, who gets that way from the horrors of war. At the start of the film she has suffered emotional stress when her fiance is killed in the war. She tells Rock Hudson, she's not right in the head. So yeah, you're right she was weird, my wife raised the same questions after we watched the movie. I'm pretty sure her character was suppose to be so needy-annoying, almost a psychosis. I loved the scenes that were shot in the Alps and on Lake Como.
Thank you for once again respecting my opinion...I was a little apprehensive writing the review because I got the impression that you really liked it, but I've never lied about my opinions and you've always respected them. I have a feeling that Catherine's behavior is better explained in the novel, one of the first things I thought of after finishing the movie is that I wish I had read the book, but I've always been a "wait for the movie to come out" kind of guy. Rock Hudson was great though. I will also tell you, if you haven't seen it, run, don't walk to see The Artist...absolutely amazing movie and I KNOW that you will love it.



I always respect your opinion too Gideon...No, I didn't love A Farewell To Arms (but I did like it), and thought it was a uniquely different movie for an American film. There were scenes in it like the dead topless woman with a baby at her breast that would never be included in a Hollywood film.

I agree with you that Rock Hudson was very good in this and that the character of Catherine was odd. Yes, she drove me crazy at times too!



SOUTHPAW

The 2015 boxing drama Southpaw has a cliche-ridden screenplay that heaps a lot on the central character and some really unappealing supporting characters, but the film is worth investing in for the gutsy and unhinged performance by Jake Gyllenhaal in the starring role that makes the film seem a lot better than it really is.

Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope, the light heavyweight champion of the world, 43 wins and no losses, who is facing that crucial point in his career where he's getting hit a lot more than he used to and his wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams) is worried about how much more he can take. A confrontation with a cocky fighter (Miguel Gomez) who wants a shot at Eddie's title, actually results in Maureen's tragic death, an event that sends Billy on a dizzying downward spiral where he loses everything, including custody of his daughter, Leila (Oona Lawrence), forcing him to start over again with a new trainer (Forrest Whitaker) in his corner.

Kurt Sutter's screenplay offers nothing really groundbreaking and I really didn't expect it to...I've seen a whole lot of movies revolving around this sport and there's not a whole lot new or innovative that can be brought to the table at this point. The one thing that I have noticed with each boxing movie I have ever seen is that each film offers a new training technique that I have never seen before...in the case of this film, it was the tying of the rope across the center of the ring and having Billy duck from one side of the rope to the other...of course I had never seen a fighter punch a slab of beef until I saw Rocky so who am I to say this is not a legitimate training technique?

What I didn't like about this story is that even after the death of his wife, the story kept heaping more and more misfortune on poor Billy, making sure the character was rock bottom before he would initiate any kind of change in his life. I also didn't like the way his posse drifted away after things turned bad for him, just as Maureen had predicted...it was really disturbing watching Billy's manager (50 Cent) walk to the ring for the climactic fight behind Billy's opponent. I was also turned off by Forrest Whitaker's character the second he lied about drinking...his character seemed to be of the "do as I say not as I do" school, which was a real turn-off and Whitaker's unconvincing performance didn't help.

What we do have is Antoine Fuqua, a proven director of action with Training Day and The Equalizer under his belt, providing believable action sequences inside and outside the ring and Gyllenhaal, looking pumped and amazing, commanding the screen with such authority that it actually wasn't that difficult looking past the film's problems and watching a real movie star killing it...again.



Jason Bateman made an inauspicious feature directorial debut with a pointless, unfunny, and bordering on offensive comedy from 2013 called Bad Words, which when all is said is done, just comes off as someone's public working through their childhood issues and I'm not sure if it's Bateman or the writer.

Bateman plays Guy Trilby, a 40 year old proofreader who, through a technical loophole, is able to enter a children's national spelling bee, upsetting bee staff, outraging parents and baffling the internet reporter (Kathryn Hahn) who has agreed to sponsor him on what appears to be a very serious mission for which Guy takes a lot of abuse, physical and otherwise, but eventually we learn that there is a very specific reason why Guy is obsessed with winning this bee and it is supposed to garner our sympathy as is the relationship he develops with a fellow bee contestant, who is 30 years younger than he is.

I don't know what exactly is the problem here...I don't know if it's the fact that Andrew Barton's screenplay gives us a very unlikable central character or the fact that the reveal of why he's doing this comes way too late in the story and doesn't really seem to be worth all the unhappiness and anger he causes a whole lot of people during this ugly little mission of his or that this 10 year old is so pathetic that he would actually take all the abuse he does from Guy because he is that lonely and pathetic...OK, I think it's all of that.

Bateman has such a likable screen persona but this character really stretches it to its limits and Hahn is effective in the most significant role of her career. Allison Janney and Phillip Baker Hall provide solid support but Rohand Chand is completely annoying as the boy. Bateman even provided a significant role for Steve Whitting, who was his co-star on The Hogan Family, but really, unless you're a hardcore Bateman fan, I'd take a pass.



EVERYBODY'S FINE

Director and co-writer Kirk Jones and star Robert De Niro form an effective film partnership in Everybody's Fine, a bittersweet comedy-drama that, despite some soap opera-ish elements, drives home a realistic message about what happens to families that grow up, separate, and stop communicating.

De Niro plays Frank, a widower for less than a year, who is disappointed when his four grown children cancel their plan to attend a reunion at his house so, against doctor's orders, decides to take a road to visit his children individually, learning that his children did all their talking to their mother and that they all have been keeping secrets from dad ever since mom died. As the story progresses, we wonder which will happen first: will dad confront the children about the truth or will the children get honest with their dad.

There is so much going on in this warm family drama but it's never too much for the viewer to take in. It's sad watching Frank, who is clearly still adjusting to widowhood and still talking to his wife as though she's there, even though he tells his doctor that he never does that. The screenplay is a little fuzzy initially about how much Frank knows and how much he wants to know...he is aware that the children found it easier to talk to their mother and he can't reconcile the fact that they can't automatically talk to him just because mom is gone. As we watch him visit the children, you get the impression that he might suspect that the wool is being pulled over his eyes, but he never lets the children know what he suspects, but a climactic fantasy scene brings all of this beautifully into focus.

The film broaches a lot of the same territory as the Alexander Payne/Jack Nicholson film About Schmidt, but it takes it a step further as we watch an aging family man in deep denial about his children not being the people he thought they were but never wavering in his love for them either, evidenced by his final words to each of them as they part: "Are you happy?"

After almost half a century in the business, De Niro proves that he can still command a movie screen, making us love Frank immediately and wanting him to face the reality of what's going on with his children and we are relieved when he does. Drew Barrymore has one of her best roles as daughter Rosie, a dancer in Vegas questioning her sexuality; Sam Rockwell is wonderful as the orchestra percussionist whom Frank thought was a conductor and Kate Beckinsale is quite convincing as the advertising exec trying to hide her separation from her husband, but it's really De Niro's show and with the aid of director Kirk Jones, presents a movie character who evokes sympathy, sadness, and the need to just give the guy a hug.



LAST VEGAS

With a cast led by five Oscar winners, the 2013 comedy Last Vegas definitely has star power going for it, but the story does have a little more substance than what appears on the surface, given even more richness thanks to the professionalism of a cast who give a rather unremarkable story a gloss it really doesn't deserve.

Four childhood friends are reunited after over a half century when Billy (Michael Douglas) announces that he is marrying a woman half his age and his friends Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) decide to throw a bachelor party for him in Las Vegas. Also thrown in the mix is Paddy (Robert De Niro), who has past and present issues with Billy and has to be dragged along for the party, but eventually gets into it, until history between Billy and Paddy begins to repeat itself in the form of a 2nd rate Vegas lounge singer (Mary Steenburgen).

Director Jon Turtletaub and screenwriter Dan Fogelman really didn't have to do much here but trust the amazing cast that they have assembled and let them do what they do best, kind of the way Rob Reiner stayed out of Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson's way when they did The Bucket List...if you trust the talent to deliver and they do here. The story goes all the places you expect it too, but the lack of originality is forgiven because these actors demand said forgiveness.

Turtletaub mounted this comic escapade on expensive Vegas locations that serve the story but never get in the way of this incredible cast. As expected the performances are first rate, with standout work from Kevin Kline, who steals every scene he is in. Nothing groundbreaking here, but the cast definitely makes this one worth seeing. As mentioned before, fans of The Bucket List will have a head start here.



COMPLIANCE

Compliance is an infuriating and stomach-churning drama from 2013 that is only made all the more sickening by the fact that it really happened...and has happened multiple times all over the country.

This low budget indie stars Dreama Walker as Becky, a fast food employee who has been accused of allegedly stealing money from a customer in the store. Her supervisor (Ann Dowd) brings her to the back and is given instructions on the phone from an alleged police officer regarding searching Becky's clothing and making her submit to a strip search, progressing to actual sexual humiliation involving other employees and the supervisor's fiancee (Bill Camp), resulting in what is clearly a sexual assault on this innocent woman conducted over the phone.

This story is aggravating almost immediately because the viewer already knows that Becky is innocent and we just don't understand how someone can just call a fast food place, identify themselves as a police officer and everyone at the restaurant just takes the man's word, not to mention that none of the things he's saying make any sense and he's not offering any information regarding the alleged crime that he should be offering, like the name of the alleged victim or how much money was taken or why she didn't accuse Becky while she was still in the restaurant or why no one in the restaurant saw Becky come from behind the counter, walk over to a customer's purse and take money out of it. The supervisor questions none of this and asks for no confirmation of what has happened. She blindly obeys everything this guy on the phone tells her to do including getting her fiancee involved in the mess, which should have been a major red flag.

This movie also aggravates because it makes just about everyone involved in this story look like complete idiots, including Becky. When the alleged officer insisted on the strip search or Becky would have been picked up, Becky should have said fine and waited for the police to come get her. Nothing that happens in this restaurant makes sense and had no justification and for once, in a refreshing change of pace, the police figure out what's going on in about five minutes and the final nail in the insanity is when the police question the supervisor about why she cooperated with this guy, all she does is cover her own ass and declare that she has broken up with her fiancee.

On the plus side, the low budget look definitely added authenticity to the piece and Walker and Dowd do give solid performances, but more than anything else, this movie just pissed me off.



Bells are Ringing
Sparkling direction by Vincente Minnelli, a musical score that spawned a couple of pop standards and a terrific lead performance by the star make the 1960 musical Bells are Ringing a must for musical comedy fans.

This delicious musical comedy stars the legendary Judy Holliday as Ella Petersen, an operator for an answering service run by her cousin (Jean Stapleton) called Susanswerphone, who gets a little too personally involved with the lives of her clients...she uses a different voice for each client and uses information she learns from one client to help another but things becomes complicated when she falls in love with one of the voices on the phone, a struggling playwright named Jeff Moss (Dean Martin) who's having trouble writing since breaking up with his partner, even though they haven't met but of course they do eventually, forcing her to lie but eventually getting his new play written, a dentist she knows to write the songs, and coaches an actor (Frank Gorshin) she knows on how to get the lead.

Of course every classic musical has a subplot and here it's where Sue's new boyfriend (Eddie Foy Jr.) starts running a bookie joint out of her business pretending that he's selling classical record albums, but like all great musical comedies, everything works out before the credits roll.

This musical has a lot going for it including Minnelli's penchant for musical comedy and a terrific musical score by Jule Styne and Betty Comden and Adolph Green which includes "A Perfect Relationship", "Nothing But a Dream", "Just in Time", "I Met a Girl", "The Party's Over", "Drop that Name", and a song called "Do It", written especially for Dean Martin. But the best thing about this musical is Holliday, ten years after winning an Oscar for Born Yesterday, she reprises her Broadway role that allows her to sing, dance, clown, and employ all kinds of different voices. There is a sadness attached to the performance though...Holliday learned she was dying of cancer during production and this would be her final film role, but a fitting swan song for a movie star who never phoned it in.



The Pick Up Artist

The seemingly limitless charm and charisma of Robert Downey Jr. makes a 1987 comic romance called The Pick Up Artist seem a lot better than it really is, but Downey Jr. almost makes you forget you're caught up in pointless cinematic fluff.

Jack Jericho is a 21 year old stud so obsessed with romancing as many women as possible that he actually rehearses pick up lines in the mirror and will have his eye on his next conquest while obtaining the phone number of the current one. Jack meets his match in Randy (Molly Ringwald) a smart and sexually liberated young museum tour guide who is trying to help her father (Dennis Hopper) with his mob debt.

Director and writer James Toback has mounted an entertaining romantic comedy that has some surprising adult touches for 1987. I loved that when Jack and Randy first meet, she agrees to anonymous sex with him in his car, but won't give him her phone number. It was fun seeing a womanizer get what he's been giving out for so long and be totally thrown about it. Even when Jack learns of Randy's mob troubles, Randy works very hard at keeping Jack out of it, but, any rom com buff knows that this is never going to happen, especially when it's Robert Downey Jr.

The mob elements get a little convoluted and eventual bog down the movie, but the chemistry of the leads keeps us interested and invested in their union in the final reel. Robert Downey Jr. has rarely been so sexy onscreen and Ringwald's Randy is surprisingly mature, if a bit aloof. The supporting cast is pretty solid with Harvey Keitel playing another variation on Sport in Taxi Driver and Dennis Hopper is wonderful as Randy's dad, but this movie belongs to Robert Downey Jr., who makes what could have been a monotonous journey in the hands of another actor, worth the time.