Gideon58's Reviews

→ in
Tools    





Frances Ha
My respect for the work of Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding) and my respect for Greta Gerwig's film Lady Bird motivated my finally sitting down to watch an odd little character study called Frances Ha, a film that has seems to have developed a sort of cult following, but I'm at a loss as to exactly why.

Baumbach and Gerwig were the co-screenwriters of this peek into the life of Frances, if you want to call it a life. Frances lives in an apartment with her best friend, Sophie, until Sophie impulsively moves to Japan with her fiancee. She then moves in with a couple of guys (Adam Driver, Michael Zegen) who she wants to have a relationship with but doesn't. She is an apprentice for a dance company because she thinks she's a dancer, but not really. She goes to a dinner party and meets guests there who live in Paris and she decides to fly to Paris for two days, costing her the little bit of savings she has and ends up working as a waitress, which she also hates.

Baumbach and Gerwig have always worked off the cinematic beaten path but the path completely disappears...there is the idea of a good movie here I think. I understand that this is more of a character story than a plot-driven story, but the constantly dizzying contradictions that comprise Frances' life grow tiresome pretty quickly.

People who are really good at what they do or really successful at what they do usually have a passion for it and Frances doesn't really have a passion for anything. When people ask Frances what she does for a living (which seems to be her least favorite question to answer), she says she's a dancer, but every time the director of the dance company where she works (Charlotte D'Ambroise) offers her studio time and space for her own work. she makes an excuse as to why she's not interested. When actually offered a job at the company near the end of the film, she actually gets angry.

Baumbach and Gerwig work very hard, perhaps a little too hard at making Frances quirky and cute. It's funny when she goes to her mailbox and is overjoyed to learn that she's received a tax rebate and asks Driver's character to have dinner with her and when the check comes, she discovers she has no cash on her. We then have to watch her jog 46 blocks to an ATM...that's entertainment? Driver provides the few really entertaining moments the film has and it is beautifully photographed in black and white, but the whole thing just seems pointless.



Shrink
It initially comes off as another exploration of the theory that most of the movers and shakers of Hollywood are really screwed up people, but 2009's Shrink is an indie sleeper that does broach other subjects, even though the digging is a little shallow. The film does remain watchable though thanks to a really interesting cast.

Two time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey plays Dr. Henry Carter, a Hollywood shrink to the stars who is dealing with the suicide of his wife by smoking way too much marijuana. While watching Dr. Henry deal with his own demons, we are introduced to some of his patients as well: Jack Holden (Robin Williams) is an alcoholic actor who thinks he's a sex maniac; Kate Amberson (Saffron Burrows) is a sensitive actress who's worried about getting old; Patrick (Dallas Roberts) is a high powered Hollywood agent and germa-phobe whose pregnant assistant (Pell James) really wants to be a producer; A troubled high school student named Jemma (KeKe Palmer) who's been acting out in school since her mother committed suicide; Jeremy (Mark Webber) is a seemingly geeky screenwriter with an agenda; and Shamus (Jack Huston) is a drugged out action star. We also meet Jesus (Jessie Plemmons), Henry's laid back drug dealer.

Screenwriter Thomas Moffet has constricted a sophisticated Hollywood soap opera that attempts to address some serious subjects like the validity of suicide but barely scratches the surface. What Moffet does right is creating some really interesting characters that the viewer will have no trouble investing in and provides some viable connections between some the characters that we don't see coming. There are a couple of dangling plot participles, specifically the relationship between Jemma and Jeremy which really doesn't make sense and is never really explained, not to mention an apparent connection to Patrick that doesn't make sense either, but I let them go the same way Moffet did.

It's the acting that kept me interested in this one. It goes without saying that Spacey is incapable of giving a bad performance and Williams made the most of his limited screentime as well. Palmer, Webber, Plemmons, James, and especially Roberts also have their moments in the cinematic sun. Jonas Pate's directorial eye is sharp and seems to have a real talent with actors and provides solid entertainment despite some holes in the story and an occasional dip into melodrama.



Storm Center
It's still a timely topic and probably always will be, but Warner Brothers showed major cajones taking on the subject at the height of the McCarthy blacklisting era and putting their biggest star center stage in a quietly powerful indictment on the often tragic ramifications of censorship from 1956 called Storm Center.

Bette Davis is splendid as Alicia Hull, a small town librarian who excitedly prepares to meet with members of the city council regarding the children's wing she wants to add onto the library. The board votes in front of Alicia to approve the new children's wing on one condition: They want a book about communism removed from the library. Alicia refuses and then one of the council members, Paul Duncan (Brian Keith) reveals that they have been digging into her past and have discovered her association with more than one organization with communist leanings. They agree to overlook the research if Alicia removes the book. Alicia says that they can remove the book if they want to but if the book goes, so does she. The book goes and Alicia loses her job.

The story is further complicated by Alicia's longtime friend and city council member Robert Ellerbee (Paul Kelly) who was very close to Alicia's deceased husband who doesn't like what's happening to Alicia, but appears to be powerless to do anything about it. Then there's Martha (Oscar winner Kim Hunter), Alicia's assistant at the library who is also engaged to Paul and Freddie (Kevin Coughlin), the confused kid who adores Mrs. Hull and doesn't understand why she just doesn't hide the book someplace.

This is a bold and important story being told here and Warner Brothers is to be applauded for bringing this story to the screen in 1956. Director and screenwriter Daniel Taradash delivers an important message that could not be ignored through the eyes of his strong-willed Alicia Hull, whose strength comes through actions and not histrionics. There's a great moment where one of the board members assures her that this is only about this book and Alicia counters that if she backs down this time, that there is bound to be another time. The character of Alicia is also to be applauded because it's not hurtful gossip and wrongful accusations that bother her, but it is disappointing the children that mean more to her than she even realizes.

This story is told simply and economiclly, shot in black and white with minimal attention to production values, which I'm sure were limited because of the film's subject matter. There were probably some Warners bigwigs who didn't want to throw too much money at Taradash, but as is often the case with films like this, lack of production values enhance the power of the story. The film even addresses book burning in a powerful scene where we see several great works of literature go up in flames...it's a very effective storytelling tool.

Davis receives solid support from Keith, Hunter, and Kelly, and there's also a brief appearance by the future Mrs. Bing Crosby, Kathryn Grant, but the story's the thing here and Daniel Taradash never forgets the importance of what he's doing here and he doesn't shy away from it.



I Feel Pretty
Amy Schumer continues to try and carve out a film career for herself with a 2018 oddity called I Feel Pretty, which suffers from an obvious message delivered with a sledgehammer, but it is a better film that Trainwreck or Snatched.

Schumer plays Renee Bennett, a pleasingly plump and seriously insecure young woman who works in the bowels of the Chinatown branch of a large cosmetics empire. One day while at the gym working out, Renee falls and hits her head. When she regains consciousness, Renee thinks she is the most beautiful, most sexy, and most self-confident woman on the planet that not only gets her a promotion and in good with her boss (Michelle Williams), but find her getting attention from two very different kind of men.

Schumer and her co-directors and co-screenwriters, Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein have definitely taken a different tack in attacking a universal theme but the logistics of this idea sometimes don't fit within the framework of this story. Renee's newfound self-confidence is a wonderful thing, but its casting a magical spell over her boss who all of a sudden can't make a move without her doesn't really make sense nor does the fact that she doesn't get booed off the stage at a bikini contest. The fact that Renee returns to her old self after a second bump on the head and realizes that the "spell" is over doesn't make sense either. She never knew she was under a spell after the first fall.

Schumer's fearlessness as a performer is to be admired though...for a woman who looks the way Schumer does and to do some of the things she does in this movie can't help but earn the woman some respect...that bikini contest scene was something that if I was her, I couldn't have done in a million years, but I guess the way the screenplay protected the Renee character during this scene made it a lot easier for her to do. As someone who has battled with weight for most of my life, I understand a lot of the messages that Schumer is trying to deliver here, but delivering those messages with a sledgehammer in one hand and having her character being pursued by two different men in the other, was kind of hard to justify.

Schumer does have a pretty strong supporting cast behind her for this one...Rory Scovel was a refreshing love interest and Busy Phillips and Aidy Bryant were great as Renee's BFFs and watching a long awaited return to the screen for Lauren Hutton was fun, but it's Michelle Williams who steals the show here, playing a character completely in opposition of her normal screen persona and she seems to be having a ball doing it. The movie definitely has its problems including a corny and predictable ending, but it's Schumer's strongest film effort so far.



The Hand that Rocks the Cradle
Five years before creating his masterpiece LA Confidential, Curtis Hanson proved he was a director to be reckoned with when he mounted an effective little psychological thriller called The Hand that Rocks the Cradle that provides some genuine suspense despite some convenient lapses in logic in the screenplay.

The 1992 drama centers on the widow of a doctor who commits suicide after five women accuse him of sexual harassment. Because of the scandal, his pregnant wife learns that her husband's assets have been frozen and she suffers a miscarriage shortly after. The widow decides to get revenge on the first woman who brought charges against her husband by getting hired as the woman's nanny after she has just given birth to her second child.

Amanda Silver's screenplay is basically pretty clever because once the crazed Peyton shows up at the Bartel household, we are still left in the dark as to exactly how far she plans to take her revenge. On the other hand, I found myself bothered by the fact that the wife, Claire Bartel, doesn't recognize Peyton before she hires her. She accused her husband of sexual harassment, four other women came forward and the guy committed suicide...wouldn't Claire have laid eyes on Peyton at some point? On the other hand, Claire's best friend Marlene gets one glimpse of the wind chimes and halfway through the film puts everything together in five minutes...and pays the price for it. I also could never figure out how Peyton knew how to rig that greenhouse.

The story is a good one, but I think it's a little too protective of Peyton. This psychopath should not have been allowed to get away with everything that she did. I was always bothered by the fact that Claire never caught Peyton breastfeeding her baby. Yes, she confesses to it near the end, but it plays like Claire doesn't believe her. This is also where Hanson's skill at creating suspense kicks in...when the mentally challenged handyman catches Peyton breastfeeding, we are holding our breath when she confronts him about it because we have no idea what she's going to go but know that she's capable of anything to protect her secret. I also love that shot of her eating the apple slices with the knife as she watched the greenhouse collapse...seriously creepy.

Hanson is also to be applauded for the bone-chilling performance he gets from Rebecca De Mornay as the mentally shredded Peyton, pretty much the best performance of her somewhat brief career. De Mornay crafts a seriously damaged character whose unpredictability might be her most powerful cinematic weapon. Annabella Sciorra is a little one-note as the clueless Claire, but loved Julianne Moore as her fiercely protective best friend, Marlene. Though the story is a little hard to swallow, Curtis Hanson and Rebecca De Mornay demand viewer attention.



Sunday Bloody Sunday
The 1970's were the advent of a great deal of change in the world of cinema and what was acceptable fare and one of the greatest examples of this new phase of movie making was an eye-opening drama from 1971 called Sunday Bloody Sunday, the story of a very different love triangle that features sizzling performances but suffers due to a meandering screenplay that takes its eye off the original prize.

Alex Grenville is a divorced career woman and Daniel Hirsh is a Jewish doctor who share the same answering service but that's not all they share. Alex and Daniel are both having affairs with a free-spirited artist named Bob Elkin who feels free of guilt as he floats from one to the other. The twist here is that Alex and Daniel are both aware of the other's existence in Bob's life and would prefer to share the man rather than give him up.

It should go without saying that a movie about a man having an affair with a man and a woman raised eyebrows in 1971 and who better to helm this daring piece of cinema than the man who won an Oscar for directing the first "X" rated film to win an Oscar? Yes, John Schlesinger, who had just won an Oscar for directing 1969's Best Picture, Midnight Cowboy (Back in 1969, X-rated simply meant that no children were allowed), sat in the director's chair for this bold and titillating story that not only looked at homosexuality and bisexuality but even hinted at incest; unfortunately, Penelope Gilliatt's screenplay is kind of all over the place and doesn't stay where it should be...on this very unconventional love triangle that raises a lot of questions that are never really answered.

As the story progressed, I felt like I was missing out because we have definitely been brought into this story in the middle. The beginning of this story would have made a much more interesting movie. How did Bob meet Alex and Daniel? Which one did he meet first? When did Alex and Daniel find out about each other? Have Alex and Daniel always known that Bob was also seeing someone of the opposite sex? With the advent of HIV/AIDS, there was no way this story would have happened, but back in 1971 this was pretty groundbreaking stuff. The story loses the focus it should with too much screentime spent on stuff we just don't care about. When the movie focuses on these three people, this movie sparkles, but when it doesn't...

Schlesinger's paints with bold directorial strokes that earned him his third Best Director nomination. Peter Finch and Glenda Jackson also received Lead Actor and Actress nominations for their blistering work as Daniel and Alex, respectively and Murray Head was quite smoldering as Bob, the object of their mutual affection, but I think the effect of this film would have been a lot more powerful in 1971 than it is today, but as a study of great acting and directing, a curio to be sure.



Mamma Mia Here We Go Again
They waited an entire decade to do it and they could have waited a lot longer than that. A poster child for unnecessary sequels, Mamma Mia Here We Go Again does have a few things going for it, but it mostly crumbles under a story that never addresses what it should have and new characters we don't care about and missing ones that we do.

This 2018 sequel to the 2008 musical turns off the viewer immediately when it is revealed that Donna (Meryl Streep) has died and that daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) has had her mother's hotel remodeled and is excitedly preparing for the grand re-opening. The film juxtaposes Sophie's preparations for the opening with a look at her mother's past including her first meeting with the three men who we learned in the first film are all possible fathers of Sophie.

And this was my primary problem with this movie. The original film was pretty thin material to mount an entire musical around but we managed to accept the rather flimsy story of Donna being reunited with three men from her past and learning which one of the men is Sophie's biological father. We never learned which guy is her real father in the first film, so naturally I assumed that this would be the primary issue addressed in a sequel, but we never learn who Sophie's father really is in this film either.

My other main issue with this film is that I was barely able to tolerate the first film because of Meryl Streep. Without her, that film would have been a crashing bore, and because this film addresses Donna's past, another actress must inhabit the role of Donna. Lily James is a talented young singer and actress who had previously impressed me in Baby Driver, but she's no Meryl Streep and it's clear she did her homework. She obviously watched the first film more than a few times before she stepped in front of the camera here, but she never captures the spirit of the Donna that Meryl Streep brought us in 2008. I never felt like James and Streep were playing the same character, a point driven home during Streep's glorious cameo near the end of the film that reminded us of how she totally made the first film. James' Donna also comes off as very arrogant and self-absorbed, something I didn't get from Streep's Donna.

On the positive side, the musical numbers worked for the most part, utilizing the rest of ABBA's music that didn't make it into the first film. The highlights included "When I Kissed the Teacher", "Waterloo", "Why Did it Have to Be Me?", "The Name of the Game", "Andante, Andante", and "Angel Eyes". There were so many musical numbers I really didn't see the purpose of reprising "Dancing Queen" and "Mamma Mia" from the first film. The numbers were well-staged with some inventive choreography, especially "Waterloo."

Christine Baranski and Julie Walters were still a lot of fun as Donna's BFF's and I must also mention Jessica Keenan Wynn (granddaughter of Keenan Wynn), who played the younger version of Baranski's character, she totally nailed Baranski. But if the truth be told, the best thing about this film, and we sure were forced to wait for it, was the appearance of Cher as Donna's mother, a casting coup that was only legitimized by Streep's absence in the story. Cher gave the finale an added lift it really needed without disturbing her botox and her duet with Andy Garcia "Fernando" stopped the show. This film got the same big budget the first one did, but it all begins with the story and for me, the story was problematic. The world would have kept on rotating on its axis if this film had never been made.



Storm Center


Davis receives solid support from Keith, Hunter, and Kelly, and there's also a brief appearance by the future Mrs. Bing Crosby, Kathryn Grant,

but the story's the thing here and Daniel Taradash never forgets the importance of what he's doing here and he doesn't shy away from it.
Glad you liked Storm Center, it's one of my favorite under seen Bette Davis movies. Like you wrote, the story is the thing here. More so than even Bette Davis, which speaks well of Ms Davis as she kept her role simple, so that she didn't overwhelm the story and so the film wouldn't be another Bette Davis vehicle. That's why Bette Davis is one of the all time great actresses.



Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain
Whatever personal feelings you or the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences might have about the man, there is no denying that Kevin Hart is officially a star, a point driven home in the opening of his 2013 concert Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain, which finds Kevin providing laughs for 30,000 fans live from Madison Square Garden.

As usual, Kevin opens the concert with a filmed prologue which finds the star hosting a party for his friends at a hotel and being confronted by selected issues they have with the star. A girl approaches him and asks if it's true that he only dates light-skinned women. A guy approaches him and accuses him of not having any street cred outside of his hometown. He's also asked to confirm the fact that he and his ex hate each other. So Kevin decides to set the record straight about so-called rumors, telling his people to shut down the party and to call Madison Square Garden so he can explain. As this is happening, we are "treated" to footage of Kevin performing in front of sold out audiences in Canada, Norway, and Denmark, which unfortunately smacked of the ego that Hart claims he doesn't have and as always, this prologue went on way too long, almost 20 minutes.

When Hart finally hits the stage at the Garden, he doesn't really address any of the things that were brought up in the prologue but he talks honestly and funnily about where is life was at this time. At the time this concert was filmed, Kevin was freshly divorced and came right out and admitted that, even though they parted amicably, the marriage ended because he cheated, more specifically, lied about cheating. This leads into a very funny monologue about his cheating and how he involved his best friend Harry in his lies, then veers off in an unexpected direction when he talks about how a man should handle it if he catches his wife in a car with another man.

Another staple of Hart's concerts is an up close and personal encounter with a wild animal and this concert is no exception. We hear about Kevin meeting an animal he described as half deer, half zebra as well as a wild adventure when he takes his family horseback riding. He also scores talking about his self defense course and his son's Spiderman obsession. He had the audience on the floor talking about a "bum lip", where he talks about the dirty hands of a homeless person flipping his dirty against his lip. I found this kind of offensive, but this audience lost it to the point where Hart did too and he actually had to collect himself before he could go on, a rarity for the comedian.

Other than slamming on homeless people, Hart really scored here and I have to admit to being genuinely moved at the conclusion of the show where he admitted that playing at the Garden was his dream come true. Kevin Hart is a genuine star who has worked hard for everything he has and there is a balance between his ego and his gratitude that is refreshing.



Against All Odds
The steamy chemistry created by the leads keep the 1984 drama Against All Odds watchable despite a screenplay that keeps the leads apart and the director's accustomed self-indulgence.

This remake of the 1947 film noir Out of the Past stars Jeff Bridges as Terry Brogan, a disgraced pro football player who is hired by a mob kingpin and old acquaintance named Jake Wise, played by James Woods, to locate his former mistress, Jessie (Rachel Ward) who is allegedly hiding somewhere in Mexico, but things get complicated when Terry and Jessie fall instantly in love and try to escape the grip that Jake has on both of them.

Daniel Mainwaring, who wrote Out of the Past co-wrote this screenplay with Eric Hughes which is filled with the expected colorful mob types that you expect from such a story, even if it is a bit on the predictable side. The problem here is that the story creates a couple that we care about immediately and then keeps them apart for the other two thirds of the story.

What does work here is the smoldering chemistry created by Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward in the leading roles. Terry and Jessie's sexual attraction cannot be denied and as much as they want each other, they are unable to trust each other which tears them apart almost immediately. The Jessie character reminded me a lot of Evelyn Mulwray in Chinatown, a character who I never believed a single word that came out of her mouth which was an on target assessment of this film's Jessie, as she more than once tries to throw Terry under the bus in the name of self-preservation.

The film does feature some beautiful scenery and Jeff Bridges (who has never looked better) is a flawed and durable hero, the only character in the movie who is exactly what he seems to be. Ward's smokey beauty is a perfect fit for this dark ice queen she's playing but I never really bought Woods as this dangerous mobster. There are some effective supporting turns from Richard Widmark as a smarmy Senator, Saul Rubinek as an equally smarmy lawyer, and Swoosie Kurtz as a ditzy secretary and though the ending is a little muddled and Taylor Hackford's direction makes the film seem a lot longer than it should be, it managed to hold my attention. The film did receive an Oscar nomination for Phil Collins' haunting title song sung over the closing credits.



The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone
The 1961 drama The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone probably raised a lot of eyebrows back then for its very adult subject matter for the period and the performances by the leading ladies are spectacular, but it doesn't work as it should due to some very confusing plot twists that just don't make sense.

Based on a novel by Tennessee Williams, Vivien Leigh, who a decade earlier had won a second Oscar for playing another Williams heroine in A Streetcar Named Desire, takes on another hot mess Williams character in Karen Stone, a retired actress and widow, who moves to Rome and finds herself befriended by the elegant Countessa Magda, played by the incomparable Lotte Lenya, who introduces Mrs. Stone to a handsome young man named Paolo (Warren Beatty) who immediately insinuates himself into Mrs. Stone's life. It's soon revealed that the Countessa is nothing more than a glorified pimp and that Paolo is one of the men in her stable, who are to bilk wealthy widows and tourists out of their money and split it with Countessa 50/50. Things go sour for the Countessa when Paolo actually starts developing feelings for Mrs. Stone.

This material is classic Tennessee Williams, a writer who has always had an affinity for the May/December older woman/younger man dynamic and the basic premise is quite intriguing. Back in 1961, Tennessee Williams is probably the only author who would make the hero of any of his work a male prostitute, but that's what Paolo is and curiosity is piqued because the viewer then starts to wonder when Paolo's professional mission and his personal feelings are going to blur and we know they are going to blur because if they didn't, the movie would be over in fifteen minutes.

Unfortunately, a titillating premise is bogged down by a story that makes some very confusing moves, most of which seem to occur with the Countessa, who should be the smartest character in the movie. I didn't understand why she advised Paolo what to do with Karen when things weren't moving fast enough for her, then warned Karen about it so that she saw it coming. The Countess seemed to be her own her worst enemy in this story. There was also a very odd subplot of Karen being stalked by this stranger that never really resolves itself but remains pertinent to the finale, even though we never learn who this man is or why he's stalking Karen.

Despite my problems with the story, I remained invested in the story because of the performances by the two female leads. Vivien Leigh is simultaneously fragile and strong in the title role, putting us completely behind this somewhat sad character. Leigh still knew how to command the screen, even though she would only make one more film (Ship of Fools) before her death. Lotte Lenya is dazzling and venomous as the phony Countessa, ranking right up there with another great villain she would create later in To Russia with Love. Beatty fit the role of Paolo physically and I understand his casting in the role, but I found it hard to take him seriously in this role. There's also a brief appearance by Jill St. John in one of her earliest roles. Lovely Italian scenery and Richard Addinsell's lush music help, but the story's the thing, and the story here does a lot of things that just don't make sense. The film was remade in 2003 with Helen Mirren and Olivier Martinez playing the roles originated by Leigh and Beatty.



Norma Rae
Sally Field won her first Oscar for Outstanding Lead Actress for her work in an in your face, fact-based drama from 1979 called Norma Rae. which presents a strong leading character trapped in an impossible situation and never letting it get the best of her.

The title character is a single mother at a southern textile mill who is immediately entranced by a union organizer named Reuben (Ron Leibman) who comes to town to get a union going at the mill and faces one obstacle after another in getting a union going at the mill, mostly from management. While trying to help Reuben, Norma Rae also finds herself drawn to a sweet, if slightly dim co-worker named Sonny (Beau Bridges) who she ends up marrying, but Norma Rae's head is more into unionizing than it is her marriage.

Irving Ravetch and Harry Frank Jr's screenplay is actually based on the real life exploits of a woman named Crystal Lee Sutton who worked for JP Stevens and Company and whose complaints about the exhausting work, paltry wages, and minimal benefits eventual got her fired but before she left, she did actually get on top of a table with the union sign, initiating a shut down, a scene which not only is recreated in this movie, but eventually became the movie's movie's most iconic scene. It's easy to see why too, this scene absolutely bristles with tension.

Watching movies like this one and Silkwood have confused me about unionization and its value. They supposedly are there to protect employees and help to make their lives better but it seems like when the people supporting them need them the most, they're never there. Norma Rae's efforts got her fired and arrested and Karen Silkwood's efforts eventually got her killed and I have to admit I was surprised when the big vote for unionization actually went through.

The other thing I did like was the unconventional love triangle presented at the center of it. The relationship that develops between Norma and Reuben is tangible and wrought with sexual tension, but never gets physical. On the other hand, Norma's conventional romance with Sonny isn't really based on a grand passion. One of my favorite scenes in the film is the scene where Sonny and Norma get married...they go to a justice of the peace and the kiss after the vows is just a quick peck...this is Ritt's directorial eye working to maximum effect.

Field did win her first Oscar for the solid performance she gives and proved herself to be an actress of substance, but I'm not sure if she was better than Jane Fonda in The China Syndrome or even Bette Midler in The Rose, but I've definitely seen less deserving Oscar winners. I love that scene where Norma shuts up Sonny by "cooking" and "cleaning" for him. "It Goes Like it Goes", the song sung by Jennifer Warnes over the opening credits, also won an Oscar. Leibman is terrific as Reuben and I'll never understand why this performance never led to a movie career for him. I love the scene when's he's walking through the mill greeting the workers while there to check on the bulletin boards. Bridges gives one of the best performances of his career as Sonny and I also enjoyed Pat Hingle and Barbara Baxley as Norma's parents. This is one is still worth checking out thanks to the acting skills of Sally Field and the directing skills of Martin Ritt.



Safe Men
John Hamburg, the writer and director of Along Came Polly is also the creative force behind the 1998 black comedy Safe Men, which is almost salvaged by its very talented cast...almost.

It's 1970's Providence Rhode Island where a pair of bad lounge singers (Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn) are mistaken for a pair of Providence's most famous safecrackers, who find themselves under the thumb of a local mobster (Michael Lerner) who has the pair breaking into several safes while preparing for his son's bar mitzvah.

Hamburg has an interesting idea for a black comedy, which I believe was his intention, but his writing is a little safe for a black comedy and not straight forward enough for a traditional comedy. The onscreen narration by Rockwell's character suggests a black comedy, but what the viewer gets is a muddled and confusing crime heist that seems to work very hard at not offending anyone...except for people of the Jewish faith.

Mark Ruffalo and Josh Pais plauy the real safecrackers and it is never really made clear how a pair of lounge singers get mistaken for them or why they don't do anything about it. There is an alleged romantic triangle between Ruffalo, Rockwell, and the daughter of another crime boss (Harvey Fierstein) who it is revealed has somehow come in possession of pro hockey's Stanley cup, which becomes the final mission for our lounge singing safecrackers.

I was attracted to this film when I saw who was in it and they almost made it worth watching, but what this film eventually boiled down to was 90 minutes of my life I'll never get back. Rockwell, Ruffalo, and Zahn are always worth watching and Paul Giamatti garners a few laughs as Lerner's flying monkey, but even they couldn't save this snooze-fest.



Wall-E
Disney Pixar tried something a little different with 2008's Wall-E, another unique cinematic journey from Disney Pixar that has a lot going for it, but I still found myself scratching my head wondering who the intended demographic was for this movie.

This is a post Apocalyptic drama that takes place in a future that's not as far away as we might like to think. Most of the world's population seems to have been driven away by all the garbage...there is garbage everywhere, so much garbage that buildings are being constructed out of garbage. Most of the survivors of earth are on a spaceship called Axiom and left earth centuries ago. The plan was for earthlings to return to the planet after cleaning robots make the earth livable again.

This is the story of one of those robot cleaners. Wall-E (voiced by Ben Burtt) spends his days collecting debris and compacting into equal sized squares and then building structures out of them. At night, he watches the film version of Hello Dolly and is fascinated by the concept of holding hands, wanting to have his own hand to hold one day. As expected, romance does come into Wall-E's life one day in the form of a robot named Eve (voiced by Elissa Knight) who is dropped on earth by an alien spaceship. Eventually Wall-E finds himself part of a dangerous space mission that could impact the future of mankind forever.

Director and co-screenwriter Andrew Stanton is to be commended for coming up with something terribly original here, unfortunately, the execution of the story is a little sluggish and took awhile to engage this adult viewer and I have a hard time believing that this film engaged children at all, but it definitely sends a couple of important messages but I have to wonder if children really cared.

I will admit that this robot Wall-E is a total sweetheart and I found his fascination with Hello Dolly absolutely adorable. His sweetness is beautifully balanced with his loneliness making an animated character of maximum appeal. The story struck a chord with the Academy who awarded it the Oscar for Outstanding Animated Feature of 2008 as well as nominations for Original Score, Original Song ("Down to Earth"), Sound Mixing and Sound Editing. The film tells a somewhat dark story, despite its endearing central character, but it falls short as a completely satisfying film experience.



Unsane
Some imaginative directorial brush strokes from Steven Soderbergh and a scorching performance from his leading lady allowed the 2018 psychological thriller Unsane to tie my stomach in knots despite a couple of plot holes that I could not reconcile.

Claire Foy, who was robbed of an Oscar nomination for First Man, plays Sawyer Valentini, a woman who has left her hometown of Boston and moved to Pennsylvania in order to escape a stalker. Still feeling shaky from her stalker experience, Claire makes an appointment with a psychiatrist at the Highland Creek Mental Facility just to talk to someone. She signs some paperwork without reading it and finds herself involuntarily committed to the institution for seven days.

Calls to police prove to be futile and attempts to fight what is happening to her just keep getting Sawyer in more and more danger, despite warnings from a fellow patient (Former SNL regular Jay Pharoah) that she is part of an insurance scam that she can get out of as long as she behaves. And when it turns out that Claire's stalker from Boston (Joshua Leonard) has followed her and gotten himself hired at Highland Creek, no one believes Sawyer when she tries to out him.

Steven Soderbergh has created a cinematic nightmare here and has done an expert job of putting us in his protagonist's shoes. We feel every bit of pain and fear that Sawyer is going through and we want her to calm down when she starts assaulting anyone who lays a hand on her. Once it becomes clear that there is no escaping for Sawyer, all we can do is wring our hands and wonder how she's ever going to get out of this. Even Sawyer's mother (Amy Irving) is thwarted in every way in trying to help her daughter.

The screenplay attempts to make us think that Sawyer's stalker is not really at this mental institute now but when it turns out that it has to be him, we have to wonder how someone like this guy actually got hired at a mental facility. The fact that an institution that allegedly claims to do extensive background checks on its staff let this guy slip by them made a lot of this story really hard to swallow.

What does work here is a bold and ferocious performance by Claire Foy that rivets the viewer to the screen. Jay Pharoah does a star-making turn as Sawyer's only ally inside the facility and Amy Irving is wonderful as Sawyer's mother, as is Juno Temple (so good in Wonder Wheel) as a dangerous fellow patient who consistently baits Sawyer. This story leaves a lot of bodies in the wake and does actually have us doubting either Sawyer's sanity or as to whether any of this happened at all, but Highland Creek does get what's coming to them and that's something. Soderbergh's directorial eye is also a big asset here.



Forever Female
A complicated romantic quadrangle among the New York theater set is the basic premise of a sparkling 1953 comedy called Forever Female that still provides entertainment thanks to a sharp screenplay and a professional cast working at the top of their game.

There are four principle players in this theatrical comedy of manners: Beatrice Page (Ginger Rogers) is a flamboyant and arrogant actress whose latest Broadway flop has her drifting toward a play with a character she is too old for; Stanley Krown (William Holden) is the author of the new play who allows Beatrice to talk him into aging the leading character 10 years; Harry Phillips (Paul Douglas)is a Broadway producer and Beatrice's ex-husband whose fierce devotion to her might have something to do with the $11,000 in back alimony he owes her; Sally Carver (Pat Crowley) is a struggling actress who changes her name every time she loses a job who tries to keep Stanley's leading character her proper age and falls for him in the process.

This film was surprisingly entertaining thanks to a smart screenplay by Julius J. Epstein and Phillip G. Epstein that takes some effective jabs at New York theater while setting up this very unconventional quadrangle that keeps its eventual destination a mystery for the majority of the running time. I loved the opening moments of the film where the camera roams through Sardi's during intermission describing the various personalities hanging out there.

Director Irving Rapper, who has worked with some of the best actors in the business including Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, and Erroll Flynn pulls performances from his star quartet that pull this film through its occasional lull and make the audience care about what's going on, or more importantly. how it's all going to turn out.

Rapper does stellar work with this cast too. Ginger Rogers is fun and vivacious, as always, and the chemistry between her and Paul Douglas is undeniable. Douglas lights up the screen here in one of his most entertaining performances, matching Rogers note for note. The relationship between Rogers and Douglas is really the heart of this story and we really want to see them reunite even though they're fighting it tooth and nail. Holden does grow into his role as the hypersensitive playwright and Crowley is just luminous in the best performance I've ever seen from her as the outwardly confident but inwardly insecure young actress. There's also a brief and funny appearance from future TV Superman, George Reeves. Lovers of classic film comedy and especially fans of Rogers and Douglas will want to check this one out.



Cherry 2000
Another far-fetched post-Apocalyptic adventure, 1987's Cherry 2000 does have a lot going for it, including some eye-popping visuals, but falls short as a complete film experience.

Ironically, it is 2017 and what's left of the United States is living in a world where romance and technology have blurred beyond recognition. Sam Treadwell is a wealthy businessman who has been blissfully happy with an android named Cherry 2000. One night while making love to his beautiful android she short circuits and is no longer able to function despite the fact that Sam still has the personality disc that allows the android to operate. Finding other romantic options unacceptable, Sam decides he must have a Cherry 2000 and hires a sexy renegade tracker named E Johnson to take him to the dangerous Zone 7, where there are many Cherry 2000's but the tyrannical leader, Lester, doesn't have any personality discs to make them operable.

Yes, 1987's vision of 2017 was a little premature, but I'm sure for screenwriter Michael Almereyda, 2017 seemed like a million years away, but he still provides a viable setting for this story which offers an ordinary guy caught up in some very extraordinary circumstances, especially his connection with a very unconventional heroine and the immediate "will they or won't they" sensibility bubbles to the surface and becomes the underlying theme of the story.

Director Steve DeJarnett mounts an often visually arresting canvas for this theme to come to fruition. There is an incredible moment where Sam and E land a plane on sand-like surface and we see these statues nearby and, upon closer observation, it comes to light that statues are at the top of a casino in Las Vegas and that the entire city is buried under this sand. This reveal literally took my breath away, as did most of the look of this film, DeJarnett nails the "Mad Max" look of this film with a strong assist from his production team.

The performances are nothing special, but we really don't care because films like this usually aren't about acting, but maybe the acting is what kept this film from being what it should have been. David Andrews' Sam was a little on the wooden side and Melanie Griffith never really convinces as the bad ass female Indiana Jones, and Oscr winner Ben Johnson was wasted in a thankless role, but I LOVED Tim Thomerson as the maniacal Lester. The movie is great to look at and there's some terrific action sequences, but it never hooks me the way it should have.



Coco
Disney Pixar hits another bullseye with 2017's Coco, a colorful and splashy musical animated extravaganza that explores universal themes that we expect from Disney Pixar but breathes new life into said themes by setting the story on foreign soil.

This musical confection is the story of a little boy named Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) who comes from a family of shoe makers, but whose true passion is music like his longtime idol Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt). Miguel is frustrated by the rest of his family's ban on music and plans to sing in a local contest one evening. His grandmother finds out and smashes his guitar to bits. While attempting to "borrow" Ernesto's guitar to use in the contest, Miguel is transported to the Land of the Dead where he meets his deceased relatives who don't believe Miguel when he claims that he is the great great grandson of de la Cruz, but still send him on a journey where even more secrets about his family are revealed.

Lee Unkrich, the creative force behind the second and third Toy Story movies, as well as Finding Nemo has crafted a story of the importance of family and the importance of pursuing your passion that remains the through line for a sometimes hard to swallow but endlessly imaginative and entertaining story centered on a lovable little boy who is sent on a totally unexpected journey. Yes, this story went NOWHERE I expected it to, though I should have since Miguel mentions in his opening narration how he hears about his ancestors every year on the Day of the Death, which apparently is an actual Mexican holiday of celebration.

Disney Pixar has always been consistent in the kind of entertainment they provide. As with most of their work, this story is overly complex, the exposition takes a little too long, and there are at least two unnecessary endings, but there are so many colorful and interesting characters to distract us, as well as the dazzling setting provided in the form of the Land of the Dead, which was unlike anything I've ever seen. The film is a feast for the eyes and ears even if it takes a bit too long to get where it's going. That winged jaguar was nothing short of bone-chilling.

The film won the Oscar for Outstanding Animated Film and the Oscar for Original Song went to Robert Lopex and Kristin Andersen-Lopez for "Remember Me". Other memorable songs in the score included "Juanita", "Un Poco Loco", and "Jalale".

Another consistency with Disney Pixar is exemplary voice work and this film features standout work from Bratt, Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal as Hector and Alanna Ubach as Mama Imelda. This is a joyous animated journey that demands undivided attention but the rewards for such attention come in spades.