Gideon58's Reviews

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Just Mercy
The screenplay is a little on the preachy side, but the 2019 fact-based drama Just Mercy is a well-acted, if emotionally manipulative look at redneck justice and its often complete disregard of real justice that aroused emotion in this reviewer and that emotion was pure anger.

This is the story of Bryan Stevenson, an idealistic young Harvard law school graduate who has decided to concentrate his practice on people already on death row. He moves to Monroeville, Alabama where he finds himself defending a black death row prisoner known as Johnny D, who has been convicted for the murder of an 18 year old white girl. It is this case that motivates Stevenson to create his own legal services corporation known as the Equal Justice Initiative.

Director and co-screenwriter Destin Daniel Cretton (The Glass Castle) has mounted a true story that angers almost immediately because it shows how blatant racism can so quickly lead to miscarriages of justice. The story establishes Johnny D's innocence in the opening scene and we watch in horror as an innocent man actually finds himself on death row for a crime he didn't commit.

The story also angers because Stevenson arrives on the scene and destroys the credibility of the conviction with economy and efficiency but can't get anywhere trying to get his client a new trial because these people just don't want to admit that they might have made a mistake. Of course this is another film, where the concept of racism is driven home with a sledgehammer...I was disgusted by the scene where Bryan visits his client for the first time and is subjected to a strip search. I have never, in fact or fiction, seen an attorney strip searched before being allowed to see a client, not to mention the unwarranted traffic stop by police on Bryan's way home after confronting the DA. These two scenes alone had my blood boiling and Stevenson's overlong journey to justice kept it on boil.

This docudrama does not shed a flattering light on the Alabama justice system who absolutely refuse to accept the fact that they have sent an innocent man to death row. The dialogue is a little on the cliched side, but we are able to forgive for the most part because it is so well acted. Michael B. Jordan proves to be an actor of substance taking on the Stevenson role and Oscar winner Jamie Foxx brings his usual quiet strength to Jimmy D. Film editing and music are a big plus, but I wish Cretton hadn't been so overheated with his direction and trusted the story being told here, a lot of which is justified in the epilogue, which made me a little less angry about what I had just witnessed.



Stripes (Director's Cut)
The second collaboration between zany Bill Murray and director Ivan Reitman was the 1981 comedy Stripes which does provide some laughs, but hasn't aged very well.

Murray plays John Ringer, a restless schlub who has lost his job, his car, his apartment, and his girlfriend. Lured by a couple of commercials glamorizing the life, John decides the solution to changing his life is to join the army. He also manages to talk his best friend Russell Ziskie (the late Harold Ramis) into joining as well. Commencing basic training, Ringer immediately finds himself in a battle of wills with his drill sergeant, Sergeant Hulka (the late Warren Oates).

This was not my first viewing of this film, but despite Bill Murray consistently bringing the funny as he always does, this film wasn't nearly as funny as I recalled. The film actually starts off extremely funny, but gets less and less funny as it moves along, not to mention a definite lack of realism. If you're looking for a realistic yet funny look at life in the military, you would be better to check out MASH or even Private Benjamin because this film really doesn't contain anything approaching the neighborhood of credibility.

The beginning scenes establishing the character of John Ringer are actually the funniest part of the movie. Once John and Russell actually get to the army, the laughs begin to decrease, though the scene where the recruits are sitting around introducing each other is pretty funny. On the other hand, this is where the strongest part of the film kicks in: the comic conflict between Ringer and Sergeant Hulka, a character brilliantly brought to life by Warren Oates. This is the strongest part of the movie and if the screenplay had concentrated more on this relationship, this film could have been right up there with another Murray/Reitman collaboration called Ghostbusters, but the story abandons Hulka at the halfway point and concentrates on turning this group of losers into credible soldiers, but we never really buy it.

This was my first viewing of what I believe was the director's cut, since there were three or four scenes that I had never seen before, including a somewhat funny parachuting out of a plane that found Murray and Ramis confronting some South American soldiers and another scene in a hotel in Germany that seemed to be inserted as a way to get leading lady PJ Soles out of her clothes.

Murray is comic gold, as always, and works well with Ramis, who is never blown off the screen by Murray even though Ramis seems to be spend a lot of screentime trying to keep a straight face with Murray. The only other real laughs come from John Larroquette as Captain Stillman, who, a few years later would rack up five Emmys for playing Dan Fielding on the NBC sitcom Night Court. Murray is always worth watching, but this one isn't as funny as I remember.



Deep in the Heart of Texas: Dave Chappelle Live From Austin City Limits
Netfix accompanied angry genius Dave Chappelle back in 2017 when he ventured into the deep south for Deep in the Heart of Texas.

After an oddly surreal filmed opening narrated by Oscar winner Morgan Freeman, the angry genius of Dave Chappelle was unleashed on a standing room only audience at the Moody Theater in Austin, Texas bringing consistent laughs on myriad topics that have been broached by other comics, but Chappelle brings his polished and mature world view to the stage with his unparalleled storytelling skills. And I'm not sure why I feel the need to mention this, but I was actually surprised by the lack of black people in the audience...this audience looked more like an audience waiting to see George Carlin.

Never one for bringing the expected, Chappelle impresses with his choice of material and his non-choices as well. I found it so refreshing to watch a stand up comedian in the time we're living not have to mention Donald Trump. I was beginning to think that someone had passed a law that all comedians must spend at least ten minutes onstage dissing the President. The lack of political humor here was undeniably welcome.

On the other hand, another alleged law of stand up comedy was strictly adhered to as expected...but not really. Watching a black stand up talk about racism is definitely well-worn territory, but Chappelle puts a beautiful twist on the material that we're accustomed to from him with a beautifully crafted story about being hit with a snowball by four white teenagers in a vehicle that Chappelle brings to a fall-on-the-floor conclusion that no one saw coming that literally stopped the show. I also loved Chappelle's unfettered opinions regarding celebrity scandal and how nothing is sugar-coated. I cannot recall the last time I heard someone come right out and say that Michael Jackson was murdered by his doctor or coin the phrase "Bill Cosby rape". As uncensored as Chappelle's delivery is, it's also never really mean spirited. And nothing that ever comes out of his mouth is ever unplanned.

I've always found it interesting that, as a heterosexual male, homosexuality always seems to come up in his show at some point. His story about an old buddy from high school coming out to him was golden as were his singularly unique thoughts regarding picking his kids up from school and masturbation. Chappelle belongs on that very exclusive list I've composed of comics who everything they say is absolutely correct. Sometime the journey to the correct is longer than it needs to be, but the destination is always worth it.



The Awful Truth
One of the earliest examples of screwball comedy that seemed to shape and influence the genre was 1937's The Awful Truth, a deliciously unhinged and surprisingly sophisticated comedy that holds up thanks to Oscar-winning direction, some smart writing, and sparkling performances from its stars.

Irene Dunne and Cary Grant light up the screen as Lucy and Jerry Warriner, a pair of married Manhattan-nites who have becomes frustrated with each other's alleged lack of fidelity and impulsively decide to divorce. Before the divorce is finalized, Lucy finds herself romantically involved with a sweet-natured but goofy oil millionaire named Daniel Leeson (Ralph Bellamy) who lives with his mother, while Jerry becomes involved with a ditzy nightclub singer (Joyce Compton) and a wealthy but clinging heiress (Molly Lamont).

A surprisingly witty and sophisticated screenplay by Vina Delmar (based on a play by Arthur Richman) anchors the often silly goings-on here, introducing a couple who decide to divorce five minutes into the comedy, even though it is clear that these two still love each other. Love the fact that the entire story takes place before the divorce actually becomes final, reminding us throughout when the divorce becomes final. The day that Lucy and Daniel meet is 59 days before the divorce becomes final.

Leo McCarey won his first Oscar for Best Director for a seamless combination of outrageous physical comedy and stylish storytelling through body language and looks and glances that cleverly advance story without the aid of dialogue. Loved the courtroom custody battle for the Warriner's dog, Mr. Smith, as well as the nightclub singer's musical number, that I think might have influenced the famous subway grating scene in The Seven Year Itch.

Irene Dunne's enchanting performance as Lucy earned her an Oscar nomination as well, a performance that not only allowed her to utilize her comic skills, but her musical skills as well. Grant is style and sophisticated personified in a performance that reminded me of his work in The Philadelphia Story, but I must admit the real surprise here was a richly entertaining turn from Ralph Bellamy, never so charming onscreen before in a role that would define a lot of his film career and earned him his only Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Bellamy is so much fun here, in a role that actually allows him to sing, dance, and clown with the best of them. Bellamy's dance number with Dunne in the nightclub is definitely a comic highlight. Fans of films like It Happened One Night and The Philadelphia Story will definitely have a head start with this dazzling comedy classic.



Frozen II
It's a feast for the eyes and ears, but 2019's Frozen II is another victim of "Sequel-itis"...trying so hard to be bigger and better than the first film, that it bears little or no resemblance to the first film.

In this sequel to the 2013 film, Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel), Anna (voiced Kristen Bell), Kristoff (voiced by Jonathan Groff), Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad), and Kristoff's faithful reindeer steed Sven travel to an enchanted forest in order to save it but also encounter the origin of Elsa's powers in the process.

It's troubling when a sequel has to spend time rehashing the first film, but what's more troubling in a sequel is when it doesn't recall the first film in any way. Usually when watching a sequel, images from the first film will flash through my head, but nothing about the first film is recalled here. I would go as far to say that entertainment can be found in this film even if you never saw the first one and I'm not so sure whether or not that's a good thing.

Don't get it twisted though...there's a whole lot to enjoy here. The film is visually breathtaking, offering countless stunning cinematic photographs that rivet the viewer to the screen. The visually arresting look of this film is hard to resist; unfortunately, the story that accompanies the visuals is, as usual with contemporary Disney fare, overly complex and makes keeping up with what's going on a little taxing on the brain.

The film eventually becomes an overlong commercial for female empowerment, appropriate during "Me too" I suppose, but a primary theme of the first film was the love between these sisters, despite the fact that Elsa is initially introduced as almost the villain of the piece. The idea of the first film seemed to be that Elsa and Anna could accomplish anything as long as they work together. Sadly, in this film, Elsa strikes out her own and she and the other principals are separated for the majority of the running time, not to mention some hard to swallow obstacles to safety and freedom, including a large mass of rocks that come to life and start acting like transformers. The film remains a lot more entertaining when it remains simple. I loved the opening scenes of the sisters, Kristoff, and Olaf playing charades, something I had never seen animated characters do before.

I did love the Robert Lopez/Kristen Anderson-Lopez score, who also scored the first film, as well as CoCo. The highlights for me were "Some Things Never Change", "Show Yourself", "When I am Older" and the Oscar nominated "Into the Unknown", but if the truth be told, the musical highlight for me was a duet between Kristoff and Sven called "Lost in the Woods", mounted in the style of an old fashioned MTV music video, that stopped the show for me. As far as sequels go, there have been a lot worse, but there's enough going on here in terms of visuals and music to hold interest, but its lack of connection to the first film dilutes its power.



Hustlers
Despite expensive trappings and some interesting performances, 2019's Hustlers is an overheated, fact-based drama that never takes a true stand regarding how the viewer is supposed to feel about this often logic-defying story filled with holes.

The story begins in the early 2000's where we meet a young stripper named Destiny who is supporting her invalid mother and is taken under the wing of a veteran stripper named Ramona who is supporting a young daughter who make an extremely comfortable living taking advantage of the wall street big shots who frequent the club, Circa 2006/2007, a major wall street crash destroys the careers of these men. The big shots stop coming to the club and the women eventually find themselves unemployed. Feeling they have no other option, our heroines begin frequenting bars, taking guys home, drugging them, and maxing out their credit cards.

Director and co-screenwriter Lorene Scarfaria has mounted an unsavory and surprisingly ugly story that is a lot more complex than the movie's title implies, but confuses the viewer by having our sympathies for these ladies alter from scene to scene, one act condoning what they're doing and the next painting them like hardened criminals. It was troubling the way the story implied that these women had NO other options where pursuing new careers were concerned. There is one brief scene where Destiny is glimpsed during a job interview for a position in retail which was, I guess, meant to imply that these women made attempts at straight careers. I never really bought it.

There was just way too much going on in this story that was left unexplained. For instance, when Destiny and Ramona decide to start drugging these guys, instead of them purchasing drugs, we actually witness them cooking the drug themselves. How the hell would a couple of strippers know how to make a drug that would knock men unconscious and would not kill or cripple them? There are scenes of Ramona's crew getting themselves in some serious scrapes and Ramona being conveniently absent for no reason. Credibility really goes out the window when we see the women delivering an unconscious, naked male body to the hospital and drive away with no explanation or no attempt from hospital staff to question them about the body.

There's a point in the film where we see that there just might be some justice coming regarding what these women are doing and I loved the scenes where the four principal females are apprehended, but the scenes become meaningless when it is revealed during the epilogue that these women served no jail time. Actually, the fact that these women served no jail time seemed to negate the whole reason for telling this story onscreen.

Scarfaria does have a very sharp cinematic eye and gets a strong assist from film editor Kayla Empter, but this ugly, fact-based female empowerment statement never engages due the story's lack of commitment. There are eye-opening performances from Constance Wu as Destiny and especially Jennifer Lopez as Ramona, as well as cameos from Frank Whaley, Usher, Cardi B, and Lizzo, but Scarfaria never really takes a stand about what these women did and therefore it is impossible for the viewer to as well.



The Pink Panther (1963)
Even though he made his film debut in 1950, the late Peter Sellers didn't become an official movie star until he created the role of Inspector Jacques Clouseau in a sophisticated 1963 comedy called The Pink Panther, whose central character would become so popular that he would generate a movie franchise that would last almost three decades.

Clouseau is a bumbling French detective who travels to Switzerland when it is rumored that The Phantom, a world-renowned jewel thief, whose capture has become Clouseau's life work, will be arriving there in order to steal a rare diamond called the Pink Panther, owned by an exotic princess. Also after the diamond is Sir Charles Lytton, a dashing Englishman, who might be The Phantom, whose partners in crime appear to be his slick-talking son, George, and Clouseau's wife, Simone.

Director and co-screenwriter Blake Edwards has crafted a surprisingly sophisticated story that unfolds slowly, but not so slowly that audience attention is challenged, but eventually turns into an often improbable, but always extremely funny film, rich with elaborate physical comedy, that doesn't really provide a lot of roll-on-the floor laughter, but did have this reviewer grinning throughout the running time.

This film works thanks to Edwards' skill at mounting elaborate comic sequences and his casting of several actors working outside of their comfort zones. It also work because of the comic genius of Sellers, a master of physical comedy who is so funny that what is basically a supporting character, was spun off into seven more films starring Sellers.

David Niven is charming as Sir Charles as is a young Robert Wagner as his son, George. International beauties Capucine and Claudia Cardinale are appropriately decorative as Simone and the princess, respectively. Of course, Henry Mancini's music is a big plus here, including one of the most singularly recognizable theme songs in cinema history. In addition to the seven films with Sellers, animated TV shows and films were made featuring the animated panther in the opening credits and there was also a remake in 2006 with Steve Martin that generated a sequel. There was also a film made called Inspector Clouseau starring Alan Arkin that bombed because there was only one character born to play Clouseau and his original glory can be witnessed here.



Waves
It definitely deserves an A for effort and intentions, but 2019's Waves is a claustrophobic and disjointed tale of an imploding family that doesn't really deliver the story it has been marketing to the movie viewing public, and it doesn't help that it goes on forever.

Director and writer Trey Edward Shults shows real style and promise as a filmmaker with this allegedly intimate look at an affluent African American family who are in multiple phases of mid crisis as the story opens and then the story takes a shocking turn at the halfway point of the film that forces this family into varied stages of isolation, guilt, regret, and forgiveness from which they may never recover.

On the positive side, Trey Edward Shults displays a real filmmaker's eye here that makes the visual aspect of this film a distinct pleasure. His camera work is deliberate and intimate and puts the viewer right in the center of this story. His use of the steady cam is often inventive and, with the aid of co-film editor Isaac Hagy brings some startling originality to the circular camera technique, unlike anything I have ever seen. The style that Shults brings to the look of this film cannot be denied. I also like the fact that the African American family at the center of this story is well-off and that it is neither a symptom or cure for the problems they encounter.

Unfortunately, the disjointed screenplay makes for a very long and confusing journey that concentrates almost exclusively on one member of the family for the first half of the film and then takes a rather jagged look at the rest of the family trying to regroup from the events of the first half of the film, including an out-of-nowhere romance for the daughter that is overly detailed and just not very interesting, even if the new boyfriend is beautifully played by Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges. There are also a lot things that occur in this film, some are major plot points and some aren't, that were completely unrealistic happening to this African American family. And as much as I hate to say it, I think a lot of this had to with the filmmaker being white. I think Shults definitely tighten up this story. It had no business being two hours and fifteen minutes long...definitely found myself looking at my watch during this one.

There is some solid acting, especially a star-making turn from Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Tyler and Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown (This is Us) as the family patriarch, but this story is just too all over the place and goes on way too long.



The Muppets
The Muppets is a sweet-natured and funny throwback to Muppet movies of old that not only touches upon universal themes that we expect from the Muppets but effectively utilizes the rich history of this movie and television franchise to provide a new and entertaining story that will charm kids of all ages.

This 2011 comedy is about a muppet named Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) who travels to Los Angeles with his human brother Gary (Jason Segel) and Gary's longtime girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams) where they learn that a wealthy oil baron named Tex Richman (Oscar winner Chris Cooper) who is planning to tear down the Muppet television studio so that he can drill for oil. The Muppets learn they can buy back the studio for $10, 000,000, so Gary, Mary, Walter, and Kermit the Frog reunite the Muppets, who have gone their separate ways, so that they can have a telethon to raise the money.

Jason Segel and writing partner Nicholas Stroller (The Five Year Engagement) have constructed a story that not only references previous muppet movies but their classic television series that ran from 1976 to 1981. Segel and Stroller provide a story that utilizes all the characters we love, but features a central character connecting to his Muppet roots and pushes the 4th wall just enough that we never forget that we're watching a movie and makes no bones about it.

As expected, a muppet movie would not be complete with the on again off again romance of Kermit and Miss Piggy. The scenes of locating Miss Piggy at her fashion empire in Paris are very funny and as always, Miss Piggy steals any scene she's in.

The film features an infectious song score that is a perfect combination of Broadway style and contemporary soft rock songs that perfectly develop character and advance story. My favorite musical moments were a duet between Mary and Miss Piggy called Me Party and a duet between Gary and Walter called "Man Or Muppet". And I have to confess to a lump in the throat during a reprise of "The Rainbow Connection."

Like all muppet movies, the film is crammed with celebrities in supporting roles and cameos. In addition to Cooper, the film also features appearances from Alan Arkin, Emily Blunt, John Krazinski, Sarah SIlverman, Jack Black, Rashida Jones, Donald Glover, Zach Galifianakas, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, and, if you don't blink, you will even catch a glimpse of late show biz legend Mickey Rooney. Fans of the franchise will definitely find entertainment value here.



Wilson (2017)
Three-time Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson made the most of an acting showcase of a lifetime with Wilson, a 2017 comic character study whose unexpected and unmotivated detour into maudlin melodrama during its final third dilutes the sporadic quality of what we've seen up to that point.

Wilson is lonely, foul-mouth contemporary hermit who would rather have conversations on a bus with a stranger than connect with people who actually know him. The sudden death of his father sends him on a journey that finds him reuniting with his former addict/ex-wife Pippi, who confesses to Wilson that he has a 17 year old daughter that Pippi gave up for adoption at birth. Wilson becomes obsessed with finding his daughter and, upon doing so, goes to extreme lengths to connect with her and reunite his family.

Daniel Clowes' screenplay, based on his own graphic novel, gets off to a very amusing start by firmly establishing this singularly unique character who speaks and acts without filter to everyone, friends, family, and strangers. His often shocking behavior is hard to accept but we find ourselves siding with the character when he begins establishing a relationship with his daughter. Unfortunately, the film takes a dark turn during the final third where the story craps all over the central character and the humor of the story quietly begins to circle the drain, making the character's transition into an almost viable human being a little hard to believe, including an ending that wraps up in a way too neat little bow.

Director Craig Johnson (The Skeleton Twins) brings care and attention to the title character, but I wish he had collaborated more closely with screenwriter Clowes because it felt like there were portions of the story that were left off screen but maybe shouldn't have been. The point where the film turns to pure melodrama is also the point where it seems like parts of the story may have been deleted for the sake of running time but would have made what happens in the final third a little more logical.

Despite all the problems with the story, the gloriously flamboyant performance by Woody Harrelson does keep the viewer invested in what's going on. We never know what this guy is going to do or say and he somehow remains likable. This role is an actor's dream and Harrelson makes the most of it. This year's Best Supporting Actress winner, Laura Dern, is also terrific as Pippi and mention should also be made of a star-making performance by Isabella Amara as Wilson's daughter and a terrific cameo by Margo Martindale near the beginning of the film. The story definitely has its problems, but fans of Woody Harrelson will definitely find entertainment value. His performance upped the rating on this one half a bag of popcorn.



The Invisible Man (2020)
The 2020 re-imagining of the cinematic classic The Invisible Man is a taut and consistently suspenseful psychological thriller that I suspect looks at the original story from a different point of view that kept this reviewer riveted to the screen for most of the running time, despite some dangling plot points that I have still been unable to legitimize, but had to let them go in favor of the big picture.

Two weeks after escaping the home of her very wealthy and very abusive husband, Adrian, Cecelia learns that her husband has committed suicide. She learns that her husband left his $5,000,000 estate to Cecelia, but some bizarre events begin to occur that have only one explanation: that Adrian is still alive but has found a way to make himself invisible.

The original story upon which this film was based has a long and distinguished history. The original novel, written by HG Wells, was published in 1897 and first came to the screen in 1933 with Claude Rains in the title role. I've never read the novel or seen the story onscreen before, but research revealed that the original story centered on a scientist whose ability to become invisible has him spiral into insanity, but in this film, the focus is not on the scientist, who we learn is an expert in the field of optics, but on his wife, a logical shift of focus in our current "Me too" society, but most likely changes the tone of the original story.

Director and screenwriter Leigh Whannell has crafted a tricky psychological thriller that concentrates a little more on the psychological than the thrills, but there's certain things that happen here that confused this reviewer: Adrian is supposedly invisible and should have had complete control of his wife. Trapping her in one spot shouldn't have been an issue but she escapes from him at least half a dozen times. And with complete control of Cecelia, why was it necessary for so many innocent bystanders to die? He could have grabbed her once, thrown her in a basement and that would have been it. Not to mention the fact that why he does all this doesn't begin to justify his terror spree. And on Cecelia's side, why would she accept the $5,000,000 after her carefully executed escape during the opening scenes?

There are some effective red herrings thrown in to confuse us, primarily the character of Adrian's brother. His agenda changes from scene to scene and we never believe anything that comes out of his mouth, especiallhy his confession to Cecelia that he was as afraid of Adrian as Cecelia was. Every appearance the character makes keeps the viewers on his toes.

Whannell has employed first rate production values to bring this story to fruition, with special nods to art direction, film editing, and some dandy visual effects. Elisabeth Moss is extremely effective in the physically and emotionally demanding role of Cecelia, though I kept picturing Toni Collette in the role and Benjamin Wallfisch's brooding music score effectively frames the story. The movie definitely supplies its share of scares, but a few too many lapses in logic dilute its power.



Kevin Hart: Seriously Funny
Kevin Hart once again brings the funny in a hysterical concert from 2010 called Seriously Funny where Hart not only scores with proven material based in reality but taking tried and true stand up material and looking at it from a fresh point of view bringing very fresh laughs.

Filmed in front of a sold-out audience from Cleveland, Hart begins with one of his favorite topics from which he has always been able to mine laughs: his children. His story about hearing his daughter swear for the first time and his imitation of his son having a temper tantrum were very funny but it was during this portion of the show where, for the first time, I felt Kevin construct a definite wall of tension between himself and the audience. After the events transpired that prevented Hart from hosting the Oscars, it was not real surprising when he announced to this audience that one of his greatest fears is that his son might grow up gay. Fortunately, the story that followed supporting his fear was so funny that the tension in the air evaporated almost immediately.

Hart talks about a lot of subjects that many other stand ups do but he always manages to look at these tried and true subjects from an altered point of view. For example, a lot of comics like to talk about sex and relationships, but Hart breaks these subjects down into more detailed sub-topics and garners huge laughs doing so. His views on women expecting too much from men, women who don't like their men having fun when they're not around, and the art of storming out of the house after an argument were uniquely Kevin and produced huge laughs.

Something else I noticed about Hart during this concert that I hadn't really noticed before was his precise attention to the physicality that often accompanies the art of a joke or telling a funny story. The detail he put into an impression of an elderly gentleman preparing to start a car was too funny as was his impression of an uncle who had just been released from the prison and the prison was still inside him.

I was also surprised during the opening when Hart acknowledged the fact that Shaquille O'Neal and Lebron James were in the audience and then made fun of them near the end of the show. He even managed to justify making fun of them by admitting that he hurt his knee while doing it. Another winning evening of comedy from, arguably, the funniest stand up in America today.



The Banker
Like the 2016 factual drama Hidden Figures, The Banker is a story that should have been told decades ago about intelligent black people embroiled in another tale of racism, but it doesn't seem to be shoved down the viewer's throats the way it was in the 2016 drama.

This 2020 Apple original is a fact-based story of a financial genius and real estate developer named Bernard Garrett who teams with a streetwise nightclub owner and property owner named Joe Morris in order to purchase Los Angeles properties populated by whites, climaxing with the purchase of one of the largest banks in Los Angeles. Knowing they can't get anywhere trying to do what they're doing as blacks in the 1950's, they tap a young white handyman named Matthew Steiner to act as their front man in order to broker the deals with white corporate Los Angeles. Things go sour though when success goes to Bernard's head when he decides to return to his hometown in Texas and purchase the bank there.

Director George Nolfi, whose primary work has been as a screenwriter (The Bourne Ultimatum), has mounted an almost epic tale, told on a huge and inviting canvas that draws us in right away because, despite the fact that racism is the underlying theme of the story, it initially remains underlying as we watch Garrett and Norris build an empire
in Los Angeles, fully aware of how their black faces are going to prevent them from doing what they want to do and decide to use it to their advantage. The scenes of Garrett and Morris grooming young Steiner to be their front man are a lot of fun. It was very amusing that the first thing Morris decides they have to do is to train young Matt how to play golf, since so much business is conducted on the links.

This film fully puts us behind Garrett and Morris and their manipulation of Matt was such a refreshing thing to watch, but the second half of the film becomes a real yet compelling downer as not only do Garrett and Morris bite off more than they can chew, but success goes to Matt's head as well. It's sad watching what happens to these guys and the consequences of their actions are revealed during the epilogue. What's interesting is that no mention is made of consequences for Matt, who also becomes part of the slightly pat conclusion.

The film features handsome production values, including spectacular cinematography, film editing and a pulsing music score. Anthony Mackie gets the best role of his career as the serious Bernard Garrett and nails it, as does Samuel L. Jackson, offering his accustomed flashy turn as Joe Morris. Nicholas Hoult, who stole every scene he had in The Favorite, is appropriately sincere as Matt, once again proving his surprising versatility for such a young actor. The story is important because what happened to Garrett and Morris indirectly led to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which regulated discrimination in real estate because of race. For that reason alone, this film is appointment viewing.



Help!
John, Pail. George, and Ringo returned to the big screen for more cinematic hi-jinks in the 1965 comedy Help, which had more of an actual story than A Hard Day's Night but didn't have the reckless fun of the first film.

In this 1965 film, an ancient East Indian tribe is getting ready to sacrifice one of their princesses to the Gods when they realize the sacrificial ring she is supposed to be wearing is missing from her finger. We then learn that the princess sent the ring to Ringo after seeing the group in concert so the tribe goes after Ringo and employ some very extreme measures to get the ring back.

Richard Lester, who directed A Hard Day's Night, once again takes the director's chair for this comic romp which has more of a structured story than the first film, but still never takes itself too seriously, in a story that combines James Bond satire with Pink Panther-style slapstick comedy to provide pretty consistent laughs for most of the running time.

Lester makes no bones about the fact that this is a movie though, providing title cards and narration to keep the viewer abreast of going on. Though when it all comes down to it, the story is just an excuse to have the Beatles stretched across a 40-foot screen singing their hit songs and Lester makes no bones about it. When it's time for the boys to sing, the action comes to a dead halt and we get a mini-music video of the fab four performing one of their classic hits. My favorite was the mounting of "Ticket to Ride" which is gloriously filmed in the Swiss Alps.

Like the first film, Lester doesn't put any effort in teaching the guys how to act. He really didn't have to do because the fan base of the Beatles in 1965 were basically 15 year old girls who didn't care whether or not the guys could act. There are a couple of inside jokes thrown into the screenplay though regarding which one of the fab four is the most popular.

In addition to "Ticket to Ride", other Beatle classics on display here include "You're Gonna Lose That Girl", "I Need You", "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" and the classic title tune. The story almost gets in the way of the recklessness that we expect from the Beatles, but the guys seem to be enjoying themselves and fans of A Hard Day's Night will not be disappointed.



The Hurricane (1999)
The accustomed powerhouse performance from two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington raises the bar on 1999's The Hurricane, am elaborately mounted and overly-detailed look at the life of former middleweight boxing champion Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, who spent almost 20 years in prison for crimes he did not commit.

Carter's life is documented from his childhood to a life that found him in and out of prison until he was arrested for the murder of three people in a bar in is hometown of Paterson, New Jersey. While incarcerated, as a partial way of dealing with his ordeal, writes a book about his life. The book is discovered years later in a 25 cent bin by a barely literate black teen named Lesra, who is living in Canada with three white guardians. Carter and the boy correspond and eventually meet and then, with the help of his guardians, decide to prove Carter's innocence.

As one might expect, this is a story that is taught with racial tension and it has been put in the capable hands of veteran director Norman Jewison, who directed one of the greatest films ever centering around racial tension, 1967's In the Heat of the Night. Jewison efficiently keeps the racial tension as an undercurrent bubbling underneath the surface of what is really an often fascinating character study of a man who was so adamant about his innocence that he refused to live the life of a normal prisoner. He would not wear or eat what other prisoners did and would only sleep when the rest of the prison population was awake. These are, easily, the most interesting scenes in the film that give us insight into the principled and intelligent man Carter was.

Unfortunately, the final third of the film degenerates into a murky crime drama peppered with large doses of melodrama where we watch the Canadians prove Carter's innocence in 20 minutes, while police and courts refuse to budge in their decision since Carter was convicted in 2 different jury trials where the juries were all white. Needless to say, this makes for what is an often labored cinematic journey, but we are so behind Rubin by this time that we want to experience the outcome.

We patiently wait for the outcome because of the extraordinary performance by Denzel Washington in the title role that so rivets the viewer to the screen that we are able to forgive a lot of what is wrong with this movie. The supporting cast serve the story effectively, especially Liev Schreiber, Deborah Kara Unger, and John Hannah as the Canadian guardians, David Paymer and Harris Yulin as Rubin's lawyers and young Vicellous Reon Shannon as Lesra. There is also a classy cameo at the end of the film by Rod Steiger, who Jewison directed to a Best Actor Oscar in In the Heat of the Night. What we have here is two thirds of a really incredible film that is saved by its star.



Extract
The creative force behind the cult classic Office Space brings similar laughs to another black comedy called Extract that seems a lot better than it is thanks to a really terrific cast.

The 2009 film stars Jason Bateman as Joel, the owner of a flavor extract plant who is drowning in professional and personal crises including a cheating spouse, a possible lawsuit from an injured employee, and a sexy thief who he hires who starts stealing from his employees.

Mike Judge being the writer and director of this film is what attracted me to it in the first place because of my respect for Office Space. That workplace comedy was from the point of view of the employees and this one was more from a management point of view. The undercurrent of black comedy is still there, but this story just seemed a little safer and more steeped in realism than the other film.

Judge has given us a very likable character in Joel, the kind of everyman that Bateman can play in his sleep. We can't help but be amused as we watch the quicksand swallow him up and we want to see things work out for him, even though there are points during the story where that seems impossible.

Judge's budget seems to be relatively modest but it doesn't detract too much from what's going on. He has assembled a terrific cast to pull of this story though, including Oscar winner JK SImmons as his assistant manager, Kristen Wiig as his unfaithful wife, and Mila Kunis as the thieving con woman. Dick Koechner has some funny moments as an annoying neighbor and there's a terrific cameo from KISS's Gene Simmons as one of those obnoxious TV lawyers. Gary Cole (so memorable as the boss in Office Space) and the director also make cameos. The movie does provide some laughs, but there's an emptiness about them that makes this movie a little tedious at times.



Onward
Disney Pixar once again pulls into the winner's circle with Onward, an elaborate sword and sorcerer-type adventure wrapped in contemporary settings and sensibilities that explores universal themes approached with the imagination we have come to expect from Disney Pixar.

This 2020 animated gem is set in a contemporary fantasy suburb called Mushroomton where we meet a teenage elf named Ian (voiced by Tom Holland) and his older brother, Barley (brilliantly voiced by Chris Pratt)who are given the opportunity to spend 24 hours with their deceased father. In order for this to happen, the brothers must embark on a perilous journey in a broken down van to find something called the Phoenix Gem in order to bring their father back to them. Unfortunately, they are unaware that the gem also contains a curse that could harm the brothers and erase the chance to reunite with their father forever.

Director and co-screenwriter Dan Scanlon has come up with a story of perilous creatures, evil curses, and dangerous wizards and put them smack in the middle of a contemporary premise that we can all identify with. Ian is a geeky teenager who has not found his voice yet and is afraid of everything, including his smart-ass big brother who is fearless yet clueless and insensitive to his brother's feelings. The boys are confused about the fact that their elf mother (voiced by Julia Louis Dreyfuss) has a new boyfriend, a centaur who is a cop (voiced by Mel Rodriguez) but would still kill for a final 24 hours with their real father. The twist here is that even though Barley is the one who has all the passion and knowledge about the finding the gem, all the power to get to it has been given to Ian.

And that's what makes this movie so special, watching the evolution of the relationship between the two brothers and how the brothers affect positive change in each other. I love the portion of the story where Barley gets accidentally shrunk and must completely depend on Ian. Actually, Ian and Barley reminded me a lot of Barry and Adam on the ABC sitcom The Goldbergs. I love when the guys' encounter with a motorcycle gang of pixies as well as a traffic stop where the boys are suspected of driving drunk. The scenes of the guys flying down crowded contemporary roadways on their way to find a magical gem are a lot of fun.

As always with Disney Pixar, the film has a few too many endings and the twist that opens the final act we definitely don't see coming, but it's worth waiting for a finale that will definitely leave a lump in the throat. The animation is rich and colorful and the voice work superb, with standout work from Pratt, Louis Dreyfuss, and Octavia Spencer as The Manticore. Another fun-filled fantasy from Disney Pixar with a surprisingly contemporary flavor.



Christmas in Connecticut
An enchanting performance by Barbara Stanwyck is the center piece of a sparkling romantic comedy from 1945 called Christmas in Connecticut, an irresistible combination of sophisticated drawing room comedy and silly slapstick, not to mention a terrific supporting cast.

Stanwyck plays Elizabeth Lane, a magazine writer who has been presenting her life on paper as a wife and mother, who is an amazing cook living on a cozy farm in Connecticut. In reality, Elizabeth is unmarried, childless, and doesn't know how to boil an egg. She finds herself in hot water when the publisher of her magazine invites himself and a handsome war hero to spend Christmas at her farm.

In order to keep her job, Elizabeth agrees to marry John Sloan, a longtime admirer who she doesn't love, but happens to own a farm. She gets her friend, a restaurant owner named Felix, to accompany her to Connecticut to cook for her, but things become immediately messy when Elizabeth falls in love with the war hero the second she lays eyes on him.

Screenwriters Lionel Houser and Adele Comandini have created a sophisticated adult comedy that plays a little bit like an extended episode of I Love Lucy which finds the central character pretending to be someone else in order to save her job but doesn't count on actually falling in love. It's so much fun watching Elizabeth's plan to save her job go completely out the window when she actually falls in love, made all the more interesting by the fact that Elizabeth is a woman who has always been about her career and that romance has never been on her agenda. I loved Elizabeth dealing with her fake baby, always referring to her as "it."

Peter Godfrey's direction is brisk and energetic and gets wonderful performances from a willing cast. Stanwyck is beautifully understated in a role that could have become very silly, but Stanwyck keeps the character steeped in realism. Dennis Morgan is charming as the war hero and Sydney Greenstreet proves to be quite adept at comedy in his role as Elizabeth's boss. Reginald Gardiner is fully invested in the role of the fussy, self-absorbed John Sloan and SZ "Cuddles" Sakall steals every scene he's in as Felix the cook. Mention should also be made of Fredrich Hollander's music that practically narrates the story without intruding. Solid entertainment can still be gleaned from this delicious comedy that's 75 years old.



Earth Girls are Easy
The same year she gave her Oscar-winning performance in The Accidental Tourist, Geena Davis also starred in Earth Girls are Easy, a silly and dated comic fantasy with music that offers some imagination, but very little in terms of sense and realism.

This 1988 film finds Davis playing Valerie, a ditzy manicurist who lives in the Valley, who has just learned about her cheating doctor/fiancee then finds her life turned upside down when a spaceship containing three hairy aliens lands.

Julie Brown, who also plays Valerie's BFF and Charles Coffey must have co-wrote this silliness while on drugs because there's just a whole lot going on here that just doesn't make sense. I just didn't buy that Valerie took these aliens to the beauty salon where she works so that Brown can shave their hair off and they come out looking like Jeff Goldblum, Jim Carrey, and Damon Wayans. If their supposed to be aliens, who are different colors when we first meet them, why would they look human under the hair (not to mention that one of them is black)? We also have the expected scene of the aliens learning English after watching TV for ten minutes, but their knowledge of the language and of American pop culture seems to come out of nowhere. It was also aggravating watching poor Valerie still try to reconcile with the cheating doctor throughout.

And despite the fact that the film takes place in the 1980's, the entire Valley Girl/beach bunny motif that serves as the backdrop for this story just comes off as so dated in 2020. Some of the stereotyped characters that appear, like the stoned pool man played by Michael McKean, just come off as silly and unfunny now.

The film does contain a handful of songs written by Niles Rodgers and Julie Brown, that, for the most part, just seem to pad the running time. I did enjoy a production number on the beach, led by Julie Brown called "Cause I'm a Blonde", but a solo by Davis called "The Ground You Walk On" is badly dubbed and sounds canned.

On the positive side, Geena Davis is absolutely delicious in the starring role (and looks incredible), but her performance is grounded in realism and just didn't jive with the nuttiness surrounding her and Charles Rocket was very amusing as the cheating doctor. Davis creates a viable chemistry with Goldblum though. This was the second of three films they made together, which led to an offscreen romance and brief marriage. Carrey and Wayans just seemed to be trying to out-funny each other and because they're working so hard at it, neither of them really succeed. This is basically one of those projects that probably looked better on paper than what ended up onscreen.