Gideon58's Reviews

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A 2016 Oscar nominee for Best Picture, Hidden Figures is a docudrama that, despite a manipulative and slightly preachy screenplay and some uncomfortable lapses into melodrama, still manages to captivate the viewer with an important story that should have been told about 40 years ago.

It is 1961, a time in the United States when racism was at its zenith, segregation was the norm, and JFK was a driving force behind the infancy of the space program. This story offers another of those heretofore completely unheard of chapters of American history that for some reason has been buried and not talked about for almost 70 years. Apparently, the mathematical calculations regarding space trajectories and coordinates were all computed and documented by a group of African American women who worked in the bowels of NASA and were its best kept secret.

This film focuses on three of these women: Katherine Goble Johnson was pulled from the group to work directly with Al Harrison as sort of a human computer, providing data that was vital to the space program while fighting unabashed bigotry for not only being black but being a woman. Dorothy Vaughn was Katherine's supervisor who was doing the work of a supervisor without the title and compensation the job should have brought her. Dorothy is thrown when an unknown company called IBM arrives at NASA to install their first computer mainframe, a new-fangled device that could put Dorothy and her subordinates out of her work, so Dorothy decides to get in front of her competition and learn how to operate it so that she and her girls become indispensable. Mary Jackson is a mathematician who really wants to be an engineer but must obtain permission to attend a whites only school in order to take the courses she needs to make her dream a reality.

I found it shocking that this wonderful story, directed and co-written by Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent) and based on a book by Margot Lee Shetterly took close to 70 years to come to the screen. I was three years old in 1961 and I am shocked that the story of what these women did never even crossed my path in high school. Melfi and Allison Schroeder's screenplay focuses a little too much on the racism of the 60's, well-worn cinematic territory that is presented with sledgehammer intensity here. I would have liked to have seen a little more focus on what these three terribly smart women did and less on their bitterness about having to use bathrooms for coloreds only. I think a lot of these events were overblown to manipulate the viewer but there are points in the film where we are asked to accept a lot....are we really supposed to believe that Al Harrison had NO idea that Katherine had to run half a mile away from her desk to go to the bathroom? And his dismantling of a couple of bathroom signs was supposed to signify some sort of change? We understood it all when Katherine went to get her first cup of coffee from the "White" coffee pot or when Harrison saw the "coloreds" only coffee pot and everyone in the room pretended to know nothing about it. It's 1961, racism is going on, we get it, move on and concentrate on this terrific story. This movie found me feeling more offense at the word "colored" then the "N" word.

Melfi also assembled a terrific cast to serve his story here. Janelle Monae was an eye opener as Mary Jackson and Oscar winner Kevin Costner offers a real movie star turn as Al Harrison. I also loved Glen Powell as John Glenn and Emmy winner Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) as Paul Stafford. Oscar winner Octavia Spencer's beautifully controlled Dorothy Vaughn earned her another nomination, but for me, it is Taraji P. Henson who delivers the powerhouse performance here as Katherine, a woman of strength and pride who sacrificed everything for her work, did eventually find a man, but never really needed one. For those whose only exposure to Henson has been as Cookie on FOX's Empire, this is a performance that will surprise you. Theodore Melfi has mounted an important story that has finally been brought out of the historical closet and manages to entertain as well.

Remember at the end of the second act of 1976's All the President's Men when Ben Bradlee (the late Jason Robards) warns Woodward (Robert Redford) and Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) that if they are about to call the most powerful man in the world a crook, they better have the story right? Well, the 2015 docudrama Truth is an on-target look at would have happened if Woodward and Bernstein had gotten it wrong.
During George W. Bush's run for a second term as President, rumors began to form that Bush had avoided being drafted and sent to Vietnam by signing up for the National Guard and even once there, using personal leverage to get him out of a lot of his obligations as a member of the guard. This film documents what happens when CBS anchorman Dan Rather and 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes begin an investigation into the allegations, which ends up putting their own careers in jeopardy.

It was circa 2003 and this was at a time when 60 Minutes was a such as cash cow for CBS that they actually expanded the show into a second episode on Wednesday nights. Rather had built a reputation as the CBS anchor rivaling Cronkite having actually surpassed Cronkite in the number of shows anchored. We are intrigued when Mapes, Rather, and their team conduct an investigation that boils down down to a small group of documents that confirm what they suspect; however, these documents are not originals and proving their authenticity becomes impossible as Mapes and Rather backtrack to get the story from a different angle and find out that just about everyone they contacted regarding this investigation lied to them and their whole expose begins to crumble in front of their eyes. The true irony of this investigation is that despite the fact that no one will go on the record about the authenticity of these records, no one denies their authenticity either.

Director and co-screenwriter James Vanderbilt has mounted an overly elaborate screenplay, based on Mapes' book, that makes it difficult to track everything that is going on here, but we are behind Mapes, Rather, & company and want to see them get what they're after and despite the sometimes exhausting energy it takes to keep up with what's going on here, what shines through in this story and kept this reviewer riveted to the screen was the relationship between Mary Mapes and Dan Rather. It was such a pleasure watching the mutual respect and trust between these two and that they had each other's backs all the way to the end of this very ugly journey that did destroy both of their careers.

Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford deliver a couple of flashy movie star performances as Mapes and Rather. They establish such a strong onscreen chemistry that they make this whole sad and twisted story worth investing in. Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Moss, and Topher Grace also score as the rest of their investigative team, but it is really the relationship between Mapes and Rather, beautifully realized by Oscar winners Blanchett and Redford that make this one worth a look.

Director David Mackenzie and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan have collaborated on a riveting piece of screen entertainment called Hell or High Water, a 2016 Best Picture nominee that is a little bit crime drama, a little bit character study, a little bit buddy movie, a little bit family dysfunction drama, but these parts add up to create a richly entertaining adventure that works as a viable cinematic adventure.

Toby Howard (Chris Pine) is waist-deep in child support and determined to find the money to save his family ranch as a legacy for his children. He turns to older brother, Tanner (Ben Foster), a career criminal who has been out of jail a year after doing a ten year stretch in prison, to help him secure the money he needs. The Howard brothers begin robbing branches of a particular Texas bank chain and after a couple of robberies, the task of bringing the brothers to justice somehow lands in the lap of a world weary Texas Ranger named Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his Indian/Mexican deputy, Alberto (Gil Birmingham) and the viewer has a front seat to one of the most emotionally charged games of criminal cat and mouse to hit movie screens.

What screenwriter Sheridan has effectively done here has brought us a pair of bad guys and a pair of good guys whose degree of good and bad is never black and white and whose relationships offer some subtle and unforeseen parallels. Yes, the Howard Brothers rob banks and thanks primarily to Tanner, know exactly what they are doing...I was impressed by the fact that as they hit the cash drawers, they only take small bills and only take loose bills, nothing that is bundled, assuming that loose bills are more difficult to trace I imagine. It is also made clear that the brothers have a very specific mission and are not interested in hurting anyone. There is a lovely moment right before the third robbery we witness where Toby asks Tanner to go easy on the teller this time. It is at this moment, where these guys really stopped being black and white villains, aided by early backstory regarding their very troubled past as children that has only strengthened their bond.

As for Ranger Hamilton and Alberto, we are exposed to a relationship that is like a long married couple...Hamilton's methodical and sometimes maddening approach to nailing the Howard brothers is often overshadowed by his often condescending treatment of Alberto, who shrugs it off for the most part, but it's obvious there are moments where Alberto would like to punch his boss in the face. There is an element of humor to Hamilton's treatment of Alberto that effectively conceals a respect that Hamilton only reveals during the climactic confrontation with Toby and Tanner.

It is the crafting of these two sets of relationships that sets this crime drama apart from most, along with the fact that the story never takes itself too seriously,,,there are a surprising amount of laughs in a story that on the surface appears to be deadly serious, but director Mackenzie lets the humor in these characters shine through without ever forgetting what's really going on here. I was also terribly amused that both the Howard brothers and our Texas Rangers had memorable encounters with sassy waitresses while on dinner breaks.

Mackenzie also pulled four remarkable performances from actors who created four characters who appear to have known each other forever. Chris Pine once again proves he is more than a pretty face with his intense Toby and Ben Foster, who I haven't seen since Alpha Dog, is explosive and exciting as the ticking time bomb that is Tanner. Gil Birmingham is a revelation as Alberto, holding his own opposite the amazing Jeff Bridges, who galvanizes the screen in this Oscar-nominated performance as the seemingly laid back Texas Ranger who is determined to see this case to the end, manifested in an unexpected second ending that this reviewer really didn't see coming. This film definitely displays inspiration from people like Tarantino and the Cohen Brothers, but this is a singularly unique film experience that left me spent.

Remember at the end of the second act of 1976's All the President's Men when Ben Bradlee (the late Jason Robards) warns Woodward (Robert Redford) and Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) that if they are about to call the most powerful man in the world a crook, they better have the story right? Well, the 2015 docudrama Truth is an on-target look at would have happened if Woodward and Bernstein had gotten it wrong.
Fact is stranger than fiction. It's hard to believe all these events in Truth happened but they did. I liked this a bit more than you did, but glad you still liked it.

I was luke warm to this movie, but as always good review, well written!

An absolutely breathtaking, Oscar-nominated performance by Natalie Portman makes 2016's Jackie, a flawed look at one of our most enigmatic first ladies, worth your time.

This is our first theatrical exposure to this woman. A lavish ABC TV movie called Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy starred Jaclyn Smith and there was a mini-series in 2011 called The Kennedys which featured Katie Holmes in the role. Director Pablo Lorrain and screenwriter Noah Oppenheim have taken on a delicate task here, instead of taking the accustomed biopic approach here, they have given us an up close and personal look at the 35th First Lady's life,just days after her husband was assassinated on November 22, 1963.

This film utilizes archival footage effectively edited into this presentation of the insanity that was Jackie Kennedy's life after the death of her husband and how she remained the picture of poise and dignity to the public, doing her best to fulfill the obligations of her husband's office, putting her own grieving process to the side in order to make sure that the legacy her husband has left is accurately remembered, while finding a way to reconcile herself to who the real JFK was, taking care of her children, and documenting what she's going through to a journalist, who appears as if he would rather be working on some other assignment.

This is one of the few times that I have actually seen the subject of a biopic, brief as the glance might have been. A good deal of the story here is centered around the tour of the White House that Mrs. Kennedy gave for CBS and I do remember seeing that tour and I never forgot what a poised and elegant presence Jackie was and was curious to see if the people involved did their homework and they did, though I think Oppenheim's screenplay presents Jackie as a little more calculating than she really this film, Jackie is presented as using this interview as a sound byte over which she had complete editorial control, telling the journalist exactly what he could write and what he couldn't. This journalist wasn't in line when the sensitivity chips were passed out either...I was shocked when he asked Jackie if she remembered what the bullet sounded like.

The film does a frighteningly accurate recreation of the moment that JFK is assassinated and everything that followed. The overhead camera shot of Jackie in the speeding car with JFK's bloody skull in her lap is something I won't soon forget nor was the moment when Lady Bird suggested Jackie change out of the pink suit to meet the press later and she said she wanted the world to see what they had done to her husband. It was also unsettling watching Jackie as LBJ is sworn in as the 36th POTUS, one of the film's most squirm-worthy moments.

The director provides a more than competent melding of the archival footage with his own film and the combining of black and white and color photography. A large portion of this story is told sans dialogue and that works because of Natalie Portman's brilliant performance in the title role, Like the director and screenwriter, the actress has done her homework and produces a performance of power and pathos. Bouquets as well to Peter Skarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy, Beth Grant as Lady Bird, and Billy Crudup as the journalist interviewing Jackie, but Natalie Portman owns this movie with a performance that demands a second Oscar.

An Oscar nominee for Best Picture of 2016, Hacksaw Ridge is a riveting and eye popping fact-based drama that takes an unflinching look at the senseless carnage of war through the eyes of a conscientious objector and his sometimes credibility-stretching contributions that are a blazing testament to the directorial genius of Mel Gibson.

This is the true story of Desmond Doss, the God-fearing son of a WWI veteran who wants to join the army during the second World War, but as a medic and upon arrival at boot camp, shocks his commanding officers and bunk mates when he refuses to even touch a gun. This leads to the expected tension with his fellow soldiers and eventually to court martial proceedings where he is incredibly exonerated and begins to serve his army in WWII without ever picking up a gun.

Since it's based on fact, it's hard to dispute a lot of what Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight's screenplay presents here. We get a very balanced look at the consequences of Doss' beliefs, understanding how he feels, but also understanding the mistrust and resentment that develops in his barracks, wondering how safe they would be in combat with someone who refuses to shoot a gun and we wonder if Doss is even going to survive boot camp, but he not only somehow survives, but becomes a major force when his unit is actually sent to battle the Japanese at the battle location of the title. I had very mixed feelings about Doss' relationship with the guys in the camp because I understood both sides, even though I found it a little hard to believe that Doss thought he could go through army training and never pick up a gun.

Once it was clear that Doss was going to be allowed into combat without rifle training, the story becomes a little pat and contrived as Doss' indispensable role in the battle at Hacksaw Ridge does defy credibility to a degree, but in terms of movie entertainment, it made for an emotionally charged story that had me riveted to the screen, despite some stomach-churning violence and carnage.

Director Mel Gibson is no stranger to cinematic carnage, as anyone who saw The Passion of the Christ can attest, but he takes it to an entirely different level here, which had this reviewer constantly turning back and forth from the screen, unable to stomach some of the carnage displayed here. Gibson paints some shocking cinematic pictures here...the sight of the wagons of dead and half dead bodies returning from the Ridge just as Doss' unit arrives to replace them is permanently etched in the memory, the varied effects of these men is all over their faces and there are no two faces the same. The sight of a soldier on attack who picks up the half-blown off body of a fellow soldier to utilize as a shield was a shocking image that I was sure was my eyes playing tricks on me.

In addition to his brilliant recreation of the carnage and insanity of war, Gibson also manages to pull some strong performances from a terrific cast. Andrew Garfield received a Best Actor nomination for his compelling, wide-eyed sincerity as Doss, a character we are behind from the moment he appears onscreen and his likability makes it much easier to accept the sometimes hard to believe war hero he is set up to be. There is also standout work from Sam Worthington as Captain Glover, Luke Bracey as Smitty, Theresa Palmer as Doss' wife, Hugo Weaving as his father, and in a startling change of pace for the actor, Vince Vaughn as Sergeant Howell. As great as the cast is and as impressive as the production values are, they only work because of a director with his eye on the prize and a second Best Director Oscar is not out of the realm of possibility for an artist working to repair the damage he's done to his career and this film is a good start.


On the surface, what we have here is a daring and unique character study that does have limited appeal, despite its tapping into some very universal emotions, but 2016's Moonlight is an effectively crafted look at one young man's quest for his identity that struck a chord with movie audiences and has earned eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture of the Year. This is another one of those movies that never goes anywhere you think it's going to go and requires patience that is rewarded to a degree.

The story opens with the introduction of Chirone,a young boy who is known as Little. He is a painfully shy and emotionally stilted child who is neglected by his crack addict mother, Paula (Naomie Harris) but finds solace and sanctuary with his mother's dealer (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend (Janell Monae). Our initial introduction to Little reveals that he is a victim of constant childhood hazing in his neighborhood that he only understands to a point but does have one friend his own age named Kevin. The story then shifts to Chirone's teenage years where we see the beginning of the end for his mother and an ugly turning point in his relationship with Kevin. Chirone, his mother, and Kevin are then visited as the boys have become young adults and all three have gone through profound changes in their lives but certain connections still exist and are explored.

Director and writer Barry Jenkins has crafted a deliberate and detailed look at the evolution of an African American male whose journey of self-discovery goes several places we don't expect it to and, to be honest, a lot of the places where Chirone's life go to are going to be difficult for Caucasian audiences to relate to but this version of teen angst mounted during the middle portion of the film is rich with universal themes that are familiar to anyone who survived their teenage years, which were all about popularity, sexual discovery, peer pressure, and fighting back...this part of the film is quite strong with a climax that was nothing short of startling, but nothing out of the realism is presented here and there is nothing here that any African American male past the age of 16 will either vicariously relate to or feel a semblance of guilt for participating in some of the ugly behavior displayed.

But where this story really shines is the final third where Chirone and Kevin reconnect as young adults...these characters have gone through a lot of change since being teenagers, including stints in jail and this Chirone is nothing like Little, but the reunion with Kevin is a slow and tension-filled dance where Jenkins puts the viewer on pins and needles waiting for something that is hinted at in subtext, but Jenkins makes us work for it and what we are expecting is delivered but it is delivered with something I wasn't expecting...taste.

The three actors playing Chirone bring this single character vividly to life, with standout work from Ashton Sanders as teenage Chirone. There are also a pair of powerhouse performances from Naomie Harris as Chirone's mother and Mahershala Ali as her dealer that both earned Oscar nominations. The film also features striking camera work, film editing, and an evocative music score that frames this surprisingly delicate story with the loving care it deserves, limited appeal nothwithstanding.

The science fiction thriller has been elevated to a fresh and intelligent level with a challenging and unpredictable 2016 nail biter called Arrival, which skips over the accustomed path of films of this genre that question the existence of life outside of this planet, but confronts that life with the question "What can we do for you?"

Twelve alien crafts that look like giant coffee beans land in different locations all over the world. The only one that lands in the United States appears somewhere in Montana. While attempting to deal with this invasion, the government is baffled when the pod appears to be trying to communicate with the earthlings. Military leaders enlist the aid of a linguistics professor named Louise Banks (Amy Adams), who they have worked with before and has military clearance, to determine exactly what these aliens, who communicate with large, octopus-like tentacles, want with our planet.

Screenwriters Eric Heisserer and Ted Chiang have crafted an adult and contemporary sci-fi nail biter that treats the viewers as adults who don't have to be spoon fed the fact that we are dealing with alien life here. The story also earns its cinematic credentials in that the confrontation doesn't go immediately to intergalactic battle...this not about the destruction of this alien life but the quest to find out exactly what they want from earth because they don't attack, they just land. The military has exhausted scientific and mathematical methods of contact and realize their only option is through actual communication, which is where Banks come in. We are enthralled as Banks methodically gains the trust of these beings through teaching them English words to communicate with but Banks' contact with the aliens (nicknamed Abbott and Costello) reaches a dangerous level when the aliens somehow convey the word "weapon."

Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy) has taken on a mammoth task here, giving a methodic leisure to this story that sometimes moves a little too slowly for us, offers a few too many red herrings, but never goes anywhere we expect it to, but the pieces of this striking cinematic puzzle begin to fall together during a third act where, after constant opposition and interference from the people who asked for help, Louise has to go rogue to continue the path she has initiated which the rest of her crew has lost faith in. The tension of this story is further fueled by the glimpses of what is happening at the other eleven locations where the coffee beans have landed. They have us wondering if these aliens are trying to teach the world how to work together or if they're trying to tear it apart and the final reveal is a payoff no one will see coming.

Villeneuve's direction is crisp and detailed and gets grand assistance from a first rate production team, as well as a cast, headed by the always reliable Amy Adams, who serve the story, which always stays center stage. Villeneuve's direction received one of the film's eight Oscar nominations, as well as a Best Picture nomination, confirming that Villeneuve is a director to watch.


In the spirit of the best Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland "Let's put on a Show" musicals comes the endlessly imaginative and richly entertaining Sing, a dazzling animated musical comedy that provides a classic show business story with a cast of humanoid animals and bathes them in a contemporary gloss that makes this confection hard to resist.

This 2016 winner is the story of Buster Moon (wonderfully voiced by Matthew McConaughey), a third rate theater producer and Koala Bear about to go under when he decides to revive his theater by holding a singing competition and offering $1000 as the prize (all Buster could scrape together). Things get sticky when Buster's assistant misprints the flyers advertising the competition and they say that the prize is $100,000, bringing every singing beast within a 1000 miles to the entrance to audition.

Among the participants we meet are a pig named Rosita (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) who is married and has 25 kids, who loves to sing and has pipes, but no stage presence and is paired with another pig named Gunter (Nick Kroll) who has the presence, if not necessarily the talent; Johnny (voiced by Taron Egerton) is a gorilla who sings like a dream, but can't get from under the thumb of his criminal family; Ash (voiced by Scarlett Johanssen) and Lance (voiced by Beck Bennett) are a pair of rocking porcupines whose offstage relationship is challenged when Buster only wants Ash in the show. There's also Mike (brilliantly voiced by Seth MacFarlane), a self-centered white mouse who thinks he's Frank Sinatra and Meena (voiced by Tori Kelly) an elephant who freezes during her audition but still gets hired to be a stage hand (three guesses who stops the show during the finale).

Garth Jennings does everything right here, as the writer and co-director of this animated fantasy that not only gives human sensibilities to animals, but provides major laughs in the process with a story that is classic show business, featuring references that will get past the intended demographic, but that's what makes this film such perfect family entertainment because those little things that the kids aren't going to understand here, Mom and Dad will be able to fill them in.

Everything works here...this had to be a logistical nightmare for Jennings in more ways than one...the film features over 85 different songs in some form and I was impressed by the thought that Jennings put into matching the right song with the right animal singer...the trio of frogs singing The Pointer Sisters' "Jump" immediately comes to mind. I also loved the evolution that certain characters make here. My favorite was Rosita's discovery of her inner funk while grocery shopping.

The voice work in this film is nothing short of spectacular and was delighted to discover a lot of actors here who can sing, which was total news to me. McConaughey seems to have a ball with the role of Buster Moon and there is also standout work from Witherspoon, Egerton, Kelly, and especially MacFarlane. Never has the term "family entertainment" been more appropriate to a movie that will have you laughing out loud between the occasional "Awwww" moments. A triumph.

M. Night Shyamalan, who redefined the psychological thriller with films like The Sixth Sense, The Village, and Unbreakable, has once again broken new ground with a 2016 thriller called Split which, despite a problematic screenplay, works thanks to Shyamalan's evocative direction and an absolutely spellbinding performance from his leading man.

Three teenage girls are kidnapped in a mall parking lot by a man who calls himself Dennis. He sprays something in the girls eyes and, of course, when they wake up, they are in some kind of basement, but Dennis turns out to be anything but your garden variety psychopath or sexual deviant. It is slowly revealed that Dennis is afflicted with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), also known as split personalities. It eventually comes to light that this man actually has 23 different personalities, though we only meet about eight of them in this story.

For those who never saw Joanne Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve, Sally Field in Sybil, or were not fans of the daytime drama One Life to Live, DID is a condition that is usually caused by a severe childhood trauma that the patient is unable to process in their mind and their only way of dealing with what happened to them is the manifestation of a separate personality, more commonly referred to as an "alter", who protects the person from the pain and from anyone who tries to make that person deal with said trauma. Alters are triggered when the person is forced into dealing with things too painful. Alters always have a different name than the victim, are not always the same age and sometimes aren't even the same sex, but they are all a manifestation of the victim's pain and their mission is to protect the patient. One alter usually takes the lead in protecting the patient and sometimes alters even pretend to be each other in order to become the lead protector.

One thing that Shyamalan's screenplay does is provide an insightful look into this disease that revealed several things that I didn't know about DID, such as the fact that alters can have different health issues than the patient. I was surprised when it was revealed that one of the alters in this story was a diabetic. It's also revealed in this story that alters can sometimes possess superhuman strength, not to mention that they can sometimes not even be human.

In this story, Dennis and another alter named Patricia seem to be running things and once the kidnap victims are in place, other alters begin making themselves known to the girls, including a 9 year old kid named Hedvig and a fashion designer named Barry. We are almost halfway through the film before we actually learn the real name of the patient, which is Kevin. Kevin's only link to the real world appears to be a psychiatrist named Dr. Karen Fletcher, who gets e-mails from Dennis whenever he wants an emergency "session" and is using her work with Kevin to further her own research into DID.

There is a whole lot of stuff that is unexplained here...except for a brief shot of a news broadcast reporting that these girls are missing, we see absolutely no effort from the outside world to find these girls. Logic and continuity are in question as the girls are eventually held in separate rooms and we see Dennis, Patricia, and company hopping from room to room within seconds, changing their clothes every time a new alter appears. We also see Dr. Fletcher watch the newscast about the missing girls and then immediately go to her computer as if she knows what Kevin is doing, but this turned out not to be the case at all.

Yes, there are plot holes you can drive a truck through, but any problems that this film have fall to the wayside, because of Shyamalan's imaginative direction and the amazing performance by James McAvoy as Kevin/Dennis/Hedvig/Barry/Patricia, etc. McAvoy brilliantly, with the aid of Shyamalan, creates eight distinct characters in this film like nothing I have ever seen. Maybe it had something to do with the time of the film's release, but how McAvoy didn't receive an Oscar nomination for this incredible performance is a mystery to me. McAvoy loses himself in every one of these characterizations and keeps meticulous track of what each one is supposed to be doing. There is one fabulous scene where Barry is meeting with Dr. Fletcher who suspects Barry is really Dennis and we are shocked when it turns out that the doctor is correct and that Dennis was actually pretending to be Barry. McAvoy is amazing in this movie and is worth the price of admission alone...the last time I saw an actor command a movie screen the way McAvoy does here was probably Jack Nicholson in The Shining and he gets solid support from Betty Buckley as Dr. Fletcher, a character a lot more complex than she appears on the surface.

This was a harrowing and exhausting motion picture experience where a director and an amazing actor completely disguise this film's flaws and keep the viewer completely wrapped up in this unconventional nail-biter.

As part of Citizen's new musical HoF (thanks again for doing this Citizen), one of the films I had to watch was the 1936 classic Swing Time, starring Hollywood's greatest dance team Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I shouldn't say "had to" like it was a chore because it was anything but.

The paper thin plot introduced us to Lucky Garnett (Astaire) a small town hoofer and chronic gambler who leaves his fiancee (Betty Furness) at the altar. Upon arrival at the house, her father informs Lucky that he will give Lucky another chance to marry his daughter for the bargain price of $25000. Lucky and his best pal Pop (Victor Moore), a magician, gambler, and pickpocket hop a freight train to New York and almost immediately Lucky meets a pretty dance teacher named Penny Carroll (Rogers) and, well, you can guess the rest.

Needless to say, the story is not really the thing with this lavish RKO musical, but this was Astaire and Rogers sixth film together and audiences were beginning to expect more from them than tap and ballroom. Howard Lindsey and Allen Scott have provided a clever screenplay that gives this outing a little more meat than the average movie musical and probably was instrumental in keeping the chemistry between the stars so fresh.

The tuneful score by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields includes "Pick Yourself Up", "A Fine Romance", "Never Gonna Dance", "Waltz in Swing Time", and "The Way You Look Tonight", which won the Oscar for Best Song that year. I loved that "A Fine Romance" was sung in a wintery setting and proved Astaire and Rogers didn't need tap shoes to make a musical number work. Mention should also be made of "Bojangles in Harlem", a spectacular production number which features Astaire dancing in front of a giant screen featuring three shadows of himself.

Future Oscar winning director George Stevens gives this film the light directorial touch it needs that doesn't mess with the stars' very special chemistry and I must give a special shout out to Rogers, who is very funny in this movie...the scene where she is dared to storm into Lucky's dressing room and plant a kiss on him is too funny. Helen Broderick, a definite pre-cursor to actresses like Eve Arden and Thelma Ritter, cracks wise with the best of them and Moore is a scene-stealer as well. Cannot believe I was this entertained by a movie over 80 years old. And remember, "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did...only she did it backwards and in high heels."

2015's I Saw the Light is a dark recounting of the life of country music icon Hank Williams that, despite a charismatic performance from the leading man, suffers due to a cliched screenplay and lethargic direction.

The film opens in 1944 at the quickie justice-of-the-peace wedding of Williams to his longtime girlfriend, Audrey, who also wants to be a music star. The film follows Williams' humble beginnings on an early morning radio show to his first recording contract with Roy Acuff and Fred Rose, through his brief but monumental success with his dream, the Grand Ol' Opry until his tragic and much too early death at the tender age of 29.

Despite the brevity of his career, Williams has always been considered the king of country and western music, the artist who set the gold standard in country music, mainly because he insisted that the success he achieved be on his terms and, according to this film, his terms were almost always non-negotiable and having things the way he wanted them required a lot of sacrifice he wasn't crazy about making and hurting a lot of people he really didn't intend to hurt including his beloved Audrey, who was the just the tip of the iceberg on his victim list.

Of course, as is with most musical biopics, we aren't shocked by the reveal that Williams was an abusive alcoholic who could not keep his fly zipped, wreaking havoc on what personal life he had. Williams was revealed here to be rather selfish in his pursuit of stardom as we watch him quietly and methodically crush any attempts Audrey makes having at a career, a career she apparently wanted but didn't really have the talent. Though this movie never really makes clear which one is clear...did he keep Audrey down to keep her out his way or did she really not have the talent?

Writer and director Marc Abraham has mounted a detailed tribute to this show business icon that doesn't necessarily paint him in a flattering light, but does let the viewer in on an unknown tidbit here and there. Before viewing this film, I had no idea that Williams suffered from Spina Bifida, a crippling back disease that found Williams backing out of a lot of commitments that he makes, not to mention intensifying his drinking.

As stated, this is a detailed look at the star, perhaps a bit too detailed, suffering from an almost deadening pace that makes a two hour film seem like four. Tom Hiddleston does light up the screen as Hank Williams, bringing a surprising combination of sincerity and sexiness to this him especially in his onstage sequences, Hiddleston almost brings an Elvis quality to this character that is quite irresistible and Elizabeth Olsen holds her own as the tormented Audrey. Kudos as well to Cherry Jones as Hank's mother and Wrenn Schmidt as another eventual knot on Williams' bedpost. With tighter direction and writing, this could have been quite amazing, but Hiddleston still makes it worth a look.

Robert Redford proved that his Oscar-winning debut as a director with Ordinary People was no fluke when he produced and directed Quiz Show, a lavish 1994 docudrama chronicling one of the greatest show business scandals ever, that never really got the attention it deserved because it was released the same year as some more popular box office heavyweights that overshadowed it.

The setting is the mid-1950's, when television was still in its infancy and almost all programming was live, providing the backdrop for what became known as the great quiz show scandal. A quiz show called "Twenty One" was a cash cow for NBC and as the story opens, we are introduced to the show's current champion, a man named Herbie Stempel, who is smart, but kind of nerdy and annoying according to the president of Geritol, the show's sponsor, who quietly drops the hint that he wants Stempel off the show and replaced with a new champion. Dan Enright and Albert Freedman, the execs behind the show, encounter one Charles Van Doren, who is spotted at NBC auditioning for a different quiz show. Van Doren is handsome, charismatic, and the heir apparent of one of the most powerful literary families in New York, headed by Charles' father, who is a celebrated professor under whose shadow Charles has been hiding for years.

Enright and Freedman offer Van Doren the championship on the show by providing him with the answers to the show in advance. Van Doren initially turns down the offer, believing he can beat Stempel on his own steam, but this is not good enough for Enright, who tells Stempel that he is going to take a dive by answering a simple question incorrectly. Stempel has show business aspirations of his own which he is afraid will derail if he doesn't cooperate and Van Doren thinks he becomes the champion on his own merit but keeps silent when the show starts feeding him the answers, keeping him on the show, making him rich and a media darling. Things get really ugly when Stempel starts making noise about what happened to him, motivating a congressional attorney named Richard Goodwin into investigating his allegations.

Redford has taken one of my favorite cinematic subjects, the business of show business, and focused a truly unflattering, but surprisingly balanced look at one of entertainment history's ugliest scandals, where no one involved is painted in black and white. Paul Attanasio's Oscar-nominated screenplay, based on a book by Goodwin, provides one of those maddening stories that could have the viewer talking back to the screen as we watch an embarrassing scandal slowly come to light under national scrutiny while all the parties go into self-preservation mode and players we had no idea were initially involved also come to light.

Producer and director Redford has spared no expense in bringing this story to the screen, employing first rate production values and a superb cast, headed by Ralph Fiennes as Van Doren, David Paymer and Hank Azaria as the properly greasy Enright and Freedman, respectively, and Rob Morrow in the performance of his career as Goodman. Paul Scofield received an Oscar nomination for his performance as Van Doren's pompous father, but personally, I think that nomination should have gone to John Turturro for his explosive performance as Stempel. Also loved Christopher McDonald as Jack Barry, the host of "Twenty One." The film also features appearances by two Oscar winning directors: Martin Scorsese appears as the Geritol sponsor who kicks this whole thing in motion and Barry Levinson appears as Dave Garroway.

Redford was also nominated for Best Director, as was the film for Best Picture. More than anything, this film is a tribute to the screen storytelling skill of Robert Redford, who meticulously puts a compelling story center stage and never allows anything in the story to do anything but serve it.

...despite a charismatic performance from the leading man, suffers due to a cliched screenplay and lethargic direction.

With tighter direction and writing, this could have been quite amazing, but Hiddleston still makes it worth a look.
That's what I thought of it too. The lead actor was real good but the screenplay and direction were mediocre. I even rated it slightly lower than you.

Did you find that scenes started, but were never explained, then abruptly ended? It seemed like scenes would start out interesting, but in a flash, it's months later and we wonder what happened in the last scene?

That's what I thought of it too. The lead actor was real good but the screenplay and direction were mediocre. I even rated it slightly lower than you.

Did you find that scenes started, but were never explained, then abruptly ended? It seemed like scenes would start out interesting, but in a flash, it's months later and we wonder what happened in the last scene?

Yeah, but they still managed to keep the pace of the film absolutely deadening...the movie was under two hours, but felt like four.

A charismatic starring performance by Steve Martin is the centerpiece of a richly entertaining comedy-drama from 1992 called Leap of Faith a story about religion for profit and the legitimacy of miracles that challenges logic and leaves story elements to personal viewer interpretation, but never fails to entertain.

Martin plays Jonas Nightingale, a phony faith healer/evangelist who heads a very elaborate traveling faith healing show that is so big it consists of two eighteen-wheelers and a full gospel choir. One of the trucks breaks down in the middle of a one horse town that is not on Jonas' schedule but Jonas decides to seize the opportunity to make some money and he and his longtime partner, Jane (Debra Winger) go about their elaborate sting where they and the rest of their staff gather enough information about the townspeople that Jonas is able to fool people into knowing what they need, with an assist from Jane's computer skills. Jonas and company mesmerize most of the town, with the exception of the local sheriff (Liam Neeson), who is determined to expose Jonas for the phony that he is and run him out of town but his plan falls to the wayside when he falls for Jane. Jonas also becomes more involved than he planned with an attractive waitress (Lolita Davidovich) and her handicapped younger brother (Lukas Haas).

Aided by screenwriter Janus Cercone, Martin creates a terrific lead character in Jonas...he's part Elmer Gantry and part Harold Hill but unlike those characters, he never really believes his own press until what appear to be possibly genuine miracles begin to happen in the town that everyone wants to credit to Jonas, except Jonas.

And this is where the viewer is challenged...just when Jonas has been exposed by the Sheriff for the phony that he is, these miracles begin to occur which Jonas publicly uses to his advantage but knows he has nothing to do with, but do we, the outsiders watching this story know this? I believe this is purposely crafted for personal viewer interpretation because in terms of the story up to this point, there are no explanations for certain events that happen here that can have any basis in reality, but entertainment isn't always about reality, sometimes it's just about hope, and I think that's what the message is here...hope. Miracles can occur if you believe in them.

Director Richard Pearce has mounted a somewhat manipulative story here, but the manipulation works. Steve Martin offers one of his strongest performances as Jonas and works really well with Debra Winger, one of cinema's most refreshing and unaffected presences. I think one reason the relationship between these two characters works so well is that it has nothing to do with romance...these characters are business partners, two people who know each other better than anyone else and sometimes that kind of relationship is more interesting than a romance and it really serves this particular story effectively. Liam Neeson is charming, if a little too straight-faced as the sheriff and Davidovich is wasted, but I love Peerce's attention to the townspeople, some lovely detail is employed regarding Jonas' interactions with these people and really helps to make this movie kind of special, even if you don't believe everything you see.

Really glad to see you liked that one, Gideon. I haven't seen it in quite a long time but I remembered Martin being very good in it. Your review makes me want to watch it again.