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Austin Powers International Man of Mystery
Mike Myers capitalized on his success on Saturday Night Live and became a movie star as the writer and star of Austin Powers International Man of Mystery.

This 1997 comedy/adventure is a dead-on satire of James Bond films in the best tradition of farceurs like Mel Brooks and the Zucker Brothers. Meyers stars as the title character, a British secret agent from the 1960's whose longtime rival with Dr. Evil (also Myers) climaxes in 1967 when both Powers and Evil are frozen for thirty years.

As the two men are unfrozen in 1997, both find themselves struggling with the many ways the world has changed since 1967. Austin is in complete denial that the time of free love and promiscuous sex is a thing of the past and poor Dr. Evil is not only upset to learn that a million dollars doesn't buy what it use to, but that he now has a teenage son who was created in a lab during his absence and absolutely hates his dad.

Myers' razor sharp screenplay not only brilliantly establishes how different the world was in 1967 and how much it has changed, but also creates "Austin speak"...a very special and very funny language for the title character that sounds very British but still manages to be very funny. Myers script shows a definite knowledge, respect, and affection for Bond movies, even borrowing the most famous line from Goldfinger.

Myers and director Jay Roach (Meet the Parents) were apparently given a huge budget for this one because there is money all over the place here. There are elaborate set pieces, some first rate visual effects, and the 1960's costumes are absolute perfection. Myers effectively chews the scenery in his dual role and Elizabeth Hurley is a very decorative leading lady. Robert Wagner and Michael York shine in supporting roles and Seth Green is a riot as Dr. Evil's son, Scott. And if you don't blink, you might catch Will Ferrell in the opening scene. After twenty-one years, this movie still brings the funny. Followed by two sequels.



Finding Dory
The Blue Tang Fish with short term memory loss returns in Disney Pixar's Finding Dory, the 2016 sequel to Finding Nemo that actually seems to be aimed at its target audience with a story whose main themes are the importance of friendship and the importance of listening to your parents.

This story takes place a year after the first film which finds the dizzy Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) separated from her parents, Jenny and Charlie, (voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) and embarks on a journey to find them with the help of Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) and his boy Nemo (voiced by Hayden Rolence). Unfortunately, the dangerous journey finds Dory a prisoner at the Marine Life Institute where she brokers a deal with a slick-talking octopus (voiced by Ed O'Neill).

The film actually begins with a lovely backstory where we meet Dory as a toddler fish being taught some valuable life lessons from her parents and it is these lessons that are instrumental in Dory's confusing journey back to them.

Director and co-screenwriter Andrew Stanton does a wonderful job of fleshing out the character of Dory without rehashing the events of the first film. I loved the opening scenes of baby Dory trying to accept her condition and her parents unconditional love and support in teaching her survival techniques without ever talking down to her and making sure that she knows that she is capable of accomplishing anything she needs to despite her condition. I loved seeing Dory's flashbacks to her childhood that would be sparked by certain things that she encounters while looking for her parents.

When I first heard about this sequel and heard the title, I was afraid that it was going to be all about Dory and have no connection to the first film. My fears were put to rest when I learned that Marlin and Nemo were determined to help Dory in her quest, even if Marlin needed some serious nudging from his son. Don't get it twisted though...this film is rich with a full array of eccentric and colorful new characters including a pair of sea lions who are very territorial about the rock upon which they live, a crazy bug-eyed bird named Becky and a couple of very helpful whales, one a childhood friend of Dory's named Destiny (voiced by Kaitlin Olsen) and another with telepathic skills named Bailey (voiced by Ty Burrell).

The story is full of danger for our heroine, with special mention to the scene in the touch pool. where the humans stick their hands in a large tank and grab the fish they want and there are even a couple of scenes where Dory, Marlin, and Nemo leave water and actually have to struggle for air. I have to admit it took a minute to get going, but this one was fun, a sequel that told its own story without rehashing the original film. Disney Pixar scores again.



The Big Knife
A razor sharp screenplay and some charismatic performances are the primary selling points of 1955's The Big Knife, a slick and sizzling look at Hollywood behind the scenes that takes no prisoners.

Based on a play by Clifford Odets, the film version stars Jack Palance as Charlie Castle, a movie star with a shady past at a crossroads in his career and his personal life...he wants out when his current contract with the studio expires and so does his wife, Marian (Ida Lupino) who is separated from Charlie but still in love with him. Of course, studio head Stanley Hoff (Rod Steiger) is not having this and is willing to put Charlie at the center of an ugly scandal involving a boozy starlet (Shelley Winters) in order to have his way.

Charlie's life is further complicated by Connie (Jean Hagen), the wife of his best friend who seems to be willing to throw her marriage away for Charlie and by Smiley (Wendell Corey), Hoff's flying monkey whose agenda seems to change from scene to scene.

Odets' play premiered on Broadway in 1949 with John Garfield playing Charlie and ran for 109 performances. James Poe does a terrific job of opening up the story for the screen and being true to the original story, a biting and merciless look at what some Hollywood movers and shakers will do to protect their bottom line. This combined with a story of a crumbling marriage crying to be repaired but the manifestations of this ugly story keep Charlie and Marian torn apart, even though it's the last thing they or we want.

This film was done on a modest budget, evidenced by the black and white photography, though I think black and white just added an additional layer of intensity to this troubling story. Kudos to Edward G. Boyle's set direction though...Charlie's house is gorgeous. Frank DeVol's music is a little much. but it didn't interfere too much. The performances were superb down the line...Palance's performance as Charlie was riveting and Lupino underplays the melodramatic aspects of her character to maximum effect. Rod Steiger was nothing short of bone-chilling as the studio head, which he played like a mob boss. Some might find this performance over the top but I found it fascinating and wonderfully entertaining. Jean Hagen, fresh off being robbed of an Oscar for Singin in the Rain, once again proves what an underrated actress she was and Shelley Winters shined in her brief role as the pathetic Dixie, reminiscent of the tragic Alice Tripp in A Place in the Sun. Once again, I must thank my good friend Citizen for recommending this one...I loved this movie.



The Big Knife

The performances were superb down the line...Palance's performance as Charlie was riveting and Lupino underplays the melodramatic aspects of her character to maximum effect.

Rod Steiger was nothing short of bone-chilling as the studio head, which he played like a mob boss. Some might find this performance over the top but I found it fascinating and wonderfully entertaining.

Jean Hagen, fresh off being robbed of an Oscar for Singin in the Rain, once again proves what an underrated actress she was and Shelley Winters shined in her brief role as the pathetic Dixie, reminiscent of the tragic Alice Tripp in A Place in the Sun.

Once again, I must thank my good friend Citizen for recommending this one...I loved this movie.
Glad you liked it! When I watched it, I thought to myself, 'I have to tell Gideon about this one.' I know you like movies about the underbelly of Hollywood and The Big Knife really dives into the sleazy manipulation of big time studio heads.

I agree across the board with what you said about the performances. Every actor was amazing in this! Rod Steiger gave me goose bumps and Jack Palance was so good in this, it's too bad he mostly got type cast as the weird/creepy guy later on in his career. And poor Shelly Winters! I love that comparison you made to her role in A Place in the Sun, I thought that too. Her character never ends up well in her movies do they.



North Country
The events surrounding Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, James Franco, and others motivated my first re-watch of North Country a compelling and manipulative docudrama that is hard to swallow at times, but there's no denying that the manipulation works and that the majority of this movie had my stomach in knots.

Charlize Theron received her 2nd Oscar nomination for her performance as Josey Aimes, a single mother of two who leaves her abusive husband and moves back to her Minnesota hometown where she gets a job as a miner, working in the same mine with her father (Richard Jenkins) and a childhood sweetheart named Bobby Sharp (Jeremy Renner). Josey is immediately repulsed by the sexually offensive behavior she and the other female miners have to put up with but Josey is the only one making any noise about it.

Unfortunately, nobody wants to hear anything Josey has to say because of her sexual history (she doesn't even know who fathered her son,Sammy) so when Bobby rapes her and no one believes her, she quits her job and seeks out a lawyer (Woody Harrelson) to help her sue the mine. We also are privy to the effect the events have on Sammy and even on Josey's parents.

Yes, Michael Seitzman's screenplay, based on Clara Bingham's book is based on fact but the story presented onscreen is just a little too black and white and hard to believe at times. It never lets us forget that maybe Josey is asking for what happens to her. There are events that occur in this film that may have happened but have been altered for dramatic effect to make a more entertaining movie. There's a scene at a hockey game where Bobby Sharp's wife confronts Josey, warning her to stay away from her husband and we are supposed to believe that everyone in the entire stadium went dead silent so that everyone present, including Sammy, hears the accusation, making Josey's rant in the parking lot look over the top as everyone stands there pointing and whispering as Josey drags her humiliated son home. This is the scene where the movie almost loses me,

I did find myself invested in why the other female miners adamantly refused to have Josey's back even though everything she complained about was true and there were levels of harassment that challenged credibility but the way the men backed each other totally rang true. We are given separate looks at the other side of the coin as we witness a young female co-worker (Michelle Monaghan) trying to play both sides of the sexual fence and failing miserably as well as a male miner (Corey Stoll) who knows what the men are doing is wrong but remains silent.

Niki Caro's direction is focused and sensitive and she always makes sure the camera tells just as much of the story as the characters do. She also pulls some first rate performances from a terrific cast. Personally, I think Theron's full-bodied performance here is far superior to the over the top scenery chewing she did in Monster and Jeremy Renner is appropriately slimy as the black hat of the story. Jenkins and Sissy Spacek are superb as Josey's parents and there is a fabulous performance from Frances McDormand as Josey's BFF whose body is being ravaged by Lou Gehrig's Disease. McDormand earned a supporting actress nomination as well. The film is beautiful to look at and yes, it is manipulative and the ending is a bit predictable, but the manipulation definitely works.



The Long Goodbye
Director Robert Altman gives a classic literary character a contemporary coat of paint in 1973's The Long Goodbye, an intelligent and stylish crime drama that makes up for a somewhat predictable story with evocative direction and some offbeat casting.

Based on Raymond Chandler's novel, this is the story of Phillip Marlowe, an easy going private eye who lives with his cat. Marlowe is visited by a friend at 3:00 in the morning asking Marlowe to drive him to Mexico. The next day, Marlowe reads in the paper that his friend has committed suicide and is being sought for questioning about his wife's murder while almost simultaneously, Marlowe gets a call from an icy Malibu socialite who wants to hire Marlowe to locate her missing husband, an eccentric alcoholic writer.

Altman score big here, taking Leigh Brackett's somewhat long-winded screenplay based on a classic literary detective and giving this detective a contemporary makeover and individual personality that are most appealing. Altman takes the time to let us know in this Marlowe, starting with a seemingly overly-detailed opening scene involving Marlowe and his cat which really has nothing to do with the forthcoming story, but gives this character instant likability as he seems to care more about this cat than the bevy of beautiful girls who occupy the penthouse next door.

Brackett's screenplay initially seems to set up two different stories that seemingly have nothing to do with each other, but we know that eventually there is going to be a connection between the stories and, even though it takes a little too long for that connection to surface, we forgive. We forgive because of Altman's atmospheric direction and the midnight to dawn feeling he creates through photography and music.

As he always did, Altman made some offbeat casting choices in the central roles that played off. During a period when Nicholson and Pacino were the biggest stars on the planet, Altman went a different way casting Elliott Gould as Marlowe, who beautifully captures the character's laid back attitude while never taking his eye off the prize. I loved the way the character constantly talked to himself, like he was narrating his own life and Gould was seemingly at ease with it. I also LOVED Sterling Hayden as the eccentric writer, his most charismatic performance since Dr. Strangelove. Bouquets as well to cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and John Williams unusally bluesy music. Fans of the director will not be disappointed.



Nice review. Altman's treatment was a nice idea, but Chandler's story didn't jibe for me in a contemporary setting. And Gould didn't seem right for a classic Marlowe.

I too really enjoyed Sterling Hayden's bit. I read that he wanted to improvise almost all of it, and that he was boozed up at the time.

Just so happens I'm currently reading the novel again after many years. The screenplay has some major differences from the novel. Altman's film is good, it's just not good Chandler. I'd love to see a new treatment of it.

~Doc



The Long Goodbye
Director Robert Altman gives a classic literary character a contemporary coat of paint in 1973's The Long Goodbye, an intelligent and stylish crime drama that makes up for a somewhat predictable story with evocative direction and some offbeat casting.

I also LOVED Sterling Hayden as the eccentric writer, his most charismatic performance since Dr. Strangelove.
I really need to see The Long Goodbye, so many films, never enough time! I didn't know it had one of my favorite actors in it, Sterling Hayden. He steals the scene in most all the movies I've seen him in. I recommend The Asphalt Jungle (1950) with Sterling Hayden and Jean Hagen. And Zero Hour! (1957) which Airplane is based on:

This film is parodied in Airplane! (1980), so much so, that the producers of that comedy bought the rights to this movie and used some of the dialogue word for word.



Brooklyn
Soairse Ronan received her first Oscar nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress for her performance in Brooklyn, a luminous coming of age drama from 2015 that also received nominations for adapted screenplay and Best Picture of the Year.

The story begins in Ireland during the early 1950's where we meet Eilis (Ronan),a young Irish girl who is preparing to begin a new life in Brooklyn, New York where a job and a place to live have already been arranged for her. Upon her arrival in Brooklyn, the frightened young mouse struggles to fit in with the girls who live in the boarding house with her and her new job as a department store salesgirl, not to mention a serious case of homesickness. She begins night classes to help her in her dream of becoming an accountant. She even finds romance with a hard-working young Italian named Tony (Emory Cohen).

Just as her new life seems to be falling quietly into place, a family tragedy forces Eilis to return to Ireland for awhile and she actually begins building a life there similar to the one she has built in Brooklyn. a life which she now seems to be on the verge of just throwing away.

Director John Crowley puts a loving hand to Nick Hornby's Oscar-nominated screenplay that begins as a somewhat conventional coming of age story watching a young girl adjusting to not only a new life but a clashing of cultures. I love when one of the girls in the boarding house advises her that if she is going to be involved with an Italian boy, make sure he doesn't talk about baseball and his mother all the time. The story does a surprising 180 when Eilis returns to Ireland and goes to places that actually found this viewer talking back to the screen, a sure sign that I am completely invested in what's going on.

Crowley employed a first rate production team in bringing this lavish story that takes place on two different continents to fruition. Art direction, set direction, cinematography, costumes, and Michael Brook's music deserve special mention and casting is pretty much on the money here...Ronan, nominated last year for Lady Bird, proves that performance was no fluke and her nomination here was richly deserved as well. The way this young actress can command a movie screen just continues to amaze me. Cohen lights up the screen as young Tony and I also loved Julie Walters as the boarding house den mother who bristles at improper language at the dinner table. If you liked Lady Bird, this one is a don't-miss.



Two Weeks with Love
Another offering from MGM's golden age of musicals, 1950's Two Weeks with Love is best known for one musical number, but it actually has a few other things going for it.

This turn of the century slice of Americana centers on the Robinson family who spend two weeks every summer at a resort in the Catskills where elder daughter Patti (Jane Powell) is pursued by the owner's geeky son, Billy (Carleton Carpenter) but only has eyes for a dashing Cuban playboy (Ricardo Montalban) who is also being pursued by Patti's snooty BFF (Phyllis Kirk). Throw into the mix Patti's younger sister, Melba (Debbie Reynolds) who is crazy about Billy and the girls' parents (Louis Calhern, Ann Harding) whose differing views about how grown Patti is finds them arguing over whether she is old enough for a corset, and you have all the ingredients for this amusing musical romp.

This film didn't do big box office back in 1950 and something tells me it might have had something to do with the leading man. Montalban just seemed out of place here and it was hard to reconcile myself with a rich Cuban playboy in the 1950's showing up at a resort in the Catskills at the turn of the century when this story takes place, much less in the 1950's. It is addressed discreetly during Montalban's first entrance into the resort dining where everyone stops what they're doing to stare at him. Montalban also appears to be at least a decade older than Powell, adding a slight "ick" factor to the relationship. Montalban's character even mentions at one point that Patti is a child but it doesn't stop his pursuit of her either.

If you can roll with all of this, there is some fun here watching the accustomed romantic complications we're used to in MGM musicals. It is fun watching poor Debbie Reynolds chasing around the clueless Carpenter who only has eyes for her big sister. Reynolds and Carpenter do give this film its place in musical history with their rendition of "Abba Dabba Honeymoon", pretty much the only thing people remember this film for.

Powell does have a couple of nice solos like "Oceana Roll" and "My Hero" and Louis Calhern is lots of fun as the girls' bewildered father and the gangly Carpenter was adorable. I was a little disappointed with the staging of the musical numbers since the opening credits revealed that Busby Berkeley was the choreographer. I expected more lavish musical sequences from Berkeley but I guess it wasn't that kind of story. MGM has definitely done better films, but if you liked A Date with Judy...



The Prince and the Showgirl
Despite the professional polish in front of and behind the camera, the lavish 1957 romantic comedy The Prince and the Showgirl never really becomes the truly special motion picture it should have been.

The film stars Laurence Olivier as The Grandduke Charles, the Prince Regent of a fictional country called Carpathia who arrives in London for the coronation of King George V. The evening before, The Regent takes in an English music hall show and becomes entranced with one of the chorus girls, a bubbly American named Elsie Marina (Marilyn Monroe). he invites Elsie to his palace for a private supper under the ruse of it being a big party but his intended simple seduction of this naive chorus girl turns out to be anything but.

Olivier also served as director on this film and for those who didn't know, the backstage turbulence during the film was brought to the screen in 2011 with My Week with Marilyn, really has nothing to do with what goes on here as am I here to report what ended up onscreen and what ended up here is Olivier's self-indulgent treatment of Terrence Rattigan's overly complex screenplay that attempts to tell too many stories and offers way too many mixed signals coming from the two lead characters to keep things moving the way they should.

On a positive note, it should be noted that these mixed signals are coming from two very intelligent characters. I loved the fact that even though Marilyn is playing a chorus girl, this chorus girl has a brain in her head and she uses it throughout this story. It takes her just enough time to realize what is happening to her and when she puts a stop to it, it's nice to see that she won't allow herself to be summarily kicked to the curb. Needless to say, the Regent is no dummy either, but is completely dumbfounded when his simple seduction doesn't go just as planned.

Olivier the actor delivers a fascinating performance and Monroe offers one of her strongest characterizations as well, but I think the real problem was the lack of chemistry between the two. You can't fake chemistry and as obsessed as Olivier might have been with Monroe at the time (at least according to My Week with Marilyn), it never translates into actual chemistry and when the leads in a romantic comedy have no chemistry, we just don't really care what else is going on. However, there is no denying that Marilyn has rarely looked more breathtaking onscreen.

The film is handsomely mounted with outstanding set design and stunning costumes and Dame Sybil Thorndyke was a hoot as the Regent's Mother-in-Law, but the lack of chemistry between Olivier and Monroe made this is a very labored romantic comedy that moved at a snail's pace. What a shame.



Young Adult
Director Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) and screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) are the creative forces behind an odd little romantic comedy from 2011 called Young Adult which is actually a character study disguised as a romantic comedy starring a character with whom it is often difficult to empathize.

Oscar winner Charlize Theron plays Mavis, the recently divorced author of a series of teen romance novels who gets an e-mail from her childhood sweetheart, Buddy (Patrick Wilson) announcing the birth of his daughter. Mavis impulsively jumps out of her bed (leaving a man there), packs her bags and travels to her small Minnesota hometown where she decides that she is going to break up Buddy's marriage and take up where they left off in high school.

Upon Mavis' return, she also runs into Matt (Patton Oswalt), the chubby geek who used to have the locker next to Mavis in high school. Matt was crippled during a beating he received in high school, likes to make and paint action figures, and likes to make his own homemade whiskey. For some reason, Mavis confides her plan to Matt who becomes her sounding board since his warnings to not do what she's planning fall on deaf ears.

Like she did with Juno, Diablo Cody comes up with a screenplay that is just edgy enough that we find ourselves loving the central character one scene and wanting to strangle her the next. It's a little disconcerting as we watch the spiral this character takes. She seems so intelligent and independent at the beginning of the story and she doesn't immediately strike you as a homewrecker and not just a homewrecker, but a homewrecker who thinks what she's doing is right because she has decided in her own mind that Buddy is not happy.

The element of the story that I had a little trouble getting behind was that neither Buddy nor his wife (Elizabeth Reaser) have a clue about what Mavis is doing, even though it seems glaringly obvious to the viewer. We are in the final act before Buddy and his wife catch on and the scene where everything bubbles to the surface is undeniably intense and director Reitman deserves the lion's share of credit for that.

Though Mavis' behavior is often self-absorbed and occasionally hints at mental health issues, Charlize Theron's gutsy and ferocious performance in the starring role commands our attention and makes us wonder if she is going to accomplish her mission even though we know what she's doing is wrong. Patton Oswalt does a real movie star turn as Matt and Wilson makes the most of what is basically a thankless and underwritten role. Shout outs as well to Dana E. Glauberman's editing and Rolfe Kent's quirky music. There's a whole lot of unpleasantness that goes on here, and the lead character doesn't really learn the lesson she should, but I couldn't take my eyes off the screen either.



The Prince and the Showgirl
Despite the professional polish in front of and behind the camera, the lavish 1957 romantic comedy The Prince and the Showgirl never really becomes the truly special motion picture it should have been.
...
Nice review. I enjoyed the film, chiefly because of its alluring story. Both Olivier and Monroe are fascinating to watch, but the reason there was no chemistry between them was that Olivier was so completely disgusted with MM. As in many of her later films, she was painfully late to the set, had lots of trouble with her lines, and did not take direction well. In short, completely unprofessional. Poor Olivier was said to have aged 15 years due to trying to work with her on the film. Still, it didn't hurt his bank account..
~Doc



Brigadoon
Considering all of the talent involved on both sides of the camera, the 1954 film version of the Lerner and Lowe Broadway musical Brigadoon never becomes the truly enchanting musical film it could have and should have been.

Tommy (Gene Kelly) and Jeff (Van Johnson) are New York businessmen who go on a hunting trip in Scotland who get lost but they encounter a tiny village where the townspeople are preparing for the wedding of Jean (Virginia Bosler) and Charlie (Jimmy Thompson). Tommy is instantly attracted to Jean's older sister, Fiona (Cyd Charisse) but their romance leads Tommy to a secret about the town that could keep Tommy and Fiona apart forever, not to mention Harry Beaton (Hugh Laing) the other man who still loves Jean whose obsession with Jean could also destroy Brigadoon forever.

Considered by many a lesser work of Lerner and Lowe, who also wrote the scores for My Fair Lady and Camelot, the stage musical does go under some serious deconstruction here as a large portion of the score was scrapped to fit the MGM stable of stars, or more specifically, the dancing talents of Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse (Charisse's singing is dubbed by Carole Richards). A lot of what is expressed between the lead characters in this story that was done with dialogue and song onstage is done with dance and dilutes a lot of the story's charm. Despite the score tampering, we still have "Waitin for My Dearie", "The Heather on the Hill", "I'll Go Home with Bonnie Jean:, "Almost Like Being in Love" and the lilting title song. The town tart, Meg Brody, had two of the show';s best songs onstage, "The Love of My Life" and "My Mother's Wedding Day", but both were scrapped here reducing the role of Meg to a cameo that she makes the most of with Johnson. I also missed a lovely ballad between the leads called "Come to Me, Bend to Me."

The other problem here (and director Vincente Minnelli has to take some blame for this) is the look of the film. We all know of Minnelli's eye for color onscreen and it is evident here; unfortunately, this allegedly magic Scottish village looks like it was built completely on a sound stage. I never get the feeling that I'm in the highlands of Scotland and it's a shame that Minnelli didn't do some location shooting for this. He didn't have to go to Scotland, but he could have gone somewhere with some real mountains and hills. Minnelli's overly melodramatic handling of the final act didn't help either.

Kelly also served as choreographer for the film and his staging of the dance numbers is energetic but a little unimaginative. He works well with Charisse, who makes a lovely Fiona and Johnson has some funny moments, but for an MGM version of a Lerner and Lowe musical, this was a disappointment.



The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson, the creative force behind Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and last year's Best Picture nominee Phantom Thread takes us on one of his most bizarre cinematic acid trips, an oddity from 2012 called The Master.

Joaquin Phoenix stars as Freddie Quell, a WWII Navy vet who is having difficulty adjusting to life after the war until he happens upon something called The Cause...a form of hypnosis that allegedly helps one deal with their present life difficulties by confronting their past. Freddie initially fights the process but is lured into an intense love/hate relationship with The Cause's charismatic leader, one Lancaster Dodd (the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman).

Anderson must be credited for a screenplay that definitely has a dash of originality to it...the opening scenes of Freddie floating from job to job because of PTSD are no indicator of the strange story that unfolds before us, but this is Paul Thomas Anderson we're talking about so I should have known trying to foresee what was going to happen to this guy Freddie was pointless.

Anderson approaches some really prickly subject matter here as we get about halfway through the story and realize that The Cause is nothing more than a cult and Lancaster Dodd is a very sophisticated con artist...or is he? The story moves in varied directions and it is hard to keep track of what is going on a lot of the time and there are a couple of scenes that defy any kind of explanation or logic. There is a similar confusion with the characters. Everyone in this story seems to have their own agenda and said agendas change from scene. Dodd's wife, daughter, and son-in-law for instance, seem to welcome Freddie to the fold with open arms, but around the same time we realize what Dodd really is, we see the family close ranks around him and warn him that Freddie is a danger to their existence.

The biggest disappointment story-wise for this reviewer was watching Freddie being taken in by this people and hoping that they can somehow help the hot mess of a character we meet in the opening scenes. We want to see him get the help he needs but it becomes clear this is not going to happen and we just want to see him get away, instead what we get is an attempt to "de-program" Freddie which really doesn't work because Freddie really isn't any different than he was in the beginning of the film which. to me, made most of the story kind of pointless.

As confusing and squirm-worthy as I found this story, I could not take my eyes off the screen due to the performances by the three leads, which all received Oscar nominations. Phoenix is darkly unhinged as Freddie, a performance that had a really Brando-esque quality to it...Freddie was a like a car accident...you didn't want to look, but you couldn't help looking. I don't think Anderson rep company member Hoffman as ever been better as Dodd (and that includes his Oscar-winning performance in Capote) and I'm surprised he didn't win a second Oscar for his work here...this performance is intense yet beautifully controlled and slightly creepy. Amy Adams once again proves her versatility in a quietly powerful turn as Dodd's wife, who turns out to be the real power behind The Cause. This performance earned Adams her fourth Oscar nomination.

As always, Anderson's attention to production values is first rate, the film is beautifully photographed and I loved the costumes and the quirky music. I just wish his direction had been a little less self-indulgence and that his screenplay had cared a little more about his central character.



Brigadoon
Considering all of the talent involved on both sides of the camera, the 1954 film version of the Lerner and Lowe Broadway musical Brigadoon never becomes the truly enchanting musical film it could have and should have been.
...
Years ago I played in the orchestra for a production of this musical. You're right, the music is great-- classic Lerner and Lowe. Too bad much of it wasn't used in the movie.

It's always nice to see Kelly dancing, especially with Miss Cyd. What talent... She had a nice dancing part in Singing in the Rain. But I think her better dancing roles were with Fred Astaire.

~Doc



My senior year of college we did Brigadoon and I was the assistant director. This movie is a pale imitation of the original stage production. I also preferred Charisse with Astaire over Kelly.



The Addams Family
A clever screenplay, outrageous set pieces, and a terrific cast make the 1991 comedy The Addams a gothic comedy gem.

Based on comic strip characters by Charles Addams which then became a popular sitcom in the 1960's, this is the story of an eccentric family of characters living in a gothic house that puts Norman Bates' house to shame. This film version delves a little into the roots of the family which includes patriarch Gomez (Raul Julia), a lawyer who never practices law but goes nuts whenever wife Morticia (Anjelica Huston) speaks French. They have two children named Wednesday and Pugley who are into some often sadistic play. Also living in the house are Morticia's mother, a manservant named Lurch who resembles Frankenstein, a pet lion named Kitty, and a hand servant (who is just a hand) named Thing.
The primary story here is a group of con artists who think they can bulk the Addams out of their millions because one of them (Christopher Lloyd) bears an uncanny resemblance to Gomez' brother Fester, who, after a terrible argument with Gomez, was lost in the Bermuda Triangle.

If the truth be told, the story is so not the attraction here, but the presentation of these characters and their gothic existence, presented as if the sitcom never existed, perhaps borrowing more inspiration from the original comic strip. Former film editor Barry Sonnenfield made an impressive directorial debut here, establishing the Halloween-brought-to-life atmosphere that this creepy family inhabits. I just loved the visit to the family graveyard and Wednesday's electric chair and the bagged lunches that Lurch hands the children that contain something alive and wriggling. Not to mention Morticia's gardening...she takes fully grown roses, cuts off the blooms and arranges the stems.

There are some outrageous set pieces that sometime shock and always amuse...love the family cuckoo clock that appears near the opening and Gomez' secret hideaway where he attempts to connect with FauxFester. Sonnenfeld's casting is also on the money, led by Julia and Huston whose white hot chemistry lights up the screen and provides major grins throughout. Lloyd is terrific, as always, and young Christina Ricci became an official movie star with her scene-stealing turn as the stone-faced Wednesday. Also loved the criminally underrated Elizabeth Wilson as the venemous villianess.

The production values are superb with special nods to editing (no surprise with Sonnenfeld at the helm), art design, makeup, and Ruth Myer's Oscar-nominated costumes. A delicious comic romp that the entire family can enjoy together. It was followed by a sequel called Addams Family Values and the characters also came to Broadway in 2010 with Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth playing Gomez and
Morticia.



Rabbit Hole
2010's Rabbit Hole is another cinematic look at the grieving process that provides wisps of originality in terms of storytelling and two very strong performances from the leads.

Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play Becca and Howie, upwardly mobiles whose young son was accidentally hit by a car about eight months and of course the pair are in completely different places in their grief. Howie has found a support group that is helping him but Becca doesn't like it because they talk about God too much. After several missteps revolving around her sister's pregnancy and trying to erase all memories of her child from the house, Becca actually seems to find solace in forging a relationship with the high school student (Miles Teller) who was driving the car that killed her son.

Things for the couple get muddied further by Becca's conflict over her mother (Oscar winner Dianne Wiest) who also lost a child and Howie's attraction to another member of the support group (Sandra Oh).

David Lindsey-Abaire's screenplay is an adaptation of his own play and I'm happy to report that he does a wonderful job of keeping the movie looking like a movie. There was one very effective scene, that probably wasn't in the play, where we see Becca wait until Howie goes to work, she then gets dressed and takes a train to New York where she is clearly trying to get her old job back, thinking this might be an effective way to channel her grief, but most of the people she worked with are gone...this scene really hit home and once again reminded us that Becca is trying to grieve in her own way and that it isn't working.

I found the idea of a woman bonding with the person responsible for her child's death a bold one and was pretty certain that this would destroy her marriage and my curiosity as to whether that would actually happen kept me glued to the screen. After some pretty brazen story moves, the conclusion is a little pat, but doesn't stray from reality either.

Kidman's gutsy performance anchors the film and she is matched note for note by Eckhart in his finest performance since Thank You for Smoking. Wiest and Oh make the most of every moment they have onscreen and I also loved Tammy Blanchard as Becca's sister. John Cameron Mitchell's sensitive direction is another factor in making this heartbreaker worth a look.



Without Love (1945)
The 1945 romantic comedy Without Love was the third film featuring one of our greatest acting teams: Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.

Tracy plays Pat Jamieson, a scientist who arrives in Washington to work on a special project for the military but has nowhere to live. He gets hired as a caretaker for a wealthy widow named Jamie Rowan (Hepburn) who is unimpressed with Pat until she learns more about his work, which was similar to the work of her late father.

Even though there is an attraction between the two, Pat and Jamie are both gun-shy about love but for different reasons: Pat was badly burned by his last relationship with a woman named Lila who is not completely out of his life and Jamie had a perfect marriage that she is certain she will never be able to duplicate. What does exist between these two is a passion for Pat's work and a respect for each other which prompts Jamie to suggest a platonic marriage.

There is also a subplot involving Jamie's cousin Quentin (Keenan Wynn) who is engaged to the tightly wound Edwina (Patricia Morison), but is really in love with Jamie's business manager and BFF, Kitty (Lucille Ball).

This film is actually based on a play by Phillip Barry and adapted for the screen by Donald Ogden Stewart, the pair behind the 1940 classic The Philadelphia Story. The screenplay is surprisingly sophisticated for the 40's with a big nod to the war effort but never forgetting the primary story. This was not a new topic for movies, but it was fun trying to figure out which one was going to crack first and how long it would take the other to come around.

But above everything else, this movie has the magic of Tracy/Hepburn, which can make even second rate material jump off the screen and dance. I think I liked them here more than Woman of the Year and Lucy was terrific as Kitty. This is one of the least seen of the nine films Tracy and Hepburn did and I don't know why. Another one of those romantic comedies for people who hate romantic comedies.