Gideon58's Reviews

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MY LIFE
After winning an Oscar for his screenplay for Ghost, Bruce Joel Rubin had a worthy but for some reason nearly forgotten follow-up as the writer and director of My Life, a funny, deeply moving and, yes, manipulative drama but the manipulation totally works. I'm still wiping the tears from my eyes.

The film stars Michael Keaton as Bob, a public relations man who has a great life that is rocked when he finds out almost simultaneously that he is going to be a father and that he's dying from cancer. The story initially unfolds through a series of videotapes that Bob is making for his unborn child, all the things that he feels a father should tell his child and teach his child. Bob's attempt to leave a legacy for his child happens at the same time that a desperate Bob is looking for a possible reversal in his condition. When traditional medicine offers no hope, his wife, Gail (Nicole Kidman) leads him to a holistic healer (Dr. Haing S. Noir), an idea that he initially poo-poos but when no other options present themselves...

Bob tries to reconcile in his mind what is happening and is doing all the things he should do to care for his son after he's gone and resolving issues with his own family before it's too late, unfortunately, Bob is trying to do all of this by himself, completely shutting Gail out of the process and not telling anyone else about his condition.

Rubin has crafted a funny and deeply human story with a central character going through an impossible situation and not always doing what he should, though his intentions are always on the money. This cinematic journey found me wanting to give Bob a big bear hug one minute and strangle him the next, made all the more aggravating by the fact that Gail is nothing short of a saint and it takes way too much of the running time for Bob to realize what a jewel Gail is and how he has to let her in.

The film also provides genuine laughs through the scenes of Bob's videotapes to his child, which are sincere and funny and meant to teach the child all lessons necessary for survival on earth. I was especially moved by his messages about music, how to walk in a room and greet someone, how to cook spaghetti, and sex.

Michael Keaton's powerhouse performance as Bob anchors this moving story and there is nary a false note in his performance. We love this guy from the beginning and it is heartbreaking watching what he's going through, particularly the devastating third act where the disease begins to ravage Bob's body. Nicole Kidman matches Keaton with her warm and loving Gail and there is solid support provided from Bradley Whitford, Rebecca Schull, and especially Michael Constantine as Bob's brother, mother and father respectively. A moving film experience that will provide laughs and tears and hope.



CHANGING LANES
A fender bender on the FDR Drive is the springboard for an edgy and ugly psychological thriller from 2002 called Changing Lanes that works thanks to a richly complex screenplay and a pair of powerhouse lead performances.

Doyle Gipson (Samuel L. Jackson) an insurance salesmen struggling with sobriety and holding onto his family, is on his way to a custody hearing when he (literally) runs into Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck), a hotshot attorney on the road to partner whose career could be destroyed by a very different kind of court hearing for which he is en route. Banek is very curt to Gipson during the expected exchange of insurance information and in a rush to get to court, Banek loses a file crucial to his case which Gipson finds which jump starts this ugly game of cinematic cat and mouse.

This film works thanks to a brilliant screenplay by Chap Taylor which presents two central characters who are drawn in serious shades of gray. The story initially presents one of the characters as sympathetic but the story manipulates viewer sympathy where it is changing approximately every ten minutes of running time. Neither character does all right or all wrong and there are some things done by both characters in the name of vengeance and self-preservation that had this viewer's stomach tied in knots for the majority of the running time,

Director Roger Michell also displays a gift for letting us inside the character's motivations without ever foreshadowing what's going to happen. The camera works in tandem with the story to provide a story that is impossible to predict but doesn't frustrate with cinema red herrings or superfluous screen time. If I had a quibble with the story, I was a little troubled by the attention paid to the set-up of the character of Doyle as an alcoholic as a possible justification for his actions, but it was clarified to my satisfaction before the end credits rolled.

Samuel L. Jackson is intense and explosive as Doyle and Ben Affleck offers one of his strongest performances as Gavin. There's a solid supporting cast that serves the story including Sydney Pollack, Richard Jenkins, an appropriately greasy Dylan Baker, William Hurt, and especially Toni Collette but it is this fascinating story and the performances from the leads that make this one leap off the screen and scratch at the gut.



FARGO
For most fans of Joel and Ethan Cohen, they had their masterpiece with a 1996 gem called Fargo, a twisted and bloody black comedy filled with bizarre characters, uncompromising violence and a story that provides laughs, though you find yourself wondering if some of the laughs are appropriate.

The film introduces us to a resident of Fargo, North Dakota named Jerry Lundergaard (William H. Macy) a wimpy car salesman married to an annoying and shrill harridan and employed by her monstrous father (Harve Presnell) who, in a desperate attempt at some fast cash, hires two thugs (Steve Buscemi, Peter Storemare) to kidnap his wife so that he can collect the "ransom" but the plan goes horribly wrong.

Unexpected complications with the plan result in the involvement of Marge Gunderson (Frances McDorman), the pregnant police chief of neighboring Brainerd whose Columbo-like methods in piecing together what happened occur simultaneously with Lundergaard trying to keep his plan from completely falling apart along with the rest of his life.

The Cohens' Oscar winning screenplay is the real star here, rich with characters who are completely reprehensible or completely likable, but none are perfect. The Jerry Lundergaard character is a particularly fascinating character because from the second this character appears on the screen and opens his mouth, it's clear that nothing he says is the truth but you can also see where his deceptive nature comes from...it's also clear, more through the Cohens' direction that Jerry is in some deep financial waters that have forced him to this point. It's also clear that Jerry has not thought out this plan clearly, disregarding a lot of innocent victims here...love the moment after the kidnapping when someone asks Jerry about his son and Jerry is taken aback for a minute. We realize that when Jerry put this plan in motion that he put no thought into how it would affect his son.

Jerry is a such a smarmy character but what the Cohens have done so effectively is confuse the viewer by having this slime portrayed by the baby-faced William H. Macy with the sweet smile who almost makes you feel guilty for thinking that this guy is a scumbag. On the opposite side, we have Frances McDormand's Oscar winning performance as this small town police chief, who is given an added layer of viewer love by making the character pregnant...every time the character lost her footing in the snow, my heart stopped for a second and then there's that snow...setting this ugly story under all this snow gives it an eerily atmospheric quality that's quite intoxicating.

Kudos as well to the awesome Peter Storemare, whose performance reminded so much of a later Cohen Brothers character, Anton Chigur in No Country for Old Men and Steve Buscemi, explosive and funny as his partner not to mention Presnell's investment in a totally unlikable character as well. I also loved John Carroll Lynch as Marge's husband Norm and their whole marriage was a lovely little subplot that totally rang true...wish I could say the same for Marge's reunion with an unstable friend from high school (Steve Park). but for the most part, this is comedy at its blackest where, in a refreshing change, everyone actually gets what's coming to them.



THE HUDSUCKER PROXY
Joel and Ethan Cohen's imagination was really in overdrive with their 1994 black comedy The Hudsucker Proxy, but I wish the imagination had been accompanied with a little more originality and a little less cinematic pyrotechnics.

It's New York 1958 where we witness the owner of a huge corporation called Hudsucker Industries kill himself. The board and majority stockholders need to install someone in his chair that they can manipulate in order to take controlling interest in the company and a young mailroom employee named Norville Barnes is installed, but Barnes isn't as easily manipulated as the mustache twirling company president Sidney Mussberger finds out. Throw in the mix a fast talking female reporter sent to expose Barnes after he becomes a success and you have most of what you need for another wild Cohen Brothers ride.

This film is a lovingly detailed homage to screwball comedies of the 30's and 40's like His Girl Friday and in that respect, the Cohen's story totally works, we see immediately what they'going for here. The problem here is the lack of surprises in the story...the story goes to all the places you expect it to and that's not necessarily a bad thing, but when toasting a film genre like this, a genre where we know what to expect, some surprises should be provided along the way here and they aren't. What we get instead of the dose of originality that we should is a lot of cinematic smoke and mirrors and over the top symbolism that moves at such a lightening pace it's hard to figure out exactly what the Cohen brothers are trying to say.

This does not mean this film was not entertaining and did not hold my attention, but with a little more care devoted to this germ of a terrific story, this film could have been something really amazing instead of the overly stylized ride that takes a little too long to get going.

The Cohens' hand-picked cast serves the story brilliantly though, headed by baby-faced Tim robbins, finding yet another role where that face aids in the character's appeal. Jennifer Jason Leigh stirs up images of Katharine Hepburn, Jean Arthur, and Rosalind Russell in her lady reporter and Paul Newman chews the scenery with movie-style pinache as Mussberger and seems to really be enjoying it too.

The film is rich with incredible production values including some dizzying and imaginative camera work, amazing art direction/set direction, stunning costumes, and Carter Burwell's incredible music, which should have won an Oscar. Not the classic it should have been, but well worth the ride.



POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPING
Andy Samberg was criminally underused during his tenure on SNL, to which anyone who saw his Digital Shorts on that show or anyone who watches his hit sitcom Brooklyn Nine Nine can attest. Samberg was given the chance to bring both skill sets to the big screen in 2016's POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING, a razor sharp, New Millenium updating of This is Spinal Tap that pretty much had me laughing until I was crying.

Done in the "Mockumentary" style of Spinal Tap and most of Christopher Guest's comedies, this is the story of three childhood friends, Conner (Samberg), Owen (Jorma Taccone) and Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer) who form a white rap group called The Style Boyz, who have a very bitter breakup that finds Conner striking out on his own as a solo rapper with Owen as his DJ. Lawrence leaves the business altogether and becomes a farmer. Conner's first solo album is a monster hit which goes to his head but a very bad business deal and less than lackluster sales of his second album find Conner's career doing a serious nosedive. To aid slow album and concert ticket sales, Conner's manager (Tim Meadows) suggest they hire an opening act named Hunter (Chris Redd) who only makes things worse when he becomes way more popular than Conner.

The three stars are also responsible for the screenplay that is so sharp you can cut yourself on it, a scathing satire of the world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll that nails the delicacy of celebrity ego, fan obsession, and the business of show business that is so dead on, it's a little frightening. Close attention to certain story elements will reveal that some of them have been borrowed and thinly disguised from the lives of certain real life musicians, but nothing overt or mean-spirited about it. I have to say though that if I were Justin Bieber or Vanilla Ice or MC Hammer, I might find offense at some of things that happen here. I found the scenes with Lawrence on his farm a little slow, but they are justified in the story's delicious wrap-up.

Like Spinal Tap, the film features some absolutely brilliant songs written by Matthew Compton that include "I'm So Humble", "Turn up the Beef", "Kill this Music". "Finest Girl", "Things in my Jeep", "Mona Lisa" and my favorite "Equal Rights", a hysterical but outdated plea to legalize gay marriage.

Samberg is dazzling in the starring role, proving that this guy has the chops to carry a major motion picture and Taccone beautifully underplays the role of Owen, the second fiddle who gets continually dissed by Conner throughout but never wavers in his loyalty to the guy. Meadows brings the laughs as he always does, as does Chris Redd as Hunter. I even enjoyed Sarah Silverman, who usually annoys me, underplaying nicely as Conner's publicist. The film also features a plethora of cameo appearances including Usher, 50 Cent, Mariah Carey, Seal, Carrie Underwood, Maya Rudolph, Ringo Starr, Pharrell Williams, Nas, Pink, and Simon Cowell, but this is Samberg's show and if you're not a fan, you might want to take a half a bag of popcorn off this rating, but this movie had me rolling on the floor with laughter.



CHRONICALLY METROPOLITAN
An intriguing title turned out to be the most intriguing thing about a 2016 comedy-drama called Chronically Metropolitan that didn't quite deliver the quirky that the title promises.

The film chronicles the adventures of an aspiring writer named Fenton who returns to Manhattan after an abrupt departure for a rocky reunion with his dysfunctional family who finds his biggest challenge when he learns that his ex-girlfriend is engaged to be married.

Director Xavier Manrique does what he can to preserve the quasi-Woody Allen sensibility of Nicholas Schutt's screenplay, which seems to be an attempted homage or bad impression of the Woodmeister, but Schutt isn't really the wordsmith that Allen is and a lot of the dialogue in this story comes off as the screenwriter just trying too hard to be cute and unconventional.

Manrique's attempted homage to Allen's directing style isn't much better...the movie attempts to keep the story opened up with the use of some Manhattan location filming, but somehow the whole thing still seems to come off like a claustrophobic, photographed stage play and not a very good one at that. The pacing of the story is deadening and found this reviewer checking his watch, despite the fact that the film runs under ninety minutes.

The performances are nothing special...Johnny Depp look-alike Shiloh Fernandez works hard at keeping Fenton likable but is fighting the script all the way. Chris Noth seems to be enjoying himself as Fenton's father, an acclaimed professor who can't keep his fly zipped, a role that seems like it was written for Stanley Tucci and Mary Louise Parker is wasted as Fenton's mother. Addison Timlin was fun as Fenton's sister and Josh Peck managed to hold his own as Fenton's BFF who now seems to be into Fenton's mother. This attempted homage to the style and pinache of Woody Allen doesn't have any of Woody's style or enough of his wit. Not a good sign when the best thing about a movie is its title.



THIS IS THE END
The Judd Apatow Rep Company deliver some solid laughs in 2013's This is the End, a comic satire that kept me laughing, despite a saggy middle and forays into some really tasteless toilet bowl humor.

Seth Rogan and Jay Baruchel, playing themselves, arrive at James Franco's house for a party where we are introduced to the rest of the company and the various friends and fans of Seth and writing partner Evan Goldberg. Seth and Jay leave the party to go to a convenience store for cigarettes where they witness a bizarre incident where innocent people seem to be sucked into the sky by a mysterious blue light. The boys return to Franco's house just in time for some kind of explosion to hit the house, murdering most of Franco's guest list and leaving Rogan, Baruchel, Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride as allegedly the only human beings still alive in the city of Los Angeles.

Rogen and Goldberg put a lot of thought and imagination into the screenplay for this comedy. One thing I liked is that even though everyone in the film is playing themselves, the screenplays creates fictional relationships and personalities for the actors involved that make them real actors playing fictional versions of themselves. For example, upon Baruchel's arrival in LA, we learn that he can't stand Franco and Hill and has no desire to go to this party. The initial exposition also sets up Jonah Hill as this sweet angelic guy who loves everybody and everything and Michael Cera as this total scumbag who treats everyone in his path like crap. Rogen and Goldberg crafted this story around all of their buddies but constructed a story that took all of these actors out of their comfort zones, which made what was going on very tempting to invest in.

Once the initial set up of this alleged apocalypse is established during the first act, there is some struggle keeping the story viable as the weight of the story suddenly falls on four or five actors working on what is essentially a single set. The claustrophobia of the story does begin to settle in for a bit and interest does begin to wane and it is at this point that Rogen and Goldberg cop out with toilet bowl humor that seemed out of place with the initial story set up, but they do manage to bounce back for a slam-bang, if slightly over-the-top finale.

The actors are all friends IRL and their respect for each other comes through here. It was so great seeing Rogen and Franco reunited and I love the scene where they get stoned and discuss a sequel to Pineapple Express. Also loved Seth's inventory of their supplies, the discussion of which survivor was most deserving of the only Milky Way in the house, and the Franco/McBride "jerk off" argument (don't ask).

Rogen and Goldberg were apparently given an unlimited budget and used it to employ some first rate art direction and special effects. The film also features cameos from Mindy Kaling, David Krumholtz, Rhianna, Aziz Ansari, Jason Segel, Emma Watson, Paul Rudd, Channing Tatum, and Kevin Hart. There are better comedies out there, but fans of the stars will not be disappointed.



THE LADY IN THE VAN
There's a reason that Dame Maggie Smith has won two Oscars, 4 Emmys, and 3 Golden Globes. There are only a handful actresses out there who can not only command the screen but elevate the quality of the material provided, which is exactly what Smith does with 2015's The Lady in the Van.

Introduced to us as "A Mostly True Story", it is London 1970 and Smith is found playing Miss Shepherd, a homeless woman who lives in a raggedy van in the Camden section of London, moving her vehicle from the front of one residence to another, something akin to alternate side of the street parking . She accidentally connects with one of the residents, a lonely playwright named Alan Bennett, who is immediately turned off by the woman's hygiene and the disgusting condition that she leaves his bathroom in the first time she asks for permission to use it, but also finds himself caring about the woman and he begins investigating her, the layers of Miss Shepherd's past are slowly revealed explaining how she ended up the way she did.

This was a really clever story idea that could have been played strictly for laughs and, believe me, there are laughs along the way as we watch the various Camden residents who have their own ways of dealing and reacting to Miss Shepherd which all ring true. Just like on this side of the pond, there are some who try to pretend the homeless don't exist and can't accept the reality when it's in their faces. The flip side of that coin is presented as well,,,there are people here who genuinely want to help Miss Shepherd and she symbolically spits in their faces...a family brings her Christmas presents and instead of saying "Thank you", she says "Close the door, I'm a busy woman."

The real Alan Bennett adapted the screenplay from his own memoir and in the creation of this vivid and exciting and pathetic character, Miss Shepherd, he scores, unfortunately, his attempt at artsy cinematic symbolism by making his character a dual role, one Alan living his life and the other writing it, didn't work for me. It comes off as gimmicky and might have been more interesting with a different actor playing the role, but Alex Jennings' rather bland performance was difficult to invest in.

What the film does have going for it is some stylish direction by Nicholas Hytner (The Madness of King George) and the glorious Maggie Smith, bringing this sad and funny character to delightful fruition and making this movie worth experiencing. Yes, this is another one of those movies saved by a single performance. If anyone other than Maggie Smith had been playing Miss Shepherd, this movie would have been deadly dull, but Smith makes this ride worth the price of admission.



The Lady in the Van is in my Netflix Q somewhere. Really looking forward to it. Love Alan Bennett.
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Iím here only on Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays. Thatís why Iím here now.



You can't win an argument just by being right!
I love Maggie Smith.



THE AVIATOR
Stylish direction by Martin Scorsese and a strong movie star turn from Leonardo DiCaprio are the primary selling points of 2004's The Aviator, the lavish and sweeping biopic of Howard Hughes, the eccentric billionaire who wanted to rule Hollywood and the sky.

The film opens during the 1920's on the set of Hughes' first directorial effort, an epic called Hell's Angels that Hughes has been working on for two years and gone way over budget and just when it looks like the film is about to wrap, The Jazz Singer is released and is a smash, so Hughes spends another year going into debt in order to re-shoot Hell's Angels as a talkie. As much as Hughes appears to love the director's chair, it is also clear that his real passion is flying and his mission to build the biggest, baddest airplane to ever hit the skies. The fortune that Hughes made manufacturing drill bits is observed being methodically drained in Hughes' exhaustive efforts to rule Hollywood and to rule the skies, a mission which would include his purchase of what would eventually become TWA Airlines.

The film also chronicles Hughes' reputation as a social hermit and a womanizer, primarily through relationships with legendary actresses Katharine Hepburn and Ava Gardner and how both relationships would eventually crumble under obsession with complete control of these women and how they weren't worthy of genuine respect because they were just "movie stars." Though I was impressed when, despite their breakup, Hughes did what he could to stop a fan magazine of printing pictures of Hepburn and the very married Spencer Tracy.

Scorsese and screenwriter John Logan have brought us a biopic in the truest sense of the term, providing a peek into childhood motivations and a startling, squirm-worthy look into some of the mental health issues that would eventually be Hughes downfall. The screenplay is overly padded and spends perhaps too much time addressing Hughes' well known reputation as a germaphobe...this phobia is made clear early on in the film and the repeated scenes of Hughes in pubic restrooms washing his hands until they bleed just seemed a little self-indulgent. Scorsese could have spent a little more time on that brilliant dinner scene at the Hepburn estate, the plane crash that almost killed him, the climactic senate hearings that he walked out on, or the final breakup scenes with Hepburn and Gardner, which were the real highlights of the film for this reviewer.

Scorsese, as always, has attracted a first rate cast to bring this elaborate story to life led by DiCaprio's charismatic Hughes, a performance which earned him his second Oscar nomination. Cate Blanchett is nothing short of brilliant as Katharine Hepburn, a dazzling turn that captures the spirit of the larger than life actress without ever reducing her to a caricature, a performance that earned Blanchett the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Strong support is also provided by John C. Reilly as Hughes' devoted aide Noah, Alan Alda as a smarmy Senator, Alec Baldwin as the head of Pan Am Airlines, and a surprisingly effective turn from Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner. Beckinsale has never been an actress I cancel plans for, but I have never enjoyed her onscreen as much as I did here. Also have to give a shout out to Frances Conroy as Hepburn's mother.

In addition to Blanchett's Oscar, the film also won Oscars for Robert Richard's cinematography, Thelma Schoonmaker's film editing, art direction/set direction, and Sandy Powell's exquisite costumes. This is one of the very rare times where I think a film deserved every Oscar it won. Despite a slightly over-indulgent screenplay, this film is a rewarding and eye-opening look at a controversial subject where finding accurate facts regarding him has always been problematic, but this film really rings true.



HOT TUB TIME MACHINE
The 2010 comedy Hot Tub Time Machine is a raucous comic adventure completely devoid of originality or realism but did something I really wasn't expecting...delivered consistent laughs for almost its entire running time.

Adam (John Cusack) and his two best friends, Nick (Craig Robinson) and Lou (Rob Corddry) and Adam's nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) decide to spend the weekend at a ski resort town called Kodiak Valley where the pals spent a weekend back in the 80's. Upon checking into their hotel room, they discover a hot tub with a dead raccoon in it, but a few minutes LATER the tub is filled with bubbling hot water. The guys jump in and find that they have been transported back in time to the year 1986.

After a brief conversation with a "hot tub repairman" (Chevy Chase), the guys figure out that the only way to get back to 2010 is that they have to repeat everything that happened back in '86, which includes Adam dumping a pretty girl (Lyndsey Fonseca), Lou getting beat up, and Nick having sex with a girl and singing with his former band. The plot is further complicated when upon their arrival in '86, the guys encounter Jacob's mother and Jacob's very existence comes into question.

Josh Heald and Sean Anders' screenplay borrows liberally from several teen classics of the 80's but tweaks it just enough that those who weren't around in the 80's will not notice and those of us who were around can forgive. Steve Pink's direction is on the manic side, rich with complex physical comedy and bathroom humor that often teeters on the cliff of good taste, but never quite falls off.

It was so much fun seeing John Cusack going back to his comedy roots and still looking good doing it, the guy has barely aged since the 80's. Rob Corddry delivers major laughs as the demented Lou and I also loved Crispin Glover as an armless bellboy. I understand that there is a sequel and as funny as I thought this was, I really have no desire to see the sequel but maybe I'll change my mind about that someday, but this film was a lot funnier than I thought it was going to be.




I really liked Aviator, especially with it's tie in to Hollywood stars. It would make a Top 100 of my favorite movies. I need to re watch.

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE


This one sounds fun. I'll have to check it out.



The Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Super Bowl 55 Champs!
I hated This is the End but I love Hot Tub Time Machine.

Didn't care for The Aviator but That Darn Cat is awesome