Gideon58's Reviews

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42ND STREET
The genesis of every movie plot device that you have ever heard referred to as a "show business cliche" can be found in the granddaddy of all backstage musicals, the 1933 classic 42ND STREET.

This humorous musical comedy told with a pretty straight face is the story of Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter), a famous Broadway director who finds out that he is dying and decides to put on one more great show before he takes his final curtain call, a little something called PRETTY LADY. Marsh encounters one problem after another as he begins mounting his new musical extravaganza: His leading lady, Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels) is entertaining the wealthy backer of the show (Guy Kibbee) and still seeing the penniless playboy that she still loves (George Brent). A young ingenue straight off the bus named Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler) is thrilled to be cast in the chorus of the show, along with the a couple of other wisecracking chorus girls (Una Merkel, Ginger Rogers) and catching the eye of the show's leading man, Billy Lawlor (Dick Powell). But right before opening night, Dorothy breaks her ankle and guess who's pegged to take over for her?

Yes, this movie was where it all began, but unlike the movies that would later pay homage to or rip off this one, this one is told with a straight face. Director Lloyd Bacon mounts the screenplay with the reference that the story deserves, despite the expected dated silliness that goes on here regarding the mounting of a Broadway musical...I was thoroughly amused by the fact that the only thing girls had to do for their audition was raise their skirts and show their legs. No singing or dancing, I guess it was just assumed that they already knew how to sing and dance.

But what you'll come away from this classic remembering is the genius that was Busby Berkeley, who staged the incredible musical numbers. There were few director/choreographers who produced more lavish musical numbers than Berkeley did. Berkeley loved to cram as many dancers as he could onto a single lavish set and then shoot them from overhead, creating some of movie's most dazzling pictures . He had a pretty decent score to work with here too, including "Shuffle Off to Buffalo", "Young and Healthy", "You're Getting to be a Habit with Me", and the now iconic title tune.

Some of the performances might be laughed off the screen in 2018, but for 1933, I'm sure they worked...Baxter and Daniels are terrific and Keeler's wide-eyed sincerity is quite endearing. And it should come to no one's surprise that Una Merkel and Ginger Rogers steal every scene they're in. Don't know why it took me so long to get around to this classic, but I'm glad I finally did. Long before Mickey and Judy, there was Warner and Bebe...check this one out. About 50 years later, the movie was adapted for the Broadway stage with Jerry Orbach as Julian Marsh and Tammy Grimes as Dorothy Brock.



Rocky IV
Despite some self-indulgent direction, Sylvester Stallone proved there was still mileage in his most famous franchise with 1985's Rocky IV, an emotionally charged story that is the strongest film in the franchise since the first one, due to a manipulative, crowd-pleasing story and an opponent for Rocky that made Clubber Lang look like a florist.

Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is feeling like yesterday's news when he learns of the arrival of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), a boxing killing machine, to the states and decides to challenge the gigantic Russian to an exhibition match. And even with Rocky in his corner, the match goes tragically wrong and Rocky feels he has no option but to give up his title and challenge the Russian giant in order to avenge his friend Apollo. The only thing is Drago's wife (Brigitte Nielsen) fears for his safety if he stays in the US and only agrees to the match with Rocky on the condition that it happens in the USSR.

Stallone does an admirable job of telling a new story with these characters we've come to love with only a brief detour into laziness when, after the death of Apollo, we are treated to almost ten minutes of clips from the previous three films, documenting everything that happened in those films, right up to Apollo's final fall to the canvas. It's understandable that Rocky's grief would ignite a flashback of their relationship but this one goes on WAY too long to the point where the film almost loses me. Ironically, these scenes actually lead to my favorite part of the film.

I've always loved the training sequences in these films and the sequences were beautifully mounted here, with a strong assist from film editors John W. Wheeler and Don Zimmerman as we got a side by side look at both Rocky and Drago's training regimens. Stallone's story must also be applauded for the human qualities he attempts to bring to the character of Ivan Drago...if you watch this character in his opening scenes being introduced to the press, he appears to be a "product" manufactured for international consumption and that Drago is not a willing participant in this creative process. Even though this character is clearly the villain of the piece, Stallone attempts to evoke sympathy with the character and succeeds somewhat. I also love when Rocky is introduced at the climactic match and he is greeted with boos and whistles, something we Rocky fans just aren't used to, an unsettling but effective piece of storytelling.

Stallone's prove track record with the previous three films is indicated with the seemingly unlimited budget he has been given for this one...there's money everywhere here, though I did miss Bill Conti's music. There is a cameo by the Godfather of Soul, James Brown performing his hit "Living in America." Stallone and his cast deliver the goods, though personally, Burt Young's Paulie becomes beyond annoying here, but not enough to detract from Stallone's ability to prove that this movie character still had box office appeal.



They All Laughed
Peter Bogdanovich provides a real mixed bag with 1981's They All Laughed, a quirky and confusing private eye story that has earned a place in cinematic history as the final film appearance of murdered PLAYBOY centerfold Dorothy Stratten.

John (Ben Gazzara), Charles (John Ritter), and Arthur (Blaine Novak) are three private detectives who work at a 2nd rate agency in Manhattan called The Odyssey Detective Agency. They have two cases running concurrently as the story opens: John has been assigned to trail a sophisticated millionaire's wife (Audrey Hepburn) while Charles and Arthur are following Dolores (Stratten), the young bride of an extremely jealous husband (Sean Ferrer). These cases are complicated by the women in our detectives' lives including a sexy cabbie (Patti Hansen) and a neurotic country singer (Colleen Camp).

Bogdonavich and co-star Blaine Novak collaborated on the muddy screenplay which leisurely tries to tell the story of detectives who become a little too personally involved with their clients, but the pacing of the story is so lethargic that by the time the viewer has figured out exactly what's going on here, interest has definitely begun to wane. We see that two different stories are being told and we keep waiting for them to connect in a way they never do. We're in the second act before it's revealed that the three detectives work for the same agency and we're a little let down that this is the only connection between the two stories. I'm guessing the hook of this story was supposed to be the fact that these are three private detectives who are really not very good at what they do.

On the positive side, it is lovely to see Hepburn (looking incredible) and Gazzara sharing the screen, conjuring up all kinds of cinematic memories despite the fact that this is the first time they had worked together. John Ritter gets to display his affinity for physical comedy here and steals every scene he is in. I was also impressed with Bogdanovich's use of Manhattan as the backdrop for his story. Only Woody Allen has made comparable use of Manhattan as a movie setting.

Hepburn and Gazzara are lovely together but their screentime is limited. If the truth be told, the late John Ritter steals the show as the clumsy but adorable Charles and Stratten does show some promise as a movie star and Bogdonavich's love for the girl is clear here. It's a shame he was unable to protect her from her sad fate. The movie does have a spark of originality, but it just takes too long to go where it's going. Sean Ferrer is the real life son of Audrey Hepburn. A lot of talent wasted here.



Xanadu
Critically lambasted at the time of release, the 1980 musical Xanadu is a silly remake of the 1947 film Down to Earth that was supposed to make a movie star out of Olivia Newton-John, who was white-hot after the success of Grease, but it pretty much killed the songstress' movie career instead.

Olivia Newton-John plays Kira, a muse who returns to earth for the first time since the 1940's to unite a penniless artist (Michael Beck) with a former big band musician (Gene Kelly) so that they can open a nightclub. And this paper-thin premise lays the groundwork for one of the worst musical ever made.

There's not a whole lot going on here that really works...the screenplay is simplistic and spoon-fed to the viewer through unimaginative direction that treats the audience like they're six years old. Watching these two grown men chase around this girl who apparently doesn't really want to be caught makes you want to start pulling your hair out about halfway through the movie. These guys keep pinning hopes on changing their lives on this girl who came out of a brick wall and just when they're dreams are about to be realized, she returns to the brick wall and when Beck's character actually jumps through the brick wall to go after her, it becomes impossible to take anything else that happens seriously.

Prior to that, we get a lot of scenes of Beck and Kelly bemoaning the generation gap and how Beck is the overseer of everything that is hip and cool and Kelly being the old coot who has no clue about what's cool anymore. A huge production number called "Dancin" attempts to meld the two different kinds of music being promoted here and neither really wins.

Newton-John and the Electric Light Orchestra provide the sugary music score, which includes "Suddenly" (a duet with Cliff Richard), "I'm Alive", "Magic", and "Whenever You're Away From Me". Olivia sings a ballad near the end of the second act called "Suspended in Time" which brought the movie to a dead halt.

The only thing that makes this movie worth a look is a chance to watch the iconic Gene Kelly who still can command a movie screen; however, his presence is also a sad reminder of what this film should have been. Though I have to admit it was great seeing Kelly on roller skates again, which brings me to the interminable finale...this musical mess featured four or five different genres of music as well as trapeze artists, tightrope walkers, jugglers, and thousands of dancers on roller skates, documentation that bigger isn't always better. One of the dancers, Matt Lattanzi would marry Olivia Newton-John four years after the release of this travesty. BTW, Gene Kelly's character here is named Danny McGuire, which was also the name of his character in the 1944 musical Cover Girl.
Morbid curiosity is the only reason I can see for watching this one, but you've been warned. Incredibly, somebody actually decided to turn it into a Broadway musical about 30 years later.



Robin Williams Live at the Met
Before his Oscar-winning movie career, the late Robin Williams proved that he could have a live audience doubled over with laughter with a series of standup concerts and one of the funniest was a 1986 concert, filmed for HBO from the Metropolitan Opera House.

Williams immediately amuses his crowd by making fun of the fact that he is at the Met and wonders if Pavorotti is in a bar downtown somewhere telling jokes. About five minutes in, I cracked up when Williams notices somebody being seated late and decides to re-enact everything that the latecomer missed...which garnered major laughs though you know it was also a private swipe at the latecomer which probably guaranteed that this guy was never again late for anything.

There were a couple of very unique things about Robin Williams that made him different than just about any other stand up comic. I've tried for years to put my finger on what it is that made Williams and I realized as I watched this concert that it was the incredible instrument that was Williams' voice. Williams was able to do so many different things with his voice and would bring a variety of voices to whatever he was doing at breakneck speed. He also had this way, and I don't know of anybody else who did this, but he had this way of utilizing classic movie and television references, blending them with his own vocal techniques and applying them to separate characters and always making these new characters funny and identifiable to us.

During his diatribe on Ronald Reagan and politics in general, he doesn't utilize a lot of direct impressions, but uses voices that fit the characters and the situations that he has created for them and for us and we understand exactly what he's doing and it's funny as hell. I loved the voice that he chose when he was bringing human qualities to a penis. For some reason, it sounded exactly what we would think a penis would sound like if he could talk.

What I loved most about Williams' standup is something that I can't say a lot about today's standups. Williams NEVER spends anytime onstage laughing at himself. He knows he's funny and lets us laugh. He's actually so funny that there are things that the audience thought were a lot funnier than he did and sometimes he would go with it and sometimes he would just let the audience laugh and breath before continuing. This man had an uncanny sense of what was connecting with his audience and never got in the way of it. He says all those things that we've never had the nerve to say out loud but we're so glad he did. RIP, Robin, you've earned it.



Xanadu
...was supposed to make a movie star out of Olivia Newton-John, who was white-hot after the success of Grease, but it pretty much killed the songstress' movie career instead.
Not a fan of Xandau and come to think of it Olivia Newton John wasn't even that great in Grease. Oh sure she can sing but she just didn't have the right stuff to be a big movie star.

Have you seen Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)? It's often compared to Xandau but I like it better than Xandau.




No, never had any desire to see Sgt. Pepper...did you know that was Steve Martin's film debut?
No I didn't know that about Steve Martin. It's not a great film, but worth checking out.



You Were Never Lovlier
After the success of their initial pairing,You'll Never Get Rich, Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth were reunited for 1942's You Were Never Lovelier, an exuberant musical romp that was superior to their first film together due to a strong story and more of Fred and Rita on the dance floor together.

The film takes place in Argentina where we meet Eduardo Acuna (Adolph Menjou), the stuffy owner of a luxury hotel who has just gotten the eldest of his four daughters married. His two younger daughters already have fiancees but they can't get married yet, because daughter #2, Maria (Hayworth) has no plans for marriage yet. Enter Robert Davis (Astaire), an American hoofer who wants a job dancing at Acuna's hotel but can't get Acuna to give him the time of the day.

Acuna is being harassed to light a fire under Maria by her little sisters, so Acuna begins sending her orchids and love notes from a secret admirer and when a week passes without a note and orchid, so Acuna sends Davis to his house to deliver the orchid and the flower and, of course, Maria thinks Robert has been sending her the flowers the whole time. In order to not disappoint his daughter, Acuna offers Robert a job dancing at his hotel if he will pretend to be Marias secret suitor.

This film features a witty and surprisingly intelligent screenplay that plays to the strengths of his cast. The basic story of the dad marrying off his four daughters in order was actually re-worked in the 1957 Dean Martin comedy Ten Thousand Bedrooms, but the path to the requisite happy ending is a lot more direct than in that film, thanks primarily to William A. Seiter's spirited direction. I did have one minor nitpick though: The opening of the film makes a very big deal out of letting us know that the story takes place in Buenos Aires, but other than the presence of Xavier Cugat and his band, there is nothing in this film that says South America. It is so obvious throughout this film that it never leaves a Columbia Studios soundstage and none of the Acuna family, or any of the other characters here, have anything resembling any kind of accent. It doesn't detract from the story, but there's nothing about this movie that says Buenos Aires except the opening scene telling us that this is where the story takes place.

On the positive side, we do have a lovely score by Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer that includes songs like "Dearly Beloved", "Wedding in the Spring", and title tune, dreamily crooned by Astaire. Astaire and Hayworth also are given two great dance numbers, choreographed to the tunes of "I'm Old Fashioned" and "The Shorty George."

Columbia definitely put a few bucks behind this feature (though it screamed to be in color) and it does feature first rate set direction. Astaire is charm personified, as always, Hayworth is a knockout, and Menjou steals every scene he is in. Leslie Broooks and Adele Mara were cute as Rita's sister and I also loved Gus Schilling as Fernando, Acuna's assistant. It's light and bubbly entertainment that was definitely an improvement over the first Astaire/Hayworth film.



Stronger
Fans of the 2016 drama Patriots Day which chronicled the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, should definitely take a look at Stronger, a 2017 docudrama that focuses on one of the victims of that deadly attack and his impossible struggle to resume a normal life.

Jeff Bauman is a guy who works at Costco and is a serious Boston Red Sox fan. He has just manipulated his supervisor into giving him the next day off so that he can attend the game tomorrow because he missed the last two. On his way home, he learns his on again off again girlfriend is running in the Boston Marathon and promises to make a huge sign and be standing at the finish line when she finishes. While Jeff is standing at the finish line with his sign, a guy in a rain slicker and sunglasses brushes by him and seconds later, the bombs go off and Jeff ends up losing his legs.

John Pollano's screenplay, based on Bauman's book, is manipulative and overly sentimental, but that is to be expected with this kind of story. The screenplay effectively chronicles Jeff's sudden and swift rise to media darling that Jeff doesn't really understand, but initially tries to embrace. Watching someone become a celebrity and not realizing why can make some really squirm-worthy entertainment and there were things that occur during this story that had my stomach tied up in knots.

There were so many things that happened right after the bombing that totally took me by surprise...I couldn't believe that one of his friends actually broke the news to Jeff that he had lost his legs. I would have thought that would be something that not only a doctor would do, but that a friend or family member would find too painful to do. It was very hard watching the scene where he comes home from the hospital and tries to take a bath for the first time. This film definitely made me realize how I take my two working legs for granted. I was also troubled by Jeff's rejecting what was happening to him, evidenced in a bar fight that he instigates but no one wants to hit him.

Director David Gordon Green works wonders with this central character, so beautifully realized by the endlessly gifted Jake Gyllenhaal, never allowing the character to be one-dimensional or pathetic, though the sight of him crawling out of the car after a fight with his girlfriend was heartbreaking. Another sharp directorial touch worked for me was whenever the character would begin to drown in self-pity, he would immediately flash back to the day of the bombing and remember that he was not the only one this happened to, the final flashback being particularly memorable.

Jake Gyllenhaal adds another powerhouse performance to his resume and received solid support from Tatiana Maslany as girlfriend Erin and Miranda Richardson, in an eye-opening turn as Jeff's mother. The film is beautifully photographed and Michael Brook's music perfectly frames the proceedings. I loved during the epilogue that we learned the Red Sox won the next World Series and that Jeff took full credit for it. It's on the manipulative side, but the manipulation works.



Jamie Foxx Unleased: Lost, Stolen and Leaked!
The year before he won an Oscar for Ray, Jamie Foxx brought major laughs to a sold out house in 2003's Jamie Foxx Unleashed: Lost, Stolen, and Leaked! that worked for a live audience but loses something with the addition of the 4th wall between the reviewer and the star.

Broadcast from a huge theater in Dallas Texas, Foxx's material was topical at the time this was filmed, but seems a little dated now. His discussion about the feud between a pair of rappers did lay a nice foundation for the star to do a lot of impressions and not just the same people we've seen a million comics impersonate. I can't remember the last time I saw a stand up impersonate Morgan Freeman, but the whole pairing rappers thing just had too much of a "been there done that" air about it in 2018. Not to mention his views on former President Bill Clinton, as well as his views on the OJ verdict, which might surprise you. This also led to a funny routine about what would happen if Jamie tried to date OJ's daughter.

The meat of the concert, like most stand-ups, dealt with relationships, but Jamie takes a more specific tack than other comics, talking about the art of infidelity and how women are more skilled at it than men. This is the kind of material that would usually divide a live audience, but that never happens here. Even as he talks about women's skill at cheating and cursing them out from the stage as he does it, it seemed to make the females in the audience love the man even more.

Like Robin Williams, Foxx has a wonderful vocal instrument that he knows how to utilize to maximum effect. I love the way every time he establishes a new character who is walking, he always gives sound to the footsteps. And nobody does fart sounds like Jamie. As funny as Foxx is, there is also a wall between him and the audience that I don't think his audience is aware of at times. He loves to do these musical bits where he attempts to get the audience to sing with him and then stop them very suddenly. It's as if he needs to remind the audience that he's always in charge and it comes off as unabashed arrogance.

On the other hand, I did love the final ten minutes where Jamie took a seat at the piano and displayed his musical abilities, which led to a roll on the floor funny routine about black church which only black folks will find funny but it was a perfect finale to get this all-black audience on his feet. As much as I laughed during this concert, there was a distance between the star and the reviewer that had me feeling on the outside throughout.



28 days...6 hours...42 minutes...12 seconds
I don't think I've ever seen his stand-up.
__________________
"A laugh can be a very powerful thing. Why, sometimes in life, it's the only weapon we have."

Suspect's Reviews



Finding Neverland
Johnny Depp received one of his three Oscar nominations for Finding Neverland, a sumptuously mounted biopic from 2004 that is, on the surface a look at JM Barrie, the writer who created Peter Pan, but is filled with such lush fantasy and quiet whimsy that we have to wonder exactly how much of what is presented here actually happened, though when it's all said and done, we really don't care.

It's London 1903 and JM Barrie's latest play has been a huge flop much to the chagrin of theater owner Charles Frohman, who demands Barrie come up with something else in order to keep his theater open. While trying to figure out his next project and save his deadening marriage to ice queen Mary, Barrie meets an attractive, but sickly widow named Sylvia Davis who is the mother of four young sons. Though Barrie establishes a relationship with Sylvia, it is the relationship that he develops with her sons that begins to dominate his life, bringing out the child in him and allowing the boys a father figure in their lives. Barrie is especially touched by son #3, Peter, who inspires Barrie to create a new play about a boy who knows how to fly and his best friend, a pint-sized fairy.

David Magee's Oscar-nominated screenplay is a lovely marriage of romantic drama and lilting child-like fantasy as we watch a dreamy-eyed playwright vacillate between the realities of his career and his marriage and these young boys who allow him to forget about the realities of adulthood until they actually inspire his writer's block and it's wonderful as we are let in on Barrie's process, that it manifests itself in lavish fantasy sequences involving both the boys and their mother and sometimes it seems like they actually know what's going on and love being part of it. I also love the screenplay's exploration of possible multiple meanings of Neverland.

Marc Forster, who also directed Monster's Ball and Stranger Than Fiction has mounted a very intimate story on a large and inviting canvas that is lovely on the outside and so emotionally charged on the inside that, in addition to Depp's lead actor nod and Magee's screenplay, the film received five other Oscar nominations and won the Oscar for Jan AP Kaczmarek's lush music score.

And the performances that Forster gets from his cast are nothing short of magical. For those who thought Tim Burton was the only director capable of getting a performance out of Johnny Depp need to witness his work here...Depp shows a depth and sensitivity he has never shown onscreen before and his Oscar nomination was richly deserved and the chemistry he creates with Kate Winslet as the tragic Sylvia keeps this film buzzing. Dustin Hoffman offers some funny moments as theater owner Frohman and Freddie Highmore lights up the screen as young Peter. Depp and Highmore work so well together that they were reunited onscreen the following year in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Mention also must be made of a spectacular supporting turn from Oscar winner Julie Christie as Sylvia's nasty mother. I don't know how much of what we see here is fact, but as the film washed over me, I cared less and less.



Christopher Robin
The 2018 fantasy Christopher Robin is an enchanting and effervescent movie journey that entertains the viewer with a re-thinking of some classic animated characters involved in their own unique adventure, but the adventure conjures up vivid childhood memories making us want to re-visit these characters in their original form and those of you who have young children may be motivated to introduce your children to the genesis of the characters introduced here.

As the story opens, we are once again in the Hundred Acre Wood where the title character is still a child and is having a tea party with his friends Piglet, Owl, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, Tigger, ad, of course, Winnie the Pooh. The party is actually a farewell to Christopher Robin who is leaving the Hundred Acre Wood and shares a tearful goodbye with his friends. The story flashes forward about 30 years to what appears to be London in the 1950's where we meet an adult Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) who is the workaholic efficiency manager at a luggage manufacturing company and is married with an adorable daughter named Madeline, who never sees her father.

Christopher plans a weekend in the country with his family, but has to cancel at the last minute for work. Christopher is alone in the house and knocks over a jar of honey, which apparently wakes Pooh out of a very long sleep to discover that all of his friends are gone. A panicked Pooh disappears through the magic tree and is somehow magically transported to a park bench about 200 feet from Christopher Robin's front door. Their reunion turns into a mission when Pooh begs Christopher Robin to help him find his friends.

This magical cinematic story is handsomely mounted by director Marc Forster, who explored similar themes in 2007's Finding Neverland where our childhood memories of Peter Pan were reignited. This time Forster has taken a contemporary look at a group of characters created by author AA Milne (who does get screen credit) and were turned into animated characters in a series of films during the 1960's and that was the main thing I loved about this movie...it wasn't that I was just entertained by the story being told here, but as riveted as I was to this story, memories of those past animated treasures filled my head as well.

I especially loved the initial reunion between Pooh and the adult Christopher...it was almost heartbreaking when Pooh didn't understand that Christopher, as glad as he was to see him, just didn't have time for Pooh. I wanted to cry when phrases from the original cartoons were utilized, like when Pooh would say "Oh bother" or when Christopher Robin would say "silly old bear." And I absolutely loved when Tigger was allowed to sing the song about what a Tigger is that he introduced onscreen some 50 years ago. This story provides surprises throughout as we long for Christopher Robin to regain his childlike innocence and love when the story comes full circle when Pooh and company meet Christopher's daughter, Madeline.

This lovely story did not provide a lot of laughs, but I did have a stupid grin on my face throughout. The film is handsomely mounted, featuring outstanding cinematography, film editing, art design, and a lush music score. Ewan McGregor is undeniably charming in the title role and I must also give a shout out to Jim Cummings, who provides the voices of Pooh and Tigger, who sounds frighteningly like Sterling Holloway and Paul Winchell and Brad Garrett as the voice of Eeyore. This nostalgic tale for the young and young at heart will tug at the heart strings and, if caught in the right mood, could ignite a tear or two. A special film for the entire family.



Miss Grant Takes Richmond
Despite a slightly complex screenplay and fuzzy characterizations, the performances by Lucille Ball and William Holden keep viewer invested in an amusing comedy from 1949 called Miss Grant Takes Richmond.

Holden plays Dick Richmond, a bookie who is pretending to be a real estate agent. In order to front the office and make it look more legitimate, Dick hires a ditzy secretary named Ellen Grant (guess who) for the job but Miss Grant takes her job a lot more seriously than Dick planned when she initiates a low rent housing project. Dick feels he has to go along with the plan when he learns that Ellen's uncle is a judge and that her boyfriend is the ADA. Dick's hands are tied as the housing project becomes a reality, draining his personal profits. Things get even stickier for Dick when a missed bet by a lady from Dick's past (Janis Carter) creates a $50,000 debt for Dick that he has no way of covering.

Frank Tashlin was one of the screenwriters on this story that seems to be a little more complicated than necessary. but I was more bothered by the inconsistencies in Lucy's character...when the character is first glimpsed during her final day at business school, the girl can barely type or take dictation, but when she starts working for Dick, suddenly Ellen becomes the smartest character in the movie, or at least it seems that way. This is another of those movie characters whose brain gets removed and replaced several times in order for the story to work. Not to mention, this is not really the Lucy we're accustomed to, we definitely get the Lucy we learned to love at the beginning of the film where she's struggling with a typewriter ribbon and near the end of the second act where she is trying not to be run over by construction equipment, but this Ellen Grant is a lot different than the Ellen Grant in the middle of the film who has Dick and his cronies scratching their heads for most of the running time.

Despite the problems with the story and characters, I still found this film a lot of fun thanks to the surprising chemistry between Ball and Holden. I now realize why when Lucy Ricardo visited Hollywood, one of the stars she encountered was William Holden. Ball and Holden get solid support from James Gleason and Frank McHugh, who are hysterically funny as Dick's assistants. The stars have done better work, but there are worse ways to spend ninety minutes.



Murderers' Row (1966)
Dean Martin returns as super secret agent Matt Helm in his second sexy spy spoof called Murderers' Row, an overblown and overly complicated adventure that does provides laughs, some intentional and some not so much.

There's this mad scientist named Dr. Norman Solaris who has invented a very powerful laser beam that has the ability to destroy entire cities. Another mad scientist named Julian Wall (Karl Malden) kidnaps Dr. Solaris so that he can use Solaris' laser beam to blow up Washington DC. Wall plans to wipe out the top secret agents all over the planet in order that they not interfere with his plan; fortunately, he is unable to get to our hero Matt Helm who still feels the need to fake his death in order to get Wall and save Solaris, who has a very pretty daughter (Ann-Margret) who keeps getting in Helm's way.

Herbert Baker's screenplay is actually based on a book by Donald Hamilton that asks us to accept a lot...during the opening scenes, we see Julian Wall dispatch of three of the world's best secret agents in a matter of minutes, but for some reason, he can't get to Matt Helm and then they actually try to convince us that, 13 minutes into the film, Matt Helm is dead and we're supposed to be shocked when it turns out that he's not. I also found it hard to believe that the 10 minute psychedelic disco sequence featuring a wildly gyrating Ann-Margret was part of Hamilton's novel. The screenplay does give us the somewhat clever sexual double entendres in Helm's dialogue that we expected and were maybe the most fun part of The SIlencers.

Director Henry Levin has been given a big budget here and puts every penny of it up on the screen. There is lavish on location filming in Monte Carlo and the expected technical gadgetry and outrageous set pieces are everywhere...I loved the gun that shot in reverse, shooting whoever fires the weapon four seconds later and the other gun that freezes anything it shoots. Also loved that awesome hovercraft that brought Helm to Malden's island hideaway. And I won't lie, some of the costuming of the female characters actually made me laugh out loud.

Dean Martin is, once again, laid back and breezy as Matt Helm, although it's clear that the role is taking a toll on him...it is so obvious in a several scenes that he has a double doing a lot of his stunts. Malden is miscast, utilizing the most inconsistent accent since Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. Ann-Margret and Carmilla Sprav are decorative and there is a cameo in the disco sequence by a group called Dino, Desi, and Billy. For those too young to remember, Dino is Dean Paul Martin Jr., son of the star, who actually is given a line and gets to call his off screen dad "Dad" during the movie and Desi is, of course, the son of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. There's also an awesome henchman called Ironhead, played by Tom Reese, who I think is supposed to be this franchise's answer to Oddjob. It's not as much fun as The Silencers, but fans of the star shouldn't be disappointed.



Life as We Know It
Charming performances by the stars help keep 2010's Life as We Know It watchable because a story as predictable as this one has no business going on as long as it did.

Holly and Messer tolerate each other because their best friends, Pete and Allison, are married and have an adorable baby daughter named Sophie. Pete and Allison are killed in an accident and Holly and Messer are shocked when it is revealed that Pete and Allison made them guardians of Sophie in their will.

Despite realizing how things are going to work out about 15 minutes into this one, there is a dash of originality here and there that do set this film apart from other romantic comedies. Screenwriters Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson score with the opening scene of the almost blind date between Holly and Messer which beautifully establishes the antagonistic relationship between them so that their shock, confusion, and terror about raising a child together makes perfect sense.

Unfortunately, after this promising beginning, the story then becomes awash in cliched predictability with all the kinds of scenes we would expect from this premise, like the new parents' first encounter with a loaded diaper, the well-intentioned advice from friends and neighbors, the effects that raising a baby has on their individual careers and love lives, and the watchful eye of Child Protective Services, completely torn about whether or not these two raising a child together is a good idea. It even has the classic "rushing to the airport" scene that was in every romantic comedy made in the 1980's.

Director Greg Berlanti (Love Simon) does manage to keep this thing interesting thanks to the spirited performances he pulls from Josh Duhamel and Katherine Heigl as Messer and Holly, respectively. And I must admit that usually Heigl makes my skin crawl, but I found her utterly charming here. The triplets who play baby Sophie are the most adorable thing to hit the screen since babies Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. Josh Lucas is also thrown in the mix as a handsome doctor who falls for Holly and Melissa McCarthy is wasted in a glorified cameo, but it is the work of the stars and director that help to disguise the fact that this film is about 30 minutes too long.



The Spy Who Dumped Me
It's no accident that Kate McKinnon has won two Emmys for her work on SNL. This actress' incredible comic timing and incredible skill with dialects and accents have had SNL audiences in stitches for years now and are the centerpiece of 2018's The Spy Who Dumped Me, a big budget action adventure that defies logic at every turn of its sometimes confusing story, but remains watchable because someone finally had the vision to put the gifted McKinnon center stage in a movie for the first time and she knocks it out of the park.

Mila Kunis plays Audrey, a woman who was dumped by her boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux) a year ago and just when she's beginning to make a bonfire out of his possessions, Audrey learns that Drew is a spy who then shows up on her doorstep with an important package that he says they must fly to Europe and deliver to someone in Austria. Seconds later, Drew is killed right in front of her and Audrey's BFF, Morgan (McKinnon) murders the guy who murdered Drew, which sends our heroines off to Europe for an adventure that defies description and has their lives in danger at every turn.

Director and co-screenwriter Susannah Fogel struck gold here, creating this richly entertaining spy spoof with obvious feminist leanings and nods to films like Thelma and Louise and Melissa McCarthy's Spy that finds two women who have been living a dead end existence for sometime but find themselves suddenly fighting for their lives and, if the truth be told, there were about a dozen situations that these ladies get themselves involved in that there's no way they should have come out alive, but we forgive because we know these ladies' involvement in this mess is completely accidental and that they don't deserve to die. That was one of my problems with the story...Drew claims he never told her about his work because he didn't want to put Audrey in danger, but this is exactly what he does when he comes back. And the fact that all of this action takes place in glamorous locations like Vienna, Budapest, Prague, and Berlin doesn't hurt.

Even though Audrey is the central character here, it is really Kate McKinnon's Morgan that keeps this hard-to-swallow story on boil. Not just because of her loyalty and love for Audrey, but the through line of her character which seems to be the oft overlooked power of being a woman. I loved right after the first car chase that the ladies are involved in, they are in an elevator and Morgan insists that Audrey own how awesome her handling of the car was. I also loved how impressed Morgan was when she learned that one of the bad guys was actually a woman (Gillian Anderson)...her immediate obsession of this woman had me on the floor. McKinnon is a one-woman comedy acting class here and takes this film a notch above the average action comedy.

In addition to the inspired casting of McKinnon, Fogel is to be applauded for the first rate production values that her seemingly limitless budget allowed. Can't remember the last time I saw so many cars and buildings exploding, superbly choreographed fight sequences, and corpses left in the wake of a single film. Even though McKinnon rules here, Kunis never allows herself to be blown off the screen. Also loved Theroux, in a nice change of pace as Drew, and Sam Heughen as the sexy and sinister Sebastian. Also loved Kev Adams as an enthusiastic uber driver named Lucas and Jane Curtin and Paul Reiser as Morgan's parents, but this film is, more than anything, documentation that Fogel is a filmmaker of style and skill and McKinnon has movie star written all over her.



The Wedding Singer
Adam Sandler had one of his biggest hits with 1998's The Wedding Singer, a silly romantic comedy that has garnered a cult following over the years, but if the truth be told, Sandler has done better work.

Set in 1985 in a fictional town called Ridgefield, Sandler plays Robbie Hart, a voice teacher and wedding singer who has just been left at the alter. Julia Sullivan (Drew Barrymore) is a waitress where Robbie works and has just gotten engaged to her scummy fiancee after two years. Since Julia's fiancee wants nothing to do with planning the wedding, Robbie agrees to help and guess what happens?

Two minutes into the film, we are told that the film takes place in 1985 but this was completely unnecessary...I can't remember the last time I saw a film that screams "the 80's" the way this one does...the big hair, the outrageous clothes, disco and break dancing, everything you expect in a 1980's romantic comedy you will find here. There's a scene where the fiancee gifts Julia with a CD player that he paid $400 for! I was surprised that John Hughes had nothing to do with this one, though I have a hard time imagining Sandler in a Hughes film, but one thing this film does is nail the period. There is nothing in this film that doesn't scream 1985, and that includes the kick-ass song score.

Tim Herlihy's screenplay spoon-feeds us this story very methodically, as if we couldn't tell what was going to happen about 10 minutes in. Having the central character being a wedding singer does provide a somewhat original canvas upon which to base the story, which makes its predictability a little easier to take.

What I really liked about this film is the character of Robbie Hart and Sandler's bringing this character to fruition. This is actually one of Sandler's richest performances, leaving behind a lot of the accustomed man-child that we're accustomed to. I love the fact that even though this character is a rock singer and songwriter, we still see the lost ambition behind his eyes. I also loved the fact that it was so important to this lost rocker that he get married and have a family. Sandler works very hard at making this rambling story interesting for the entire running time and he almost succeeds. This character also gives Sandler the opportunity to show off his severely underrated musical talent.

Drew Barrymore was a little sugary as Julia, but she and Sandler do have a chemistry that would eventually lead to them making two more films together. I also liked Matthew Glave as the slimy fiancee and there are fun cameos from Jon Lovitz, Kevin Nealon, Billy Idol and Sandler rep company member Steve Buscemi. Frank Coraci's direction could have used a little more pacing, but it never interferes with Sandler's charm.