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AN AMERICAN IN PARIS
The MGM gloss at its zenith, Vincente Minnelli's sparkling direction, the incomparable George Gershwin music, and the magic that is Gene Kelly are the primary reasons An American in Paris, a lavish and deliciously entertaining spectacle became an instant classic and won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1951.

Strip away all the elaborate window dressing and what you have here is a typical MGM musical at its core. Gene Kelly plays Jerry Mulligan, a penniless American painter who decided to remain in Paris after the war who is not having much success as a painter, evidenced by the cramped one room he lives in. Things begin to look up when a wealthy art patroness named Milo Roberts (Nina Foch) is attracted to Jerry's work (and Jerry as well) and wants to sponsor Jerry's work, even though Jerry is not keen on being a kept man. Jerry's fear of being under Milo's thumb is further complicated by his attraction to a pretty shopgirl named Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron), who is involved with a nightclub entertainer named Henri (Georges Gueteray) who has been offered a job in America and wants Lise to marry him and relocate with him.

Needless to say, because this is an MGM musical, the plot is so not the thing. Alan Jay Lerner's screenplay does have a surprisingly adult sensibility that neither Minnelli nor his cast shy away from. One thing that attracted me to this very special musical is that its inspiration from work of the past and how it clearly inspired work of the future. The incredible ballet (brilliantly choreographed by Kelly) definitely owes something to Agnes De Mille's dream ballet in Oklahoma!. Kelly's pas de deux with Caron to "Our Love is here to Stay" was definitely inspiration for Astaire and Charisse's "Dancing in the Dark" in The Band Wagon and Caron's introductory ballet to the tune of "Embraceable You" was clearly inspired by Vera-Ellen's "Miss Turnstiles" dance in On the Town. Patricia Neal's character in Breakfast at Tiffany's and Eleanor Parker's in The Sound of Music reminded me a lot of Nina Foch's fabulous Milo.

Other musical highlights include Kelly's I've Got Rhythm where he charms a bunch of kids; Oscar Levant's dream sequence where he plays every member of the orchestra and Gueteray's "Ill Build a Stairway to Paradise", a number I never tire of due mostly to Gueteray's gorgeous tenor that's just irresistible. I also liked the idea of "'S Wonderful "S Marvelous" re-thought as a duet for Kelly and Gueteray. Gershwin's flawless music doesn't need a lot of "help" and thank God, Minnelli and company realized that.

Gene Kelly has never been more sexy and charismatic onscreen and that includes Singin in the Rain. Leslie Caron enchants in an impressive film debut as Lise...yes, her inexperience as an actress is obvious, but when she puts on those pointe shoes and does an arabesque, you really don't care. Oscar Levant's deadpan delivery is perfection and Foch is a revelation with her stylish Milo Roberts. The film won six Oscars, including Best Picture and as good as I thought this movie was, was it really better than A Streetcar Named Desire or A Place in the Sun? I have no issues with the other five Oscars it won and for lovers of musicals, this is a dream.



Night Shift and Woman in Red are both movies that I was a little disappointed in. Haven't seen them since the 80's though. My wife is a big fan of The Firm. I was skunkfaced and would need to see it again.
I'm just glad that there's a couple people on this forum who would even speak of these movies.



IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT
The Granddaddy of all romantic comedies is the 1934 classic It Happened one Night, a sparkling adult comedy that not only inspired a lot of future cinema but was the first film to win all five top honors at the 1935 Oscar ceremony, including Best Picture.

Claudette Colbert plays Ellie Andrews, a spoiled, rich heiress who is being kept prisoner on her father's yacht until he can arranger an annulment of her recent marriage. Ellie manages to escape the yacht and get a train ticket to New York. It is on said train that Ellie meets Pete (Clark Gable), a recently fired newspaper reporter who, upon learning who Ellie really is, thinks there might be a story that could get him his job back.

Robert Riskin's screenplay is based on a short story by Samuel Hopkins Adams that is first rate comic adventure, beautifully brought to the screen in a series of very funny vignettes that do not confine all the action to the train and putting our two protagonists in a lot of sticky situations that force these two virtual strangers to trust each other and eventually bond. The story also keeps us wondering if Peter is going to sacrifice Ellie to the wolves in order to get his job back before he falls in love with her.

Of course, the real joy in this story is watching these two people who have absolutely nothing in common with each other, wonder how they are ever going to get along, let alone fall in love. It was so much fun watching Peter educate Ellie on various life lessons and survival techniques to which the self-absorbed Ellie was oblivious. I love when Peter teaches Ellie the proper way to dunk a doughnut, but they were a well-oiled machine when a detective sent by Ellie's father confronts them and they pretend to be a long married couple screaming at each other. It did seem odd that Ellie's father would send a detective to find his daughter and not give the guy a photo of her, but I let that slide.

In addition to its Oscar night blitz, this film made history with a couple of highlights. The "Wall Of Jericho" scene in which Peter throws up a blanket between his and Ellie's bed has been repeated and lampooned in dozens of movies and television shows...I love when he's sitting on his side of the blanket and quietly singing "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?". And in the very same scene, female moviegoers went wild when Clark Gable removed his shirt to reveal a bare chest...apparently actors had always worn T-shirts before this scene and Gable properly underplays the moment to the point that now it seems silly. Oh, and let's not forget that great hitchhking scene.

Frank Capra's energetic direction is a big plus and won him the Oscar for Best Director. Gable won the Oscar for Best Actor, Colbert for Best Actress, and Robert Riskin for his screenplay. It's so odd to me that Gable won the Oscar for this but lost for playing Rhett Butler, but I digress. A delicious cinema classic that, despite some dated elements, holds up pretty well. The film was remade during the 1950's once as a musical called Eve Knew Her Apples and a straight comedy called You Can't Run Away From It with June Allyson, but I say stick to the original.



Lovely review Gideon. I like the background info that you include, it makes for a good read. I believe that was your first Claudette Colbert film?
L:ike I said before, I saw the TV movie The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, but this was my first Colbert classic, yes.



I won't dance. Don't ask me...
Lovely review Gideon. I like the background info that you include, it makes for a good read. I believe that was your first Claudette Colbert film?



THE PALEFACE
A pair of terrific lead performances are the primary highlight of 1948's The Paleface, a hilarious send-up of Hollywood westerns that provides solid laughs without ever letting the viewer forget that it's a movie.

This movie provides another fictionalized look at Wild West legend Calamity Jane played strictly for laughs. In this story, Jane Russell plays Jane who has been commissioned by government agents to find out who's been smuggling guns and dynamite to the Indians and, as part of her cover, marries a cowardly dentist named "Painless" Peter Potter, who breaks out in hives at the mention of Indians.

The story really kicks into high gear when Dr. & Mrs. Potter join a wagon train that is attacked by Indians and Painless is observed taking out all the enemies, even though it is actually Jane who is doing all the shooting. The ruse aids Jane in completing her mission but gets Painless in trouble when he starts to believe his own press about being the best gunfighter in the west.

Edmund L. Hartmann's screenplay provides a story played for laughs that requires a little suspension of disbelief here and there, but because Bob Hope is involved, we really don't mind doing that. The other thing I love about the story is that Calamity is the smartest character in the movie, but never broadcasts it, just uses it to her advantage. I found it amusing that this character didn't spend five minutes of screen time with a smile on her face but still managed to provide major laughs, not to mention her uncanny ability to keep a straight face with a master of physical comedy like Hope, who got a lot of laughs in this movie without uttering a word.

Don't get me wrong, there are definitely scenes that garnered big laughs where dialogue was involved and may have even inspired future comedy. A scene with Hope and an Indian who has been introduced to his laughing gas for the first time reminded me of Peter Boyle and Gene Hackman in Young Frankenstein. Another comic highlight was Hope preparing for a major gunfight and getting several different pieces of advice on how to handle his opponent and not being able to keep all the advice straight in his head. The movie even breaks the 4th wall, a rarity for a film of this period. For a 1940's comedy, there was a lot to laugh out loud at here.

The film features a couple of songs by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, one called "Meetcha Round the Corner" and another called "Buttons and Bows" that won the Oscar for Best Song of 1948. Hope and Russell are terrific and their work alone makes this minor comedy classic worth checking out. The film was remade in 1968 as The Shakiest Gun in the West with Don Knotts and Barbara Rhoades taking over for Hope and Russell but I seriously doubt it's as funny as this.



THE V.I.P.S
If you're into a slick melodrama with an impressive all-star cast and a generous portion of soap suds as part of the story, you might want to give the 1963 film The V.I.P.s a look. A film that features Hollywood's most popular acting team at the time, unfortunately they don't have enough time onscreen together.

The film opens at the London Airport where we meet a group of people waiting to board a flight from London to New York. International business tycoon Paul Andros is seeing his wife, Frances off on the flight where they run into mutual friend Marc Champselle, a gambler/playboy/gigolo. Frances is planning to leave Paul and start a new life in Manhattan with Marc. Frances has left a note for Paul at home explaining everything that he will see after a business meeting but Frances and Marc plan to be in New York by the time he reads the note.

Max Buda is a famous film director who is fleeing London with his mistress, actress Gloria Gritti, in order to avoid some tax trouble. Les Angrum is an Australian businessman who is trying to get to New York to keep his company from being gobbled up by a larger one with the aid of his devoted secretary, Miss Mead. The Duchess of Brighton is also traveling to New York to get a connecting flight to Florida where she has accepted a job to try and save her elaborate home that she is about to lose. But then the plane gets delayed and eventually grounded by fog, altering all the stories we've been introduced to.

Needless to say that the story of Paul and Frances Andros is the primary one here and TPTB did right by casting Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in these roles; however, Hollywood's most famous acting pair spend way too much time apart during this film's running time. Taylor spends the majority of her screen time with Louis Jourdan, who is appropriate as Champselle, but it goes without saying that he never creates the chemistry with Taylor that Burton does, but the part of this story that works is Taylor's character, who is literally in love with both of these men and truly torn, a classic movie triangle in the truest sense that makes the movie worth investing in despite the lack of sparks between Taylor and Jourdan.

The film does have a few other virtues, including a deliciously hammy turn from Orson Welles as the eccentric filmmaker who underestimates his mistress and Margaret Rutherford actually won the 1963 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her down to earth and down on her luck Duchess who is getting addicted to pep pills. However, if the truth be known, this movie is effortlessly stolen by the divine Maggie Smith as the proper Miss Mead, putting her obvious love for her boss (Rod Taylor) on the back burner long enough to save his business, which is part of the way the final act actually connects what seemed like separate storylines up to that point.

The film features superb set direction and Miklos Rozsa's lush music score is glorious, but I still would have liked a little more of Taylor and Burton together onscreen.



Was that your first time watching THE V.I.P.S?

I've seen it once before and liked it for the reasons you said: that it's a slick melodrama about the interwoven lives of a group of people at the airport. They don't really make movies with this kind of low key personal feel anymore do they?

A side note....funny thing is that I forgot Orson Welles was in it until I read your review...And he was the reason I watched it in the first place! Well, it has been at least several years if not more since I saw the movie.




SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU
As I've discussed in prior reviews, proper mounting of a docudrama is a tricky thing because the filmmaker and the audience are looking for an accurate representation of the facts and want the film to be entertaining. On the other hand, the recent trend with biopics has been to concentrate on a particular period in the subject's life, instead of a birth to death chronicle. The 2016 docudrama Southside to You takes this to a new extreme concentrating on one day...this film recounts the first date between a couple who have had more than share of the spotlight the last decade or so...Barack and Michelle Obama.

It's the summer of 1989 and we are introduced to the very proper and serious Michelle Robinson, employed at an important Chicago law firm while living with her parents in order to care for her MS-stricken father. Barack is working at the same firm and we are informed that Michelle is his "advisor" (whatever that means) and that they are getting together to go to a business meeting away from the office. Michelle announces to her parents at least half a dozen times that "This is not a date" even though she is observed putting meticulous care into making sure she looks like she's going on a date.

After Barack picks Michelle up, we watch her steam when she learns that the meeting is later and that he told her it was earlier so that they could engage socially, which she considers completely inappropriate and the rest of the story consists of Barack working very hard to get Michelle to stop fighting her attraction to him.

I must applaud director and screenwriter Richard Tanne for the very original idea of having this story focus around the couple's first date. However, for a movie that takes place in one day, this movie's pacing is a little lethargic. When presenting a story where we already know the outcome, the film has to move in order to sustain viewer interest and this one really takes its time getting started.

The other troubling aspect of this film was its presentation of the character of Michelle Robinson. Michelle comes off as extremely unlikable, a cold and detached ice queen, constantly on the defensive about the cards life has dealt her as a black woman trying to survive in a white man's world This was startling to me because the real Michelle never came off to me as being like this, but there's no saying that this isn't the way Michelle was at the time of her first date with Barack. On the other side, Barack is portrayed almost exactly like the man I saw in the White House for eight years, even though I think this story works a little too hard at presenting Barack as this "regular guy." He is observed smoking in just about every scene and drives a broken down economy car that actually has a hole in the floor of the vehicle. OK, Barack came from humble beginnings, we get it, no need to pound it into our heads every scene.

Like the ending of the 2016 Best Picture winner Moonlight, the final ten minutes of this movie where Barack finally melts Michelle's icy exterior are lovely, but getting to that last ten minutes is a lot of work, though the scene of Barack giving a speech at a church trying to get a new community center built did get my heart pumping and reminded me of why this guy became President. Tika Sumpter gives a crisp performance as Michelle, fighting the screenplay all the way and Parker Sawyers lights up the screen as young Barack. This movie was a lovely idea, but lost a little something in the execution.
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PLAY IT TO THE BONE
The creative force behind Bull Durham and White Men Can't Jump really missed the boat with 1999's Play it to the Bone, an overlong and rambling boxing story/buddy picture that really can't decide what kind of movie it wants to be and takes WAY too long to do so.

Vince Boudreau (Woody Harrelson) and Cesar Dominguez (Antonio Banderas) are a pair of second rate welterweights and best friends who are given the chance to be the undercard at a Mike Tyson main event in Vegas by fighting each other and being paid $50,000 a piece for their services. They decide to drive to Vegas accompanied by Grace (Lolita Davidovich), who used to be with Vince but is now with Cesar, though she is about to break up with him as well. Throw in a trampy good time girl named Lia (Lucy Liu) and some greasy fight promoters and you have the ingredients for what could have been an intriguing story.

Ron Shelton is a proven commodity behind the camera but I think he just got a little full of himself here. His screenplay is all over the place, presenting what is initially a buddy picture about two boxers but we know we're in trouble when we get this detailed backstory flashbacks that document how Vince and Cesar's careers took such dramatic falls, but the stories have nothing to do with how Vince and Cesar met, which is what we're expecting from the buddy movie that is being initially established. The screenplay takes a couple of odd detours when we learn that Vince has recently discovered Christianity and keeps having hallucinations of Jesus and that Cesar briefly experimented with homosexuality.

Then we have the character of Grace who is no prize either. She spends most of the screen time lying to Vince and Cesar by telling them the same thing just because she knows this is what they need to hear. The whole "two guys who love the same girl who demand to know which is better in bed" is just so played out and nothing new is brought to the table. I was totally through with Grace when she ran out of the big match because she couldn't watch anymore and ran into a bar to watch it on TV and then started screaming at the TV to stop the fight and ran right back to the fight.

Honestly, the fight between Vince and Cesar was watchable, if a tad on the melodramatic side, but it was a worthy climax to this story, but it just took way too long to get there. The greasy money men behind the movie were also unappealing and could have been a separate movie, but they just made this journey even more tedious than it already was. Harrelson is always watchable and Banderas seems miscast but works very hard to be believable. Davidovich makes the most of a very unlikable character and Liu was fun and sexy, as usual, in her virtual cameo. The film is rich with cameo appearances from people like Wesley Snipes, James Wood, Tony Curtis, Jennifer Tilly, and, of course, Kevin Costner, but it's all pointless and goes on forever.



HOT SHOTS! PART DEUX
Another cinematic rarity, the sequel that stands up proudly to the original, Hot Shots! Part Deux, is a rapid fire action comedy that admittedly didn't have a lot to do with the first film, but I didn't care after about ten minutes. Another gem from the creative genius behind the Airplane and Naked Gun franchises.

Charlie Sheen returns as Topper Harley, the retired top gun from the first movie who is tracked down in an Asian monastery by his former commanding officer Captain Walters (Richard Crenna) to save some Iraqi prisoners of war who have been attempted to be rescued twice and failed. The mission is being led by a sexy White House Aide named Michelle (Brenda Bakke), who, of course, falls for Topper, even though he has never really gotten over his first film love Ramada (Valeria Golino).

Director and co-screenwriter Jim Abrahams had mastered the art of this kind of satire, initiated 13 years earlier with the classic Airplane. Abrahams and co-writer Pat Proft have a crafted a perfect take-off the movie Rambo: First Blood Part Two, though the film does provide some clever winks at films like Casablanca,Basic Instinct, No Way Out, Lady and the Tramp, and a beautifully executed shot at Apocalypse Now that had me on the floor.

In my review of The Dark Knight Rises, i made my list of ingredients for a proper sequel and I have to confess that this film doesn't adhere to any of them, but as I said earlier, early on I found myself so thoroughly entertained and too busy laughing my ass off to notice that the film wasn't following any of my rules. Abrahams and Proft make absolutely no attempt to explain or apologize for the fact that this movie has nothing to do with the first one. They also make no attempt to conceal the fact that we are watching a movie. There is rampant breaking of the fourth wall here. Critics often talk about the body count in war/action movies and and here, we actually get to see the body count onscreen during the climactic final battle. The gags, sight gags, and set pieces come 100 MPH here, not allowing you to finish one laugh before experiencing another and this film's take on Saddam Hussein will have you on the floor.

Sheen has settled comfortably into the role of Topper Harley and is a wonderful apex for the romantic triangle set up with him, Bakke, and Golino and I wasn't even bothered by the fact that Golino is a soldier in this movie and was an army psychologist in the first one. Lloyd Bridges was very funny as the air head POTUS, Tug Benson as was Ryan Stiles as a fellow soldier and Jerry Haleva as Saddam Hussein. There were also a couple of memorable cameos from Rowan Atkinson and Charlie Sheen's dad, Martin. In a time when bad sequels are the norm at the movies, this one was a breath of fresh air...a very funny breath.



COP LAND
Despite a somewhat complex story and some cliched dialogue, the 1997 crime drama Cop Land works thanks to solid direction and a shockingly strong performance from its star.

Sylvester Stallone gives a near brilliant performance in this gritty crime drama playing Freddy Heflin, a New Jersey sheriff who has always wanted to be an NYPD cop but an ear injury he sustained saving a woman from drowning prevented that. Freddy's lost dreams constantly haunt him because the bar where he hangs out is a NYPD hangout where Freddy's dreams are often thrown back in his face, but Freddy gets a chance at the big time when an accident on the George Washington Bridge leaves two thugs dead and a young cop at the center of a cover up that involves faking his suicide.

Writer and director James Mangold, who would later give us Girl Interrupted and Walk the Line has constructed an intriguing story of police corruption and the often trampled upon thin blue line that offers a whole lot of colorful characters who we are initially baffled by regarding who the good guys and the bad guys are. One thing that I was not confused about was that the suicide of this young cop was fake but what I didn't understand was why and this eventual crux of the story took a little longer to come to light than I would have liked.

The real selling point of this story is the creation of this central character Freddy Heflin. Mangold has crafted a tragic hero, rich with lost dreams and buried emotions that we learn all stem from that near drowning incident that ended up crushing his dreams permanently. I love the initial shot of Freddy sitting by the water and looking over the East River at Manhattan. There's a lovely moment where Freddy is introduced to an alleged mob boss (played by the recently deceased Frank Vincent) who implies he could get Freddy in the NYPD with a couple of phone calls and this is the first time in the film where you ever see a light in Freddy's eyes.

Mangold's direction is striking if a little melodramatic at moments, with some exceptional slow motion work that calls to mind the work of the great Sam Peckinpah. Except for Creed, I don't think Stallone has ever given a better performance, riveting the viewer to the screen with this engagingly sad character and he is backed by a brilliant all star cast including Harvey Keitel in his usual greasy turn, Robert De Niro, nicely underplaying as the Internal Affairs officer, Ray Liotta, Peter Berg, Robert Patrick, and a young Michael Rappaport as the young cop whose fake suicide triggers this story. The film also features strong film editing and music that effectively frames the story. Stallone haters should really give this one a look.



ONE FINE DAY
Where great romantic comedies are concerned, the 1996 film One Fine Day offers nothing groundbreaking, but a pair of charismatic performances from the stars will definitely hold your attention.

George Clooney plays Jack Taylor, a divorced investigative reporter who is in the middle of a big story when his ex-wife asks him to watch his daughter while she goes on her honeymoon. Michelle Pfeiffer is Melanie Parker, a divorced architect and mother of a little boy named Sammy, who has a very important presentation to make at work that is complicated when Sammy misses the class field trip on the circle line. Of course, Jack and Melanie meet cute and anyone who has ever seen a romantic comedy can probably guess what happens.

There is a singularly unique hook to this story in that it all takes place in a single day and I did find myself forgetting that at times. Screenwriters Terrel Sltzer and Ellen Simon do put some effort into bringing something fresh to this story even if they aren't altogether successful. I was thoroughly amused by one scene with Jack and his shrink (Robert Klein) where Jack substitutes certain words for others because his daughter is in the room and ends up confessing "I wish I could find a fish who could appreciate my dark chocolate center."

Director Michael Hoffman does put a lot of care into the mounting of this story, with an extremely effective use of Manhattan locations, skill displayed here that is right up there with Woody Allen. I haven't seen a non-Woody movie that made Manhattan look more beautiful, even unexpected moments where the leads and the kids are climbing over a construction site to get to a soccer game on time. Hoffman shows how intimate the city can be and how massive it can be, demonstrated in the scene where Melanie loses Jack's daughter and running around looking for her, climaxed with Melanie mounting the top of a cab.

As expected, Clooney and Pfeiffer bring a nice Tracy/Hepburn quality to their performances that make you want to endure this journey even though you know almost immediately how it's going to end. Clooney and Pfeiffer both show an unexpected skill for physical comedy that is quite disarming. There is solid support from Charles Durning as Jack's boss Holland Taylor as Melanie's mother, and Amanda Peet as an amorous co-worker of Jack's. Mae Whitman, so memorable as Sandra Bullock's daughter in Hope Floats, also deserves a shout here for keeping Jack's daughter adorable despite some not adorable behavior. Also loved James Newton Howard's breezy music and Natalie Merchant's take on the title tune. One of those movies that almost makes you think it's better than it really is.