Gideon58's Reviews

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Consenting Adults
1992's Consenting Adults begins as a titillating cinematic peek behind the white picket fences of suburbia, but eventually degenerates into a standard murder mystery that defies logic and doesn't stand a lot of scrutiny.

Richard and Priscilla (Kevin Kline, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) become fast friends with their new neighbors Eddie and Kay (Kevin Spacey, Rebecca Miller) and the relationship progresses to a point where it is implied that Richard is attracted to Kay and Eddie is attracted to Priscilla. Eddie actually talks Richard into getting up in the middle of night and sneaking into each other's bedrooms, resulting in a tragedy we don't see coming and the struggle for Richard to retain his potentially destroyed existence.

Matthew Chapman's screenplay starts off quite brilliantly as we see two couples getting a little too close and we see where this is going, but this is where the writing errs in my opinion. I was expecting a different story to be told than the one that was told. A probing psychological drama could have resulted from next door neighbors cheating on their wives and how this one night methodically destroys both marriages, but instead we get a rather conventional story about murder for money that gets ridiculously convoluted. I also wasn't thrilled that the screenplay made the Priscilla and Kay characters look like complete idiots.

Fortunately, the film does have the stylish Alan J. Pakula behind the camera who, with the aid of a solid cast and some first rate production values, keeps this story watchable with some stark cinematic pictures and some arresting camerawork that actually make the film seem more important than it is and almost allows the viewer to forget plot holes that you can drive a truck through...I was initially disappointed that we never learned exactly what happened behind the closed doors that fateful night of the switch or if either of the ladies were aware of what happened, though I found it hard to believe that these women had sex with men other than their husbands and didn't know it. Of course, this all became irrelevant rather quickly and a scorecard is needed to keep up with everything.

Pakula's sharp directorial eye is very evident here as is his ability to pull great performances from actors. The two Kevins really deliver here, with standout work from Spacey, who is just dazzling committing to this slightly unhinged character with a gusto that's hard to resist. The film features terrific cinematography and editing. Michael Smalls' music is a little much at times but it serves the story. Sadly, the story is what really hurts this one...I think the story set up by the premise would have been a lot more interesting than the story that was actually told.



Bad Times at the El Royale
Pulp Fiction meets Ten Little Indians in a stylish and bloody 2018 thriller called Bad Times at the El Royale that will have the viewer on the edge of its chair for the majority of its running time before running out of gas with an overlong and over the top finale.

It is 1969 and we are introduced to the El Royale, a hotel which was actually constructed on the border between California and Nevada. The rooms on the California side actually cost a dollar more than the ones in Nevada and the key chains for the rooms are in the shape of the states. The hotel has a staff of one, a nervous young man named Miles and the film opens with a man checking into a room, hiding a large amount of cash underneath the floorboards of a room and shortly afterwards is murdered.

Almost a decade later, we watch an aging priest suffering from dementia, a cocky vacuum cleaner salesman, a struggling nightclub singer, and a hippie with a mouth like a sailor check into the hotel on the same day. These virtual strangers not only prove not to be strangers, but none of them are exactly who they say they are, all have huge secrets which they try to protect before it all blows up in their respective faces.

Director and writer Drew Goddard has experience in television and films, but what comes through mostly here is the Quentin Tarantino influence that comes through in his work...the occasional sacrifice of substance for style and the disjointed form of storytelling that requires undivided attention from the viewer. In Pulp Fiction, Tarantino tells his story out of order but that's not exactly what Goddard does here. We get parts of the same story told from different viewpoints and connecting story events like puzzle pieces, which is more akin to what Tarantino did in Jackie Brown. There is also influence of directors like Hitchcock and John Carpenter...Goddard displays an affinity for creating nail-biting suspense as well as the instantaneous "Boo" that makes the viewer jump from their chair. Sadly, Goddard does get a little full of himself with a pretentious and overlong finale which produces questions that shouldn't be produced at this point and definitely tries viewer patience.

The film is handsomely produced with particular nods to art direction/set direction and some spectacular film editing by Lisa Lassek. The El Royale is the coolest hotel I have seen in a movie since The Overlook in The Shining. There are some terrific performances from Jeff Bridges as the priest, Jon Hamm as the salesman, Cynthia Erivo (who was also in this year's Widows) as the nightclub singer, Lewis Pullman as Miles, and Chris Hemsworth, surprisingly effective as a charismatic cult leader. Until the final 15 minutes or so, spine-tingling entertainment that definitely kept me on my toes.



Mary Poppins Returns
Possibly the longest amount of time ever between a film and its sequel, it took 54 years to bring a sequel to the 1964 classic to the screen and 2018's Mary Poppins Returns does have a lot going for it, though it does suffer a bit because the filmmakers can't decide if they're doing a sequel or a remake.

It is now London during the depression and a grown up Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is a widowed father of three and big sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) has moved in to help out. Michael is a struggling artist and is also a part-time employee at his father's former place of employ, the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, but is now in danger of losing the Banks home unless he and Jane can find the certificates of shares that their father left them, making them stockholders of the bank and keeping the new bank president, Witkins (Colin Firth) from taking their house.

Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) returns to the house with a little foreshadowing from Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a lamplighter who as a kid was an apprentice to Bert and a prod from Michael's youngest son, Georgie, who magically contacts Mary with the repaired kite from the finale of the first film. Mary decides she is needed to keep the children out of Jane and Michael's way while simultaneously trying to remind Jane and Michael of the childhood memories that they seem to have buried.

For those who don't know, the 1964 film Mary Poppins is my favorite film of all time so being objective about this film was going to be pretty much impossible and I remember being outraged when I heard there was a sequel in the works and when it actually came to fruition there was no way I was going to see it, but the trailer was extremely well-done and piqued my curiosity.

Director Rob Marshall and screenwriter David Magee display immense respect to the original film, almost a little too much to the point that this story never really is given the opportunity to stand on its own merits. Pieces of dialogue and of the original Sherman Brothers score are sprinkled generously throughout, not to mention entire scenes that were only altered ever so slightly. Of course, for someone who has never seen the original film, this would be irrelevant and I hate saying this, but you don't have to see the original film to appreciate this one. Despite the fact this film presents Jane and Michael as adults, there are portions of this story that are just thinly disguised versions of the original.

Marshall and Magee have utilized endless imagination in making this sequel respectful to the first film and accessible to 2018 audiences and they are to be applauded for that. But it was hard to not watch the song with Cousin Topsy (Meryl Streep) and not think of Ed Wynn as Uncle Albert doing "I Love to Laugh".

The score by Marc Shaiman (Hairspray) serves the story but is rather unmemorable. The songs include "Lovely London Sky", "Can You Imagine That?", "The Place Where Lost Things Go", "The Royal Doulton Music Hall", which was part of this film's "Jolly Holiday" fantasy and my personal favorite "Trip a Little Light Fantastic", this film's version of "step in Time."[
Filling Julie Andrews' shoes had to be a daunting task, but I can't think of anyone else who could have filled said shoes but Emily Blunt. She is charm and sophistication personified onscreen, but I have to say it, is no Julie Andrews. Lin-Manuel Miranda is wonderful as Jack and I loved Whishaw as Michael Banks. The glorified cameos by Meryl Streep and Angela Lansbury were thankless, but Dick Van Dyke was a delight with his brief appearance, billed in the closing credits the same way he was in the original film. I had my issues with this film, but it was better than I thought it was going to be and I'm pretty sure folks who have never seen the 1964 film will probably add half a bag of popcorn onto my rating.



The Girl Most Likely
Jane Powell provides her bubbly charm and rich soprano to a 1958 piece of fluff called The Girl Most Likely, a pleasant, if unremarkable musical that has a footnote in history as the last film made at legendary RKO Studios.

Set in a fictional California coastal town called Balboa Bay, this is the story of Dodie (Powell), a starry-eyed dreamer who works in a bank and still lives with her parents. Dodie dreams of marrying a millionaire, but does accept a proposal from her long time boyfriend, Buzz (Tommy Noonan), a hard-working real estate developer who is ambitious but Dodie doesn't really love him. The day after Buzz proposes, she meets Pete (Cliff Robertson), a charming and attractive boat mechanic who Dodie is crazy about, but Pete is dirt poor and is in no hurry to change that situation. After one date, Pete also proposes to Dodie and she accepts his proposal as well. After accepting that proposal, Dodie meets an actual millionaire named Neil Patterson Jr. (Keith Andres) and after a yacht trip to Mexico, she accepts his proposal too.

The screenplay Devery Feeman and Paul Jerrico does contain some nice adult touches and offers a surprising amount of humor for a 1950's musical. but God it's really hard to get behind what this Dodie character does and there's no way a story like this would fly in 2018. First of all, what would make a woman think it's appropriate to accept three different marriage proposals? And when it has become clear what she's done, why do these guys actually stick around? I mean there's a scene after Dodie and Neil return from Mexico where see the three guys sitting at Dodie's breakfast table with her parents waiting for her to come downstairs and pick a husband...seriously?

I guess this was all acceptable because it's Jane Powell playing Dodie and it's just hard to think bad of her, even though a 2018 movie character who does what Dodie does here, would probably be labeled a whore, a gold-diggin whore at that. At the beginning of this movie, this girl wouldn't even think of marrying anyone wasn't rich...being in love with him would be nice, but not a deal breaker. But it's a 1950's musical so we know that eventually this silly girl will come to her senses.

The musical features a handful of nice songs by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, who wrote the songs for Meet Me in St. Louis. Highlights include Powell's dreamy solo, "I Don't Know What I Want", a fantasy number with Powell and Noonan called "Keepin Up with the Jonses" and a big production number on the beach called "Travelogue: Where are You From?". The musical numbers feature energetic choreography by former MGM dancer and future Broadway director Gower Champion.

Powell is adorable and generates nice chemistry with Robertson and Noonan. Kaye Ballard is a scene stealer as Dodie's BFF Marge and Frank Cady and Una Merkel are fun as her parents. It's not exactly Singin in the Rain, but musical fans will be able to glean entertainment here.



This Property is Condemned

Considering all the talent in front of and behind the camera, the 1966 melodrama This Property is Condemned should have been a lot better than it was, but it's still watchable.

Set during Depression era Mississippi, an official with the railroad named Owen Legate (Robert Redford) is sent there to lay off several railway workers who all happen to reside in a boarding house run by Hazel Starr (Kate Reid) where the primary attraction is Hazel's good time daughter, Alva (Natalie Wood) who is not above doing too much if the price is right and seems to be in constant need for attention for the opposite sex, but getting Owen to glance her way isn't as easy as she is accustomed to.

As the opening credits reveal, this film was suggested from a one-act play by Tennessee Williams. The opening and closing scenes of Alva's little sister Willie and a young man named Tom are actually the gist of the one-act and it is from Willie's stories about her sister that the story of Alva and Owen came to fruition through a screenplay where one of the contributors was Francis Ford Copolla.

Director Sidney Pollack shows flashes of genuine directorial flare here, with an affinity for romantic melodrama that would later fully bloom in movies like The Way We Were and we see a similar story here...star-crossed lovers who as much as we want to see them together, we know that the kind of people they are is going to spell doom for the romance. Owen is a buttoned-up but sensitive individual and Alva is a carefree party girl who only cares where the next good time is coming from. Owen actually calls Alva a whore in one scene, a word that I'm sure wan't being bandied about onscreen in 1966.

Natalie Wood and Robert Redford prove that the chemistry the created the year before in Inside Daisy Clover was no accident. Redford is particularly strong here, watch the scene where he gets beat up and doesn't want Alva to help him, there's some real acting going on here. Kate Reid is superb as the selfish and manipulative Hazel. Future stars Charles Bronson and Robert Blake also register as boarders who only have eyes for Alva. BTW, that's Mary Badham as Willie, who played Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird and Jon Provost from Lassie as Tom. Can't quite put my finger on it, but there's something here that doesn't quite work and keeps this film from being what it should have been.



Humoresque
A stylish performance from Joan Crawford that should have earned her an Oscar nomination is the centerpiece of Humoresque, a lushly mounted musical melodrama that tackles some commonplace movie themes, but attaches such a shiny and lavish gloss to them that we almost don't notice.

The 1946 drama begins by introducing us to a an 11-year old boy named Paul Boray who is gifted with a violin for Christmas and becomes wildly compassionate about it. His compassion begins to pay off as he graduates from something called the National Institute Orchestra and one night plays his violin at a party thrown by a wealthy, married and slightly neurotic socialite named Helen Wright who decides to take Paul under her wing and develop her career. Helen's interest, of course becomes more personal, though she refuses to admit to Paul or anyone else, interest eventually turns to obsession as Helen is unable to reconcile herself to the fact that she is unable to come between Paul and his career, the career she helped to launch.

I must admit being initially dismayed by the fact that the screenplay by Clifford Odets and Zachary Gold spent so much time showing us Paul's childhood. Crawford doesn't even appear until about 35 minutes into the film, but as the story progressed, I understood why it was so important to show us Paul's childhood. Paul's life was all about his music from the moment that he picked up the violin and it's obvious that nothing is going to come between him and his music, even a wealthy, married, slightly neurotic socialite.

I do love the introduction of the Helen Wright character though...she doesn't even know Paul is there but the minute he starts playing his violin because another guest says he looks like a prizefighter, Helen is mesmerized. I love the way Crawford looks at John Garfield in this scene like he's a hot fudge sundae and it's the beginning of an instantaneous chemistry between the two actors unlike I've seen in quite awhile. The chemistry between Crawford and Garfield is animal and electric, manifesting itself in a sexual tension between the two characters that is almost unbearable. Incredibly, the characters only share one kiss during the entire film.

This film was also my first introduction to John Garfield, a charismatic young actor who reminded me of guys like Cagney, Brando, and De Niro. He does look like a prizefighter, which he had already done in Body and Soul, and I think that's why he was such a perfectly offbeat casting choice for this role. The scenes of him playing voilin were very convincing. They required two other actors off screen, one doing the bowing and one doing the fingering, while the actual solos were performed by Isaac Stern.

There weren't a lot of actresses during the 40's who played neurotic better than Crawford and she has a field day here, playing a character who was simultaneously high strung and had ice water in her veins. Fresh off her Oscar winning performance in Mildred Pierce, Crawford is even better here. I also LOVED Oscar Levant, who stole every moment he had onscreen as some welcome comic relief to the proceedings as Garfield's piano playing BFF and any chance to watch Levant hit that keyboard is golden. Also loved Ruth Nelson, superb as Paul's mother, and a very young Robert Blake playing Paul at 11, all under the stylish direction of Jean Negulesco, who came up with a winner here.



Freaky Friday (1976)
A pair of terrific performances by the female leads help keep Disney's 1976 comedy Freaky Friday watchable instead of silly and illogical.

Annabel Andrews (Jodie Foster) is a tomboyish teenager whose room is a mess and has a crush on the boy across the street. She also is constantly at odds with her tightly wound mother, Ellen (Barbara Harris). One morning after another confrontation with each other, mother and daughter are complaining about how the other one's life is so much easier and simultaneously wish that they could be each other for just one day and, guess what happens?.

Yes, this is the one that started them all, the body switch comedies that were prevalent in the 80's and 90's....movies like Vice Versa, Like Father Like Son, and more adult versions like The Change-up, films which offered somewhat feasible explanations for the body switch but no such luck here. According to this film, the only reason that the switch occurs is because Ellen and Annabel make the wish at the same time. We can accept that up to the point where they switch back making a similar wish at the same time, but this time, their bodies as well as their souls switch. Why would switching back make their bodies change locations if the original wish didn't do that? I was also troubled by the fact that after the switch, Ellen was constantly seen chewing bubble gum, but before the switch, we never saw Annabel chewing hum.

Mary Rodgers' somewhat cliched screenplay, which actually uses long begone phrases like "male chauvanist pig", is made viable thanks to the intelligent and vivacious performances by the late Barbara Harris and future Oscar winner Foster, who bring substance to the roles that are not in the screenplay. I especially loved the scenes testing Annabel's parents' marriage...when Ellen flirts with Annabel's across the street crush (Marc McClure) and when Annabel meets her father's curvy new secretary. These actresses almost make you forget everything that's wrong with this movie. Foster's breezy performance actually earned her a Golden Globe nomination.

Despite a ridiculously over the top finale which seems to feature the same location where they filmed the Thunder Road race in Grease two years later, the film does provide enough laughs to keep you awake. John Astin is fun as Ellen's husband and Annabel's father and several movie and TV veterans pop up along the way, including Dick Van Patten, Patsy Kelly, Alan Oppenheimer, Kaye Ballard, Sorrell Booke, and Marie Windsor. One of Annabel's high school posse is a very young Charlene Tilton and Van Patten's son Jimmy can also be glanced briefly. The film was remade in 2003 with Jamie Lee Curtis replacing Harris and Lindsey Lohan stepping in for Foister.



Glad to see you enjoyed Humoresque, I named my review thread after that movie. I'll have to watch some more Joan Crawford films as soon as I finish Gloria Grahame's filmography.



Glad to see you enjoyed Humoresque, I named my review thread after that movie. I'll have to watch some more Joan Crawford films as soon as I finish Gloria Grahame's filmography.
Oh Citizen, I LOVED Humoresque...I thought she was better in this than she was in Mildred Pierce.



Green Book
Racial tension was at its zenith in the 1960's and has been the canvas for some really intriguing cinematic fare, but rarely has a look at this turbulent period in American history been presented on such an original canvas as it is in 2018's Green Book, an atmospheric and thoughtful fact based drama that actually looks at bigotry from an angle that consistently challenges and engages the viewer.

Two time Oscar nominee Viggo Mortensen is a lock for a third nomination playing Tony Lip, an out of work nightclub bouncer in 1962 Brooklyn who gets hired by a classically trained black pianist named Dr. Don Shirley (Oscar winner Mahershala Ali) to be his driver for a concert tour in the deep south.

On the surface, the premise appears to be a sort of a variation on Driving Miss Daisy, but this story is so much richer, primarily because of the vast differences in the protagonists that was not expected in a story like this. Tony Lip is a Brooklyn goombah whose limited vocabulary includes a lot of "dems" and "dose" and we learn immediately how he feels about black people when we see him throw away two glasses that his wife (Linda Cardellini) served lemonade in to a pair of black repairman. Dr. Shirley is a brilliant accomplished musician who has earned two doctorate degrees, urbane, sophisticated, and initially appears to turn a blind eye to the bigotry that surrounds him. If this movie had actually been made in 1962, no one but Sidney Poitier would have played this part.

For the uninitiated, the Green Book was a reference guide published during the 1960's that was a guide for hotels and restaurants in the south where black people are welcomed, or as they are usually referred to here, "coloreds." There is one incredible chapter near the film's climax where the doctor arrives for a concert he is scheduled to perform in Birmingham, but he is not allowed to dine in the hotel's dining room. Tony and Dr. Shirley do have two very different encounters with police during the course of the story, which I expected, but the way both encounters played out was completely unexpected.

I was also impressed by the screenplay's treatment of the two central characters. Tony Lip was laid out before us in the course of a scene or two and we knew absolutely everything there was to know about the guy. Dr. Shirley's character was carefully and methodically revealed with each scene and every time we thought we had learned everything we were supposed to know, something new would come to light. Watching the slow boil of the relationship between these two people was an absolute joy. I loved watching Tony's face the first time he hears Dr. Shirley play or when Tony introduces Dr. Shirley to the joys of Kentucky Fried Chicken...in Kentucky no less!

I'm still scratching my head in disbelief that this film was directed by Peter Farrelly, one of the creative forces behind films like Dumb and Dumber, There's Something About Mary, and Me, Myself and Irene who displays a genuine talent behind the camera for something other than raunchy bathroom humor. Farrelly, with the aid of a crack technical team, beautifully recreates the south in the 1960's with flawless attention to period detail and gets powerhouse performances from Mortensen and Ali, which will probably both earn Oscar nominations. Bouquets should also go to cinematographer Sean Porter and to Kris Bowers, who did all of Ali's incredible piano work. An arresting and unique approach to a familiar cinematic premise that could wreak havoc with the emotions.



Mad Money
My upcoming list of favorite Diane Keaton performances motivated my viewing of Mad Money a silly and completely implausible heist caper from 2008 that is somewhat watchable thanks to a likable cast.

Keaton plays Bridget Cardigan, a pampered housewife who finds out that her husband (Ted Danson) has lost his job and that they are in some serious debt, manages to get a job at the Federal Reserve, the bank where old money is destroyed. Watching all that cash being destroyed on a daily basis motivates Bridget to enlist the aid of two co-workers, Nina (Queen Latifah) and Jackie (Katie Holmes) because they work in different departments and to properly pull this off, none of them can do it alone. After initial success, single mom Nina worries about getting caught and losing her kids, but Bridget and Jackie let greed overtake them and continue to the point of no return and no escape.

I really liked the way this movie started...during the opening scenes, we are introduced to the characters after they've been arrested. Even though we don't know what these people have done, we have been informed from jump that they did not get away with it, which made the story that unfolded in front of us a lot easier to accept. I don't believe for a minute that anyone, let alone these three women, could steal as much money from the federal government as long as these women did and and get away with it for as long as they did. Remember in Goodfellas when De Niro's Bobby Conway warns his guys not to make any big ticket purchases? Nina warns Bridget and Jackie of the same thing after their initial run and how does Bridget react? She purchases a $62,000 diamond ring and wears it under her rubber glove while cleaning toilets...seriously?

I was not surprised to see Callie Khouri listed as the director. The Oscar winning screenwriter of Thelma and Louise brings a real feminist sensibilities to the proceedings, presenting these three strong female characters at the center of this elaborate plan and we're supposed to just applaud and admire what they're doing because they're women? I was able to go along with what I was watching for the majority of the running time because we had already been informed that the women were arrested and didn't get away with what they tried to do. Then during the finale, we learn that this may not be true and any plausibility the story had went out the window for me.

What kept me invested in the story, silly as it was, were some terrific performances from Keaton, Danson, Adam Rothenberg as Jackie's dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks husband and Stephen Root as the gals' tightly wound boss at the Federal Reserve. A comedy that provides laughs and actually had me until the final scene.



The Old Man and the Gun
He won an Oscar for directing the 1980 film Ordinary People, but has never won an Oscar for acting, receiving only one nomination (The Sting), but Hollywood legend Robert Redford has a shot at that acting Oscar this year with his performance in The Old Man and the Gun, which makes the film seem a lot better than it really is.

Redford commands the screen in this fact-based 2018 docudrama as Forrest Tucker, a career criminal who has been in and out of jail since the age of 15 and, according to the film, has escaped from 16 different penal institutions, climaxing an escape from San Quentin at the tender age of 70. The film opens in the year 1981 where Tucker and his crew (Tom Waits, Danny Glover) surface in Texas and rob dozens of banks all over the state. Tucker was a charming and amiable man who never stopped smiling while handing teller notes demanding money or in the middle of high speed chases down four lane highways. He finds himself dogged by a small time Texas police detective named John Hunt (Oscar winner Casey Affleck)Tucker complicates his business when he begins a relationship with an effervescent widow named Jewel (Oscar winner Sissy Spacek).

Director and screenwriter David Lowery puts a lot of care and affection into the mounting of this story. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that he is related to Tucker in some way because he works very hard at putting this character on a cinematic pedestal like nothing I've ever seen. It's hard to tell where facts and gloss for the sake of entertainment blur because there are way too many close calls in the name of this cat and mouse between Hunt and Tucker to really believe, reminding me a lot of Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks in Cat Me If You Can. Hunt arrives at the scene of one of Tucker's crimes and actually finds a hundred dollar bill with a personal message written to him from Tucker. Tucker and Hunt actually end up dining in the same restaurant in one scene and what happened in that scene had me questioning the credibility of everything I had seen up to that point.

Credibility notwithstanding, it all takes a back seat to the charismatic movie star performance by Robert Redford that keeps this character immensely likable and keeps this movie completely engaging. His matinee idol, pretty boy looks are gone, but that face has such character now...every wrinkle, every line, just giving the actor and the character he's playing the respect and undivided attention they have earned and deserve. Despite the professional cast and handsome production values, I would be lying if I didn't admit that whenever Redford wasn't onscreen, the film screeched to a halt...I didn't care about Hunt's wife (Tika Sumpter) and his kids, but watching him eat, sleep, and breathe Tucker was a lot of fun.

Sissy Spacek made a lovely leading for Redford and was reminded that both won the Oscars they already have the same year. Casey Affleck is charming as Detective Hunt and Tom Waits made the most of his screen time as well. The film is beautifully photographed and also deserves mention for editing, sound mixing, and an evocative musical score, which included a lyrical folk tune backing a deadly high speed chase, a scene that took my breath away. There's a slow spot here and there, but movie legend Robert Redford makes this one worth your time.



Mrs. Soffel
Atmospheric direction and solid performances from the leads make the 1984 epic romance Mrs. Soffel a unique and memorable experience with some Shakespearean influence.

The story takes place at the turn of the century at a large American prison where Jack and Ed Biddle (Matthew Modine, Mel Gibson) have been imprisoned after being convicted of murder. Because they are young and good looking, they have actually achieved a celebrity status that has the female population camped out in front of the jailhouse on a regular basis, much to the chagrin of prison warden Peter Soffel (Edward Herrmann).

Enter Kate Soffel (Diane Keaton), the warden's wife and mother of their four children who likes to read to the prisoners and lead them to saving their souls. Kate finds herself attracted to Ed and tries to fight it, but falling under Ed's spell, Kate ends up aiding and abetting Ed and Jack in their escape but finds herself in a position she never dreamed of when Ed refuses to leave Kate and the three begin journey through an unforgiving frozen wasteland.

Gillian Armstrong, who directed My Brilliant Career and the 1994 version of Little Women cut her directorial teeth on this mammoth love story/adventure that finds a woman at the center of it who is strangling under the rules of her life and longs to be free of it before the opportunity even presents itself. Kate reminded me of Nora in A Doll's House, a woman longing for change and liberation and finding a possible escape that involves the possible sacrifice of everything that she knows and loves, most importantly, her four children. The scene where the children realize they may never see their mother again and one of them hopes that their mother is dead instead of with the Biddles is a heartbreaker.

There are questions left unanswered but they become a non-issue the second Kate and Ed lay eyes on each other. The attraction is immediate but we're not sure if it's mutual and we can't wait to see if it becomes mutual. Initially, Ed seems to be using Kate, but it's clear that this is not the case during my favorite scene in the film, brilliantly directed and performed by the stars, where Ed and Jack are ready to leave but Ed refuses to leave without Kate. Keaton is particularly brilliant in this scene as she verbally protests at what is being suggested but does nothing to stop him as he scoops her up in his arms and wraps her in fur so she's not cold.

The prison utilized in the film is the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh, though it is never actually mentioned where the film takes place. Armstrong made effective use of an obviously large budget afforded her here, evidenced in art direction/set direction. and costumes, simultaneously eye popping and period appropriate. Diane Keaton gives an Oscar worthy performance in a complex role and Mel Gibson smolders as the defiant Ed. Two years before Lethal Weapon, Gibson documents that he was a star on the rise here. Matthew Modine made an exuberant Jack and the late Edward Herrmann, who I think has played more cheated on husbands than any other actor in the movies, does another one here to maximum effect. Keaton and Gibson fans will love this.



Bundle of Joy
It was the mid 1950's and Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher were Hollywood darlings expecting their first child (Carrie Fisher) and RKO Studios decided to cash in on Hollywood's newest marriage by pairing the newlyweds in a forgettable 1956 musical comedy called Bundle of Joy, a musical remake of the 1939 Ginger Rogers comedy Bachelor Mother.

In this remake, Debbie Reynolds plays Polly Parrish, a department store salesgirl who has just been fired from her job and is mistaken for the mother of an abandoned baby. Fisher plays the heir apparent at the store who arranges for Polly to get her job back so that she can properly take care of her baby. Fisher's Dan Merlin decides to help Polly with expenses and falls for her in the process. Polly also has an obnoxious co-worker (Tommy Noonan) sniffing after her, not to mention Dan's father, the big boss (Adolph Menjou) who is under the impression that the baby is his grandson.

I don't know how director Norman Taurog managed to do it, but with the aid of screenwriter Norman Krasna and composers Joseph Myrow and Mack Gordon, Taurog has mounted a scene for scene remake of the 1939 comedy, inserted musical numbers, and still managed to come up with a movie that seemed liked it was four hours long, even though it clocks in at barely over 90 minutes. Taurog's direction is lethargic and he's got a real problem with a leading man who can't act. He tries to disguise this by having Fisher sing a song every 15 minutes, but it doesn't disguise the fact that, despite a gorgeous singing voice, Fisher was no actor...I don't think his facial muscles moved at all throughout the running time except to sing. The scene in the nightclub on New Year's Eve was kind of amusing and provided the only substantial laughs in the film for this reviewer.

The pleasant, if unremarkable musical score included songs like "Worry About Tomorrow Tomorrow", "Lullaby in Blue", "What's So Good About Good Morning", "Some Day Soon", and "I Never Felt this Way Before", competently performed by Reynolds and Fisher, but just seemed to pad the running time.

Reynolds works very hard in the starring role but is no Ginger Rogers and Menjou provides fun moments. Robert H.Harris is funny as Mr. Hargraves, Menjou's right hand and Una Merkel is wasted in a thankless role as Polly's landlady. Elizabeth Taylor notwithstanding, I wouldn't be surprised if this movie had anything to do with the dissolve of the Fishers' marriage. I must revert to my standard moniker regarding remakes: Stick to the original.



Old Acquaintance
A stylish screenplay and a pair of terrific performances from the leads anchor 1943's Old Acquaintance, a delicious soap opera about friendship and how jealousy and envy can destroy it, rich with enough clever dialogue and delightful twists and turns in the story to keep the viewer invested.

Bette Davis plays Kit Marlowe, a successful novelist who is returning to her hometown for the first time in years to promote her latest book. On pins and needles about her arrival is Millie Drake, played by Miriam Hopkins, Kit's best friend since childhood, who is now married, expecting her first child, and so jealous of Kit's success she can't see straight. After a shaky reunion, Millie nervously confesses to Kit that she has written a book and wants Kit to read it.

The story flashes forward as we learn that Millie's book was a smash as were the eight or nine that immediately followed. Millie's writing has brought her the fame and fortune she has always longed for but has alienated her husband, Preston (John Loder) and daughter, Deirdre (Dolores Moran) in the process, who have both gravitated to Kit for the love they aren't getting from Millie. There's also a handsome playboy (Gig Young) who has his eye on Kit as well.

John Van Druten and Lenore Coffee have collaborated on a layered and thoughtful screenplay, adapted from Van Druten's play, that spans several decades in the friendship of these two women and how envy and jealousy seems to fuel all the mess that happens between these two women who have always loved each other. It's rather entertaining watching Millie throw away her family and when she can't get them back, try to blame Kit for it. It's also interesting watching Kit fight her feelings for Preston because she knows being with him would be wrong, not to mention the complexities involved in being a surrogate mother to Deirdre.

Bette Davis turns in one of her richest performances here during a time when Davis was being nominated for Best Actress Oscars annually, for some reason her work here was overlooked. This was a textured performance that was on the surface a good girl, which was casting against type for Davis, but when pushed, Kit Marlowe definitely knew how to shove back. Miriam Hopkins had me grinning constantly with her outrageous and slightly pathetic Millie, a woman so flighty and self-absorbed you just have to laugh at her. It is the divine performances by these actresses and the compelling story that make this one work, not to mention Franz Waxman's lush musical score. The film was remade in 1980 as Rich and Famous with Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen, which was the final theatrical film directed by the legendary George Cukor.



Eddie Murphy: Raw
He had already gone the concert film route with Delirious but Eddie Murphy was actually persuaded to return to the concert stage in 1987 for Raw.

Now this was after 48 HRS, Trading Places, and Beverly Hills Cop so basically this was at a time when Eddie Murphy was the biggest movie star on the planet and had back to back projects lined up so going back to the concert stage was a risky move that Paid off for the most part.

The concert is preceded by a short film depicting the Murphy clan at a Holiday celebration, which features, among others, Samuel L. Jackson, Carol Woods, Tatyana Ali, the director of this film Robert Townsend, and Deon Richmond ("Bud" on The Cosby Show) playing a pre-teen Eddie, telling a dirty joke in front of all of his relatives. Eddie is then observed strutting onstage in a bright purple leather pant suit and engages the audience almost immediately by referencing Delirious by once again making fun of some of the celebrities that he made fun of in the first film...there's no denying that the man is a brilliant impressionist and his take on Mr T really cracks me up...still.

Eddie then moves into a brilliant routine where he does dead on impressions of two people he did not make fun of in the first film. Eddie's hysterical take on Bill Cosby, on the premise that Cosby called to complain about his language when his late son Ennis saw him live, once again put me on the floor, as well as his impression of Richard Pryor, who he allegedly called right after he got off the phone with Cosby.

Eddie also offers his views on marriage and pre-nuptial agreements as well as why men should be forgiven for their infidelity, well not forgiven exactly, but Eddie basically wants us to know that men just can't help it. To be honest, Delirious was a lot funnier, but this film still brings the funny and confirms my belief that the Eddie Murphy of today could save his career by starting over and picking up the stand up microphone again.



Wall Street
Greed and all of its manifestations have rarely been as effectively explored than in Oliver Stones Wall Street, a pretentious and penetrating examination of greed during the hedonistic 1980's when there was no such thing as "enough money."

Charlie Sheen plays Bud Fox, a young and ambitious junior stockbroker who is convinced that his shortcut to the top of finance is through a ruthless corporate raider named Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). When Bud is finally able to get a meeting with the financial guru, he offers some stock deals for Gekko which are initially refused. Gekko then makes it clear that if Fox wants to deal with him, he has to "get" him information, not "bring" him information, which translates as inside trading, but Bud's avarice and desire to be Gekko's mentor finds him selling his soul for the man and putting the company where his father has been employed for 24 years, in serious jeopardy.

Director and co-screenwriter really put himself on the map with this expensively mounted look at corporate greed that created a new phrase that has since become part of pop culture...:Greed is Good." And greed never looked as good as it does here. During their first meeting when Gekko tells Bud exactly what he wants from him and the word "illegal" comes into the conversation, we know where this is going, but we also know that this Gekko character knows exactly what he's doing and we also know that Gekko will take him under his wing, but the screenplay is a little labored in showing the viewer exactly when Gekko begins to be a true mentor which makes the first act of this film pretty rough going.

Once Bud moves from the West Side to the East Side, becomes involved with the materialistic Darien (Daryl Hannah) who is also in Gekko's pocket, not to mention being asked to spy on a rival raider (Terrence Stamp)., we know Bud is getting exactly what he wants and we also know that it's also the beginning of the end. Of course, everything that happens to Bud is actually foreshadowed in his relationship with his father...the scene where Gekko meets with Bud's father and other members of is company is terribly intense. It's implied during the denoument that Gekko gets what's coming to him, but after everything we've witnessed, it was a little disappointing to not see him in handcuffs as the credits rolled.

It takes a little while to get going, but once it does, this one really delivers, with the help of Stone's well-picked cast, led by Michael Douglas, in a dazzling performance as Gordon Gekko that won him the Oscar for Outstanding Lead Actor of 1987 and Sheen is solid as the ambitious and sincere Bud. The casting of Sheen's father, Martin, as his father here was inspired and added so much richness to their scenes together, particularly the scene in the hospital. Hal Holbrook, John C. McKInley, James Spader have supporting roles and if you don't blink, you'll catch a cameos from Danny DeVito and the director. Cinematography, set direction, and film editing are all top-notch as is Stewart Copeland's understated music. A must for fans of the director and leading man.



The Oath
Ike Barinholtz is a talented and funny actor who you might remember from the TV series The Mindy Project or from films like Blockers, Sisters, and Snatched. What you might not know is that Barinholtz has a political conscience and is not happy about the state of affairs in our great nation. Barinholtz finds a voice for his anger in a 2018 film that he wrote, directed, and stars in called The Oath, a ferocious, disturbing and often vicious black comedy that re-thinks phrases like "Big Brother is watching you" and "America, Love it or Leave it", but its anger eventually drowns its intentions.

The story is set in a contemporary, alternate universe in the Untied States with a fictional president running the country. The POTUS has issued a simple four-line oath promising undying loyalty to the United States Government, that he asks all United States citizens (and I'm pretty sure this translates as registered voters) to sign. Flashforward a year and we meet Chris Powell (Barinholtz), a politically correct, card-carrying liberal who has a wife (Tiffany Haddish) and a young daughter, who absolutely refuses to sign the oath, It is Thanksgiving week, five days before the deadline to sign the oath and Chris won't budge, despite seeing news reports about people, including actor Seth Rogen, being hauled away in handicuffs because they won't sign the oath, The day after a very tense Thanksgiving with his parents, his brother, his girlfriend, and Chris' sister, where it is revealed they have all signed the oath, the Powells find two government agents at their door who want to "talk" to Chris about rumors that he has been persuading people not to sign the oath and how this encounter goes terribly wrong.

As I've often said about many films, if the quality of a film was merely based on intentions, this one hits a bullseye, but Barinholtz' viewpoint is a little biased and his story leaves too many questions unanswered to validate everything that happens here. There is a telling scene near the beginning of the film depicting a presidential news conference where the press secretary says that this is a free country and that they can't force anyone to sign the oath, but there will be perks for those who do. The screenplay never makes clear exactly what undying loyalty entails nor does it offer any detail about said perks that come with signing. It's implied that one of them might have to do with heath care because a character later explains that they signed the oath to protect their children.

Without specifics about these two things, the legitimacy of this story is just hard to engage in. We're told that this a free country and moments later we see a democratic senator being dragged away in handcuffs and government agents showing up at Chris' door the day after Thanksgiving "suggesting" that they "step outside and talk." We understand a lot of Chris' actions after he refuses to step outside, but what happens never should have gone as far as it did since it's revealed that one of the agents has severe mental health issues. The fact that someone with these kind of mental health problems is working for the government is a little convenient for Barinholtz' cinematic voice and doesn't justify the ugliness that follows.

This film provides nervous and inappropriate laughs and the cinematic rabbit hole that this film travels down is truly disturbing, running roughshod with my emotions, but I never once took my eyes off the screen nor checked my watch. Barinholtz' performance is riveting but I never bought he and Haddish as a couple, a role I suspect she got because she is one of the film's executive producers. There is also a powerhouse performance from Billy Magnussen (Into the Woods, Date Night) as the mentally shredded government agent that demands viewer attention, but this film is just too angry and bitter to completely invest in, though I have to admit I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since the credits rolled about twelve hours ago.



By the Light of the Silvery Moon
Doris Day and Gordon MacRae return for some more romantic hi-jinks in 1953's By the Light of the Silvery Moon, a sequel to On Moonlight Bay that is just as much fun as the first film.

This piece of cinematic cotton candy once again finds us in turn of the century Millburn where Marjorie Wingfield (Day) has re-discovered her inner boy while waiting for fiancee Bill Sherman (MacRae) to return from the war. Upon Bill's return, he is still has gun-shy about marriage as he was in the first film and tries to use unemployment as an excuse to once again delaying a wedding, which sparks the attention of Chester Finley, a music teacher who had been seeing Marjorie while Bill was away.

There are also a couple of subplots going on as well: One involves Mr. Wingfield (Leon Ames), who has a business appointment with a glamorous actress and a letter that Marjorie finds and thinks her father is having an affair. The other involves Marjorie's kid brother Wesley (Billy Gray) and a turkey named Gregory.

There is a touch of "sequel-itis" going on here as screenwriters Robert O'Brien and Irving Elinson try to give us a little more than Bill and Marjorie to engage us in re-visiting these characters. They do give us more but not too much. It seems that filmmakers of today could learn something from films like this one, which did not feel that the sequel had to be a five hour extravaganza in order to interest moviegoers.

The very tuneful score includes songs like "My Hometown", "Your Eyes Have Told Me So", "Just One Girl", "Ain't we Got Fun", "Be My Little Baby Bumble Bee", a barnyard production number called "King the Chanticleer", and the title tune. It should be noted that the soundtrack for this film and On Moonlight Bay were compiled in a single CD collection in 2001.

Day and MacRae remain an engaging onscreen couple, whose vocal chemistry is just as enchanting as their romantic chemistry. Leon Ames and Rosemary DeCamp are once again perfection as Day's parents. If you liked On Moonlight Bay, there's no reason you shouldn't enjoy this.



8 Mile
There was a time when Eminem, the first white rapper since Vanilla Ice, was the hottest thing on the planet so it was no surprise when Hollywood came to call, but 2002's 8 Mile is definitely a case of parts being better than the whole.

The rapper plays Jimmy "Rabbit" Smith, an employee at a car factory in urban Detroit who has big dreams of being in the rap game, participating in "battles" whenever he can, but finds as much distraction from his friends as he does from his foes in pursuit of his dream. On the homefront, Rabbit has just moved back home with his mom (Kim Basinger) who is living in a trailer park with a guy that Rabbit went to high school with (Michael Shannon).

The late Curtis Hanson, who won an Oscar for writing 1997's LA Confidential is in the director's chair for this one, providing some impressive directorial pyrotechnics that make this film seem a lot more important than it really is. Hanson brings a little style to Scott Silver's screenplay, which actually plays like just about any show business biopic that's been made in the past 50 years. The opening scene where we are told that Rabbit is the hottest rapper in town and then steps on stage and chokes just smacks of cliche. I understand they wanted to save something for the rest of the movie, but it would have been a more effective hook to have win the first battle and then lose.

Silver's screenplay concentrates a little too much on Rabbit's antagonism with these other rappers, personal antagonisms that reach dangerous proportions. Not to mention friends with questionable loyalties around our boy, making it hard for him to know who to trust. The friends who Rabbit trust are true friends and their scenes together do ring true...the scene where they are cruising downtown zapping landmarks with a paint gun was a lot of fun, but if the truth be told, I just would have liked a movie starring the hottest rapper on the planet to have a little more rapping in it. My favorite scene in the movie was actually when Rabbit and his BFF Future (Mekhi Pfifer) are at the trailer park and improvise a rap to "Sweet Home Alabama". And as awesome as Rabbit's final battle was, the finale was a cop-out.

Hanson's direction is better than the story and the performances are a matter of taste. I can see why this movie did nothing for Eminem's career. Basinger was solid as his mom and I also loved Evan Jones as Cheddar, a member of Rabbit's posse who shoots himself at one point. "Lose Yourself", the song performed by the star over the closing credits, won the Oscar for Best Song of 2002 and is one of the best things about the movie, along with Hanson's direction and a razor sharp film editing team.