Gideon58's Reviews

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Swing Shift
A 1984 drama called Swing Shift is a sweet and nostalgic period piece centered on a romantic triangle that's nothing special, but this film does have a footnote in cinema history as the birth of one of Hollywood's greatest off screen love stories.

The film begins on the day before the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor where we meet Kay Walsh (Goldie Hawn), a housewife, married to the hard-working Jack (Ed Harris). They live in the same housing complex as Hazel (Christine Lahti), a nightclub singer Jack thinks is trash but Kay is fascinated with, witnessing a lot of the ups and downs Hazel has with her moronic boyfriend Biscuits (Fred Ward). Almost immediately after hearing about Pearl Harbor on the radio, Jack enlists in the Navy and Kay finds herself, along with millions of other women, adrift and not knowing what to do.

Like millions of other women, Kay and Hazel timidly apply for jobs at the local defense plant where they become "Rosie the Riveters." Kay finds herself attracted to a co-worker named Lucky Lockhart (Kurt Russell) who plays jazz trumpet when he clocks out at the plant. It's not long before Kay finds herself in a passionate affair with Lucky and just when things with the couple seem to be on solid ground, Jack gets a 48-hour pass from the Navy and can't wait to be with his wife.

Director Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Nancy Dowd have mounted an attractive period romance, awash in 1940's settings and costumes which give the film a dash of originality that it doesn't really deserve, but it's what happened off the set that made history. Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell first met on the set of a 1968 Disney musical called The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band, in which Goldie made her film debut billed as "Giggling Dancer" and Kurt, still a kid at the time, had a starring role. Sixteen years later, they were signed to make this film together. Sparks flew on the set, they fell in love, and they have been together ever since. They never married, but they have been together ever since making this movie.

There is no denying the chemistry between Kurt and Goldie in this movie. It aids in making this movie seem a lot better than it is. Christine Lahti's intelligent turn as Hazel is also a big plus, a performance that earned her a Best Supporting Actress nomination, the only nomination the film earned. Harris and Ward are solid as well, and if you don't blink you'll also catch future Oscar winner Holly Hunter, Chris Lemmon, and Stephen Tobolowsky in his second feature film. The chemistry between Kurt and Goldie does raise the bar on this one.



The Lion in Winter
Robbed of the 1968 Oscar for Best Picture, The Lion in Winter is an intimate story of love, greed, politics, betrayal, and family dysfunction told on a breathtaking canvas, rich with the wit of Oscar Wilde and the tragedy of Shakespeare, not to mention a pair of leading performances which defy description.

It is 1183 AD as the viewer is boldly introduced to the primary players on this cinematic chessboard: King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) is the conflicted monarch trying to decide which of his three sons will inherit the crown; Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn) is the queen in name only who is kept prisoner in a dungeon but is released and brought to the castle for this Christmas celebration; Richard (Anthony Hopkins) is Eleanor's choice to inherit the throne; John (Nigel Terry) is the whiny youngest son who insists that he's Daddy's favorite and therefore the crown will automatically be his; Geoffrey (John Castle) is the son lost in the middle who thinks his parents hate him; Phillip II (Timothy Dalton) is French royalty who is the son of Henry's oldest friend and good friend to Richard who is after the Aquitaine, the large,valuable parcel of land that belongs to Eleanor and Alais (Jane Merrow) is Henry's mistress who has been promised in marriage to Richard in order to distract him from the throne.

James Goldman won an Oscar for his brilliant adaptation of his own play for the screen, which beautifully expands the story beyond the confines of a stage and makes this movie look like an actual movie. Though the characters here are actual historical figures, this story and the events presented within are fictional. This movie also fascinates with its often bristling humor and sophisticated wit that actually provides the occasional chuckle to a story that, on the surface, is very serious. Goldman's screenplay is rich with humor and humanity and never talks above its audience, the way Shakespeare sometimes does, but does provide a Shakespearean atmosphere to the proceedings that requires attention from the viewer that is rewarded in spades.

It is the relationship between Henry and Eleanor that fuels this drama, a relationship unlike anything I have ever seen. It was rather unsettling that the first glimpse we get of Eleanor is in a dungeon and even more unsettling to learn that she is only released from her prison on holidays. Henry and Eleanor are explosive and venomous and are acutely aware of each other's achille's heels and know how to hurt each other, but no matter how vicious the mud that is slung between them becomes and it becomes quite ugly at times, there is love between these two people that politics and time and jealousy cannot erase.

Director Anthony Harvey has mounted this sizzling story with a great deal of care and respect for the project applying first rate production values, including beautiful cinematography, art direction/set direction and costumes and John Barry won an Oscar for his magnificent music. Peter O'Toole was robbed of a Best Actor Oscar for his ferocious and funny Henry and with her delicately nuanced Eleanor of Aquitaine, Katharine Hepburn became the third actor to win back to back lead Oscars and the first actor to win three lead actor Oscars. She was also part of the first ever tie in the category, sharing the Oscar with Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl. Hopkins and Dalton are solid and show a glimmer of the actors they would become, but it's the work of Harvey, Goldman, O'Toole, and Hepburn that make this movie appointment viewing. The movie was remade for TV in 2003 with Glenn Close as Eleanor and Patrick Stewart as Henry.



I'm really surprised you liked The Lion in Winter, it doesn't seem like something you usually would watch, but cool that you liked it. I respected it, more than I liked it, I reviewed it and rating it a little lower than you. I had a hard time follow the dialogue. It was really well written and performed.



The Professor
A bold and colorful screenplay and a delightfully unhinged performance by Johnny Depp in the title role are the primary selling points of a 2018 comedy-drama called The Professor which unintentionally evokes the style of other writers and directors but said style manifests itself in the film's own untarnished originality.

Depp plays Richard Brown, a married college professor with a teenage daughter who has just been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and with six months to a year to live, decides to toss conventional living out the window and do exactly what he wants until the disease takes him. He starts by weeding the students out of his class who don't want to be there and then telling his wife, Veronica, that they no longer need to continue living the lie that is their marriage and that they can do what they want as long as they don't hurt their daughter.

An unknown director and writer, Wayne Roberts, shows real promise as a filmmaker here, mounting a story that unfolds before us completely without filter. Roberts' screenplay has the absurdist sense of Edward Albee and the cringe-worthy frankness of Woody Allen's darker work. His direction brings to mind people like Wes Anderson and David Fincher, producing arresting visual images and nervous laughter that could produce guilt with the viewer wondering whether or not they really should be laughing.

This is the first movie in a long time where, despite the personal hell that Richard is going through, is the first movie character in a long time who I actually envied and wished I was. I loved the idea of abandoning all conventions of life and doing exactly what I want, particularly things that I have never done before and I love that Richard tastes a lot of forbidden fruit here that never would have occurred to him if he hadn't gotten sick. I was a little troubled by the fact that he doesn't tell his wife and daughter about his illness until the final act. I was shocked that his wife learns the news at a college function, along with 30 other people. This is the only thing that Richard does in the movie that I couldn't get on board with. The scene where he tells his daughter did have me fighting tears.

Depp gives one of his most fascinating performances in the title role, can't remember the last time I've enjoyed Depp onscreen this much. There is solid support from Rosemarie DeWitt as Richard's wife, Danny Huston as his BFF, and Zoey Deutch as one of his students. For an independent feature, the film boasts first rate production values and I'm looking forward to seeing what's next for this talented new filmmaker named Wayne Roberts.



The Lady Eve
My first exposure to the genius that was Preston Sturges was a delicious comic romance called The Lady Eve that features a sharp screenplay and a cast of pros at the top of their game.

Henry Fonda plays Charles, a milquetoast who has a passion for studying snakes and is also the heir apparent to a brewery empire, who is targeted by a trio of card sharks and con artists who plan to bilk the guy out of as much money as he can. The plan gets messy when the female member of the trio, Jean (Barbara Stanwyck) falls for Charles and he falls just as hard as she does. Unfortunately, Charles learns who Jean really is and they decide to part ways. Jean feels burned and wants revenge on Charles and shows up at the home of Charles' family pretending to be a titled English aristocrat named Lady Eve in an attempt to torment Charles, but he just falls in love with her all over again.

Sturges has constructed a slapstick comic romance that hearkens back to comedies like Bringing up Baby where the lady is holding all the cards (so to speak) and easily manipulates the man into one embarrassing situation after another. Of course, there is a plot point here and there that I found it difficult to reconcile. I had a hard time accepting that once Jean arrives at Charles' home pretending to be Lady Eve, that he actually believes lady Eve is who she says she is. The only difference between Jean and Eve is an English accent and it made no sense that Charles didn't recognize her. I was sure he was just pretending not to recognize her but that turned out not to be the case. Eve's confession scene to Charles on their honeymoon train was absolutely hysterical.

The chemistry between Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda is a big plus here and loved the way Fonda played the comedy with such a straight face, which made everything he did even funnier. I loved his pratfalls during the dinner party that caused him to change clothes three times. Charles Coburn and Eugene Pallette steal every scene they're in as Jean and Charles' fathers. The film also features first rate set direction and Stanwyck is draped in some gorgeous drop dead gowns by the one and only Edith Head. Despite some minor plot holes and some dated elements, this one still holds up.



Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget For the Rest of Your Life
It seems that the curse of Netflix has no effect on true comedy icons, evidenced in a 2018 concert called Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget the Rest of Your Life, an evening of song and laughter that pretty much had me rolling on the floor for most of the running time.

Broadcast live from the Peace Theater in Greenville, South Carolina, this magical evening begins with Martin giving us false starts on introducing Short who keeps having to run on and offstage several times, which leads right into the expected jabs at each other about their respective careers. Loved when Short described Martin as a drawing in a coloring book that hadn't been colored in yet. We are then treated to childhood photos of both stars with the expected biting commentary, sometimes commenting on their photos and sometimes commenting on the other guy's photos. One photo of Short motivates Martin's quip: This photo is proof to me that anyone can make it."

My favorite part of the evening was when the guys sat in chairs and shared stories of encounters with famous people, with fans, and stories about their families' reactions to their fame. Short shares a great story about Frank Sinatra that allowed him to do several impressions while Martin talks about his 1970 meeting with Elvis Presley. Short also shares a hysterical story about how he created an SNL character based on the show's makeup lady who had no idea the character was based on her. Memories were also shared from the first movie they made together, The Three Amigos.

As expected, some of the funniest moments in the concert were unplanned and unscripted, which is OK because these are two guys who have never needed a script to produce laughs. The rapport and respect that these guys have for each other comes shining through during this show. The only two guys I've ever seen do comparable work as a team were Tim Conway and Harvey Korman. We also get a glimpse of Short's Jimminy Glick, who offers stinging jabs at today's political figures.

I was also pleased that the show allowed the stars to show off their often forgotten musical talent. Short does a ridiculously funny number that he claims he sang in a religious musical that he did off-Broadway. Of course, Martin breaks out the banjo, but his introduction of the Steep Canyon Rangers to back him up went on a little too long, but a tiny misstep in a pretty dazzling evening of song and laughs.



The Old Maid (1939)
A grand old fashioned melodrama in the truest sense of the word, The Old Maid is a moving and weepy soap opera that got lost in the shuffle of being released during the golden year of movies, but for fans of the genre, it doesn't get much better than this.

The story begins shortly before the Civil War where we are introduced to Delia Lovell (Miriam Hopkins), a flighty bride to be who learns that her ex-fiancee, Clem Spender (George Brent) has returned to town, on Delia's wedding day, after two years and expects to pick things up with Delia right where they left off. Delia doesn't want to see Clem and is surprised when her cousin, Charlotte (Bette Davis) agrees to meet Clem off at the pass at the train station. Charlotte is unable to hide an attraction that she has always had to Clem but is unable to stop him from confronting Delia. Clem can't stop Delia from marrying Jim Ralston (James Stephenson) so he leaves town and Charlotte impulsively follows him leading to a brief romance that produces a daughter. Clem then goes off to the war but dies on the battlefield.

Delia wants to protect Charlotte from the shame of being an unwed mother, so she agrees to raise Charlotte's daughter, Tina, as her own and has Charlotte move in as well, telling Tina that she is her Aunt Charlotte. Years pass and Tina comes to love Delia as her mother and resent Charlotte's interference in her life as a meddling spinster aunt, something which Delia really does nothing to discourage, but as Tina grows up and begins making her own wedding plans, Charlotte longs to claim her daughter as her own.

This film is based on a Pulitzer Prize winning play by Zoe Akins that opened on Broadway in 1935 and starred Judith Anderson as Delia and Helen Mencken as Charlotte. The play has been beautifully expanded for the screen and is just the kind of melodrama that movie audiences were clamoring for in 1939. Caught in the right frame of mind, this one can play havoc with the viewer's emotions because it is often torturous watching poor Charlotte bursting to tell her daughter the truth and not being able to, further aggravated by the fact that Delia relishes Tina treating her like the mother and Tina making it clear at every opportunity that Aunt Charlotte will never be her mother. There were moments where I wanted to slap Tina, she reminded of Veda in Mildred Pierce. The story is dated now because the stigma of being an unwed mother doesn't exist anymore, but during the 1860's it makes perfect sense.

The story is still strong and is further strengthened by the charismatic performances by Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins in the starring role. Davis, as expected, is particularly impressive in another role where her character ages during the story and the actress is playing well beyond her years. The transition that Davis makes from the passionate wild child at the beginning of the film and the bitter and hardened spinster that she becomes is a joy to behold. Davis received an Oscar nomination the same year for her performance in Dark Victory, but her performance here is Oscar-worthy as well, a one woman acting class.

I was also thrilled that the eternally wooden George Brent's role in this film was brief. Donald Crisp and Jerome Cowan offer solid support, but Davis and Hopkins keep this one on sizzle. Sadly, being released the same year as Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and many other classics probably kept this film getting the attention it deserved.



A Hard Day's Night
Once upon a time a long time ago, there were four musicians from Liverpool, England named John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr who formed a rock and roll band called The Beatles and changed the face of music forever. On February 9, 1964, they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and were suddenly the biggest stars on the planet. It wasn't long before Hollywood came calling, wanting their cut of this cash cow and the result was what was basically the first ever music video, a little something called A Hard Day's Night.

Under the direction of a practically unknown director named Richard Lester, moviegoers were treated to a fictionalized look at two days in the life of the group as they travel by train to London for an important television appearance. On the train they encounter Paul's grandfather (Wilfred Brambell), a nutty old geezer who is baffled by the boys' sudden fame but is not above cashing in on it when he can either.

Screenwriter Alan Olun actually received an Oscar nomination for his slightly exaggerated look at this musical phenomenon that turned the entire music industry on its ear and had teenager girls all over the world going out of their minds. Olun takes a very slender plot thread of the boys getting ready for a big show and looking out for Paul's grandfather into a breezy, free-form look at celebrity obsession and how these boys attempted to understand and embrace it at the same time, effectively framed by the Beatles' incredible music.

The unabashed fun and joy in this film lies in its simplicity...there is no attempt to produce some kind of elaborate musical extravaganza here with complex plotting and sophisticated characters. Lester and Olun make no attempt to turn the boys into actors...they do give them lines to memorize which they do and with the aid of some imaginative staging, let the boys' personal appeal and their incredible music do all the work.

Lester lets us know what we're in for from the very opening scene which features the boys being chased to the train station by thousands of screaming girls, while the title tune fills the audio. There's no attempt at realistic transitions into musical numbers here either. There's one scene near the beginning of the film where grandpa and the boys are on the train in a sleeping car and, in the blink of the eye, all of sudden, all of their instruments just magically appear in the train car so they can perform a song on the train...with two teenage girls watching with their nosed pressed against the glass of the car.

Of course, the classic songs on display here will conjure up all kinds of memories for those of us old enough to remember the sensation that was the Beatles. In addition to the title tune, we are also treated to "Tell Me Why", "And I Love Her", "Can't Buy Me Love", "If I Fell", and "I Should Have Known Better". A movie musical curio from an era in music and movies that's gone forever but shouldn't be forgotten. This movie was all kinds of fun.



Wildlife
Actor Paul Dano steps behind the camera for the first time and hits a bullseye as the director and co-screenwriter of a scorching 2018 drama called Wildlife, an emotionally charged drama about a teenager watching his family implode before his eyes and being powerless to do anything about it. This one had me talking back at the screen.

This edgy and challenging story is set in Great Falls, Montana in 1960. Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal) is married to Jeanette (Carey Mulligan), has a 14-year old son named Joe (Ed Oxenbould). and works as a maintenance man at the local golf course. Jerry is fired from his job for "being overly familiar with the customers", but a few days later, the golf course offers to take him back, but his pride won't let him go back. Jerry doesn't put a lot of effort into getting another job, but Jeanette immediately gets a part time job teaching swimming at the Y. Joe also gets a job as a photographer's assistant. Eventually, Jerry accepts a job in the mountains battle some dangerous brush fires which pays $1.00 an hour.

Jerry's absence from the house seems to release Jeanette's inner tramp, who almost immediately drifts into an affair with one of her swimming students, an older wealthy businessman who is separated from his wife. Jeanette puts a little effort into concealing the affair from Joe and though he is not fooled, he can't be honest with his mother about what she's doing nor the fact that watching his family implode is killing him on the inside.

Dano and co-screenwriter Zoe Kazan have crafted a textured story that initially presents what appears to be a picture perfect family, a glossy veneer that is peeled away methodically as Jerry's alleged laziness about getting another job subtly begins revealing backstory that we don't see coming. It becomes clear pretty quickly that this marriage has bee a sham for a long time and that Jerry and Jeanette have worked pretty effectively to shield from Joe, but once Jerry's gone, Jeanette decides to stop pretending that her life is what she wants it to be, often leaving her son out in the cold. There's a scene after Jerry gets fired where Joe discovers his dad is sleeping on the sofa and it is obvious from Jerry's lack of concern at being seen that this absolutely not the first time in his marriage that he has slept on the couch.

Dano's direction is intense and arresting, putting some really ugly behavior and its heartbreaking consequences center stage through this icy and bitter woman who has been screaming on the inside for years and is not going to do it anymore. Dano shows a real skill with the steady cam as it follows Joe through the darkened hallways of his home trying to figure out what his mother is doing.

Dano also pulls solid performances from his cast. Gyllenhaal makes the most of his role as Jerry and Ed Oxenbould is a revelation in a star making turn as young Joe, but the real story here is the powerhouse performance from Carey Mulligan as Jeanette. I've only seen two other performances of her, but I have never seen her command the screen the way she does here. This is a performance of brass and balls and fire that makes it impossible to take your eyes off of her. This performance is fascinating because Mulligan creates a character who you never know at any point in this movie what the character is thinking. On the other hand, a lot of the character comes through in Mulligan's body language...Jeanette's moves tell us so much more about her than her dialogue. This performance reminded me of Jessica Lange in her prime. I think her work here is Oscar-worthy and am surprised she was overlooked. As I look over last year's nominees, I would have nominated Mulligan over Melissa McCarthy or over Lady GaGa. This movie had my stomach tied up in knots, talking back to the screen and credit must go to Dano who makes a seriously impressive debut as a filmmaker.



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Mr. Holland's Opus
A terrific Oscar-nominated performance by Richard Dreyfuss notwithstanding, 1995's Mr. Holland's Opus is a pretentious, predictable, and fatally overlong epic about another dedicated teacher featuring a cliched screenplay that brings nothing new to the "dedicated teacher movie" cinematic table.

We are introduced to Glenn Holland during the turbulent 1960's, a composer who reluctantly takes a position as the music teacher at a high school in order to pay the bills and the so-called "profound effect" he has on his students and vice versa, that actually plays into the 1990's when the music program at the school gets eliminated due to budget cuts and Holland loses his job after 30 tears.

This is another one of those movies that scores in terms of intentions but ultimately loses the moviegoer with Patrick Sheane Duncan's cliched and manipulative screenplay which finds our hero casting magical spells over every single student he comes in contact with, even though his heart is allegedly not in it. I had to bust out laughing when one of clarinet students, who couldn't play four measures of music without squeaking, returns at the end of movie where it is revealed she is now the governor. The story also loses points when it is revealed that Holland's teaching did not leave him enough time to learn how to sign properly in order to communicate with his deaf son. This is did not endear me to the character at all.

Every single dedicated teacher cliche you've seen in the movies in the past 50 years gets recycled here...there's the lecture from the school principal (Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis) about resenting people who consider teaching "something to fall back on", saving the school wrestling hero (Terrance Howard) from losing his spot on the team by teaching him how to play the bass drum to the pretty and talented soprano (Jean Louisa Kelly) who gets a crush on Mr. Holland, but that doesn't stop her from boarding a bus to New York at Holland's encouragement. This kind of stuff was addressed way back in 1967 with To Sir with Love and was done much better in that movie.

Stephen Herek, whose directorial credits include Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and Critters seems to be a little out of his element here. The direction is heavy-handed and manipulative and the film definitely tries to cover too much territory, evidenced in a lack of continuity that manifested itself in one major goof that I noticed: there's a scene where Holland's wife, Iris (the late Glenne Headley) is checking the program of the Gershwin revue her husband mounted because she wants to see the name of the pretty soprano and the program says that the girl's theater credits included "The Wiz", a musical that features an all-black cast. Jean Louisa Kelly is not black. This documented for me that Herek was just out of his element here.

On the positive side, Dreyfuss is absolutely superb in the only performance of his to earn an Oscar nomination outside his win for The Goodbye Girl and I have to credit Dreyfuss for doing his homework here. He was very convincing as a musician and especially as a conductor. His conducting was on the money and far superior to JK Simmons' conducting in Whiplash. I was also impressed with William H. Macy as the tight-assed Vice Principal and Joseph Anderson as his teenage deaf son, but I can't recall the last time I had such high expectations for a movie and was more disappointed.



Frankie and Johnny (1966)
Elvis Presley got the big budget treatment in Frankie and Johnny, a colorful and lavish period spectacle that re-thinks the classic song.

In this film, Johnny is a riverboat singer and compulsive gambler who is in love with showgirl Frankie (Donna Douglas), but thinks sultry readhead Nellie Bly (Nancy Kovack) brings him luck at the roulette table. Johnny's pal Cully writes a song about Frankie and Johnny which is turned into an elaborate production number on the riverboat that an important producer catches one night and offers to take the show to Broadway, but Johnny finds that gambling is the only way to earn enough money to get him and Frankie to New York, but he only thinks he can do it if Nellie is standing next to him when he places the bet.

This movie was actually a lot more fun that i thought it was going to be. I had heard the song for decades ever since I was a kid and couldn't imagine how this song could be fashioned into a full length movie, but screenwriter Alex Gottlieb has taken the story beyond the simple romantic triangle from the song. In this story, the third part of the triangle is really Johnny's gambling and Nellie is only using Johnny to make Braden (Anthony Eisley), the owner of the riverboat jealous because he's the man she really loves.

Director Frederick DeCordova seems to have been afforded a pretty big budget here because the film is expensively mounted with some impressive settings and gorgeous costumes, which do give the film an air of importance I'm not sure it deserves, but the visual bling provided here is definitely an asset.

As always with Elvis movies, the score is unremarkable, but Elvis always had a way of making the score work and this move is no exception. Highlights include "Come Along", "Shout it Out", "Look Out Broadway", "what Every Woman Lives for" and a mashup of "Down by the Riverside" and "Amazing Grace."

Elvis also had a stronger cast than unusual behind him. About five seasons into her role as Elly May on The Beverly Hillbillies, Donna Douglas found time to play Frankie and held her own against the Pelvis, the first time I have ever seen her play anyone but Elly Mae. The leads get terrific support from Harry Morgan as Cully, Audrey Christie as his wife, Robert Strauss, and Sue Ane Langdon in a scene stealing performance as a showgirl named Mitzi. It's a little slow in spots, but there's fun provided.



Ben is Back
Writer director Peter Hedges and his son Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges (Manchester By the Sea), collaborate for the first time with a balanced and unflinching look at the disease of addiction called Ben is Back that takes a couple of illogical detours along the way, but for the most part, is superbly acted look at the consequences of addiction, primarily the trust an addict often loses permanently.

Lucas Hedges plays Ben, a young man who has arrived home on Christmas Eve, fresh out of rehab, with 77 days clean, wanting to be with his family. Stepfather Neal (Courtney B. Vance) thinks it's too soon for Ben to be home but his mom, Holly(Oscar winner Julia Roberts) is willing to allow him to stay for Christmas as long as he doesn't leave her sight for the entire time he is there. Things go relatively smoothly until the family returns home from the Christmas service at church and find the Christmas tree knocked over and the family dog missing.

Quick research revealed that this film wasn't exactly autobiographical, but Peter Hedges' screenplay is a compilation of experiences he has had with people in his life who were addicts, including the late Philiip Seymour Hoffman. I suspected the autobiographical slant because what Hedges has given us here is a frighteningly accurate and surprisingly balanced look at addiction from all angles. We see a family that wants more than anything to trust the addict who feels like he's riding on a pink cloud after 77 days clean, but it's revealed pretty quickly that once this trust is lost it is never completely regained. I loved that the minute it is decided that Ben is going to be allowed to stay that the first thing Holly does is go upstairs and hide all her medication and all her jewelry.

There were a couple of plot points that were a little difficult for me to completely reconcile. I question the validity of Ben taking those drugs from that addict he met at the meeting. His intentions were golden, but I don't buy that just held onto those drugs long enough for his mother to find them on him. I also found it hard to swallow that a drug dealer owed money would break into a person's house and not take anything but the family pet and knock over the Christmas tree, but these were small points that I decided not to let me be deterred from the big picture, which was pretty much, dead on.

Julia Roberts is nothing short of superb as the mother who wants more than anything to believe that her son is a different person and every scene has her belief challenged. Hedges offers another Oscar-worthy performance in the title role and Courtney B. Vance is nicely controlled as the very patient stepdad. It's no musical comedy and those who know nothing about addiction will probably not be able to invest in it the way addicts and people who love addicts will, but for that demographic, this one hits a bullseye.



Gold Diggers of 1933
Released the same year as the classic 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933 surpasses that film thanks to a much meatier story that never gets in the way of those incredible production numbers from mad genius Busby Berkley.

Carol (Joan Blondell), Trixie (Aline MacMahon), Polly (Ruby Keeler), and Fay (Ginger Rogers) are four unemployed showgirls who live next door to an aspiring songwriter named Brad (Dick Powell). Producer Barney Hopkins (Ned Sparks) has an idea for a new show, but no money. Brad mysteriously agrees to back the show upon the conditions that Polly be given a leading role and that Brad doesn't appear onstage. Trixie and Carol discover a story about a crime that leads them to suspect that the money Brad puts up for the show is stolen and that's why he doesn't want to appear onstage even though Barney insists that he do.

The male lead in the show gets sick and Brad does have to step into the show after all, much to the delight of Polly, who is nuts about the guy. It is then revealed the reason Brad didn't want to appear onstage is that he's from a very wealthy family who think show business is sinful and that show girls are ruthless parasites. Brad's older brother (Warren William) comes to New York with the family lawyer (Guy Kibbee) to talk Brad out of being in show business and marrying Polly. Big brother decides the only way to prove his point is to make Polly fall in love with him, but he ends up mistaking Carol for Polly and falls for her instead.

This movie was a delicious surprise that had me thoroughly entertained from opening to closing credits. This is one of the few early musicals where the story is front and center, instead of a bunch of musical numbers with dialogue inserted around them. The story actually leaves the confines of the Broadway theater at times, but still remains a completely theatrical story about the people who have no qualms about starving if it will aid in their road to becoming a star.

Of course, there are elements of the basic premise that look silly in 2019. Needless to say there is no way four unemployed women could afford a two bedroom apartment in Manhattan. We don't even see a landlord bothering them about the rent, though we do get to see a note slipped under their door reminding them and also glimpse Trixie stealing a bottle of milk from a neighboring apartment, but in 2019 these women would have been on the street, but this movie doesn't take place in 2019, thank God.

Busby Berkley's genius as a choreographer was in serious overdrive for the musical numbers. "We're in the Money" featuring Ginger Rogers singing in Pig Latin, features the entire set and all the costumes covered in coins; "Pettin in the Park" is probably the first musical number I've ever seen in a musical that actually features changes in the weather and the season during the number; and The Shadow Waltz features glow in the dark violins. And let's not forget the memorable finale, "Remember My Forgotten Man", led by Joan Blondell, a stunning tribute to the military which features a couple of hundred dancers on a set that would never fit in an actual Broadway theater.

The performances actually remain surprisingly fresh. Joan Blondell is a lot of fun and, of course, Dick and Ruby are adorable together, but it is Aline MacMahon who steals the show, in a performance that puts acclaimed wisecrackers like Eve Arden and Thelma Ritter to shame. It's so much fun when a film surpasses my expectations and this one definitely did. What a treat.



Gold Diggers of 1933

It's so much fun when a film surpasses my expectations and this one definitely did. What a treat.
Glad you liked it! It's one of my Top 10 movies on my profile.



Adam Sandler: 100% Fresh
After close to three decades of making us laugh on television and in the movies, Adam Sandler has returned to his stand up roots under the watchful eye of Netflix, but doesn't fall prey to the curse that Kevin Hart and Chris Rock did with his 2018 concert Adam Sandler:
100% Fresh
, which gives the traditional formatting of a comedy concerts a long overdue tweaking with very positive results.

An evening with Adam Sandler unplugged of course implies that nothing conventional should be expected and Sandler delivers on that promise. What Sandler has done here, with assistance from directors Steven Brill (who directed Sandler in Mr. Deeds and Little Nicky) and Nicholas Goossen and editors Tom Costain, Brian Robinson, and JJ Titone, have taken film from Sandler's recent cross country tour and seamlessly edited portions of several concerts into one piece of film. Since Sandler pretty much performs the same material at each concert, the only way they viewer can discern that they're watching material from different performances is the fact that Sandler is seen in different clothes throughout.

There is even a snippet of Sandler performing, initially undetected, in a New York subway station. He's wearing a hoodie and shades and is not immediately recognizable so a lot of people are observed passing through the subway thinking they are being serenaded by some crazy homeless person and just go on about their business. But eventually, people notice the camera equipment and figure out what's going on and get their own private show with "The Sandman."

The other thing that sets Sandler's comedy apart from most other comics is his music and the off-the-wall songs that had these audiences on the floor with laughter. The genius of these songs, even though he is flawlessly accompanied on keyboard by Dan Bulla, it is often hard to tell if these songs are actually rehearsed or if Sandler is making them up off the top of the head, because they follow no normal song structure and often don't rhyme where they are supposed to. I loved a song called "Everybody knows a Guy Who" and what I will call "The Candy Rap", a patter song where he rattles off the name of every candy in candy history. I lost it when the introduction for one song began and he asked the audience to clap along and almost immediately said, "No, never mind, stop that, I hate it." Sandler also offers the touching vocal tribute to his pal, the late Chris Farley, that he performed on SNL a couple of months ago. For Sandler fans, this is appointment viewing.