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Gideon58's Reviews

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Cleanin' Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters
Fans of the 1984 instant comedy classic should be enthralled by a 2019 documentary called Cleanin' Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters

A former film editor and cinematographer named Anthony Bueno was the creative force behind this meticulously detailed look at the creation of the surprise box office smash of 1984 that revolutionized movie comedy, an intoxicating combination of improvisational comedy and state of the art special effects. Bueno and his wife, Claire, who co-wrote the screenplay, put 12 years into the making of this documentary

The documentary follows the film from conception, which is believed to have been Dan Aykroyd's idea, who reveals in this film that the idea for the ghostly comedy actually came from his grandfather, who was a psychologist who studied psychic phenomena. Original casting choices for the film were revealed. Murray, Eddie Murphy, and John Belushi were originally slated to play the three starring roles and John Candy was originally offered the role of Louis Tully.

The only other "making of" documentary that I've seen was a television special about the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark and I'm not sure why, but that documentary ruined that movie for me and I never had any desire to watch it again. The Buenos have enhanced the power and magic of the film instead of diluting it.

I was also impressed with the choices of some of the people that the Buenos chose to interview for the film. We are not only privy to interviews with Aykroyd, the late Harold Ramis, Sigorney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, William Atherton, and Annie Potts, we also get thoughts on the film making experience from Ann Drummond, who played the librarian in the opening scene, David Margulies who played the Mayor, Michael Ensign who played the hotel manager, and Jennifer Runyeon who was the college student in Murray's opening scene. It became apparent early on that we weren't going to hear from Bill Murray, which was a bit of a disappointment, but it didn't hurt the film.

What this documentary does nail is the extraordinary technology involved in bringing this comic classic to the screen and there's a whole lot of technical talk that spins the head at times, but, just as effectively, conjures up memories of this classic comedy, reminding us what a special film it was.

Five Easy Pieces
An explosive, raw nerve of a performance by the iconic Jack Nicholson anchors 1970's Five Easy Pieces, an off-beat and often humorous character study that poses a few more questions about the central character than it answers, but never fails to rivet the viewer to the screen.

Nicholson plays Bobby Dupea, a hard-drinking, womanizing, loose cannon who works on an oil rig and is feeling somewhat trapped in his relationship with a sweet and slightly ditzy waitress named Rayell. Bobby learns that his father has taken ill and reluctantly takes a road trip, accompanied by Rayell, to see his father, a trip where bits and pieces of Bobby's past come into focus, offering some insight into the man he is.

Bob Rafelson, who also collaborated with Nicholson on Head, The King of Marvin Gardens, and the '81 remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice, directed and co-wrote this scenic postcard character study that actual tells two different stories. The first story introduces us to this rebel without a cause Bobby who lives by the seat of his pants and with complete lack of filter. The second half of the film offers insight into what made the man we met in the first half of the film who he is.

We don't really understand a scene early on in the film where Bobby jumps on a truck on a crowded highway, finds a piano on the truck and starts playing. However, it is revealed later that Bobby was once a promising concert pianist and gave it up. His trip back home reveals some of the circumstances that may have led to the end of Bobby's musical career, but it is never really spelled out, leaving a lot of what happened to the viewer's imagination, which I suspect was not an accident.

This film did carve itself a niche in cinema history for one classic scene in which Bobby is in a diner having difficulty ordering an omelet and a side of wheat toast, but there is so much more to offer here as Nicholson gets to play the gamut of emotions here and nails them all. Watch the scene where he tries to keep his best friend (Billy Green Bush) from being arrested or his final conversation with his father, who is unable to speak. This scene definitely left a lump in my throat.

Nicholson's tour-de-force performance is a winning combination of humor and intensity that earned him the second of his career twelve Oscar nominations, his first for Outstanding Lead Actor. Karen Black earned the only Oscar nomination of her career as the vulnerable and broken Rayell. Also loved Susan Anspach as Bobby's sister-in-law and Helena Kallianiotes as a butch hitchhiker. There's even a brief appearance from All in the Family's Sally Struthers in an eye-opening performance. The film also features superb cinematography from the legendary Lazlo Kovacs and music that is an initially unsettling combination of classic piano music and Tammy Wynette songs. And the final scene offered a shocking twist that this reviewer didn't see coming and bumped up the rating. A 50 year old classic that still delivers the goods.

The Gentlemen
The last film I saw directed by Guy Richie was the live action version of Disney's Aladdin, but the director has returned to his comfort zone with 2019's The Gentlemen, a stylish and bloody crime drama that works thanks to a surprisingly clever double-layered story and the endlessly imaginative directorial eye of the director.

The story initially revolves around Mickey Pearson, an American drug dealer who owns a marijuana growing empire located in London, who is now trying to sell the business, which triggers various blackmail, bribery, and extortion plots. Wrapped around this story as its initial hook, is an aspiring reporter and filmmaker named Fletcher, who has been following Pearson's business dealings for years and has fashioned what he knows into a screenplay that he is trying to sell to Raymond, Pearson's # 2 man, for a hefty sum, even though he doesn't have the whole story.

Richie, of course, put himself on the map with films like Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, two films I have never seen but watching this film definitely motivated my going back and checking out these earlier works. This film is one of those deliciously intricate crime dramas that not only unfolds in flashback, but unfolds in starts and stops, implying that what we're witnessing may or may not have happened exactly as we're seeing, but more importantly, that we don't have the whole story and that complete attention is required.

Other classic film dramas did flash through my head as I watched this bloody acid trip of a crime adventure. This central character, Mickey Pearson comes off as a bone-chilling cross between Tony Montana in Scarface and Kaiser Sose in The Usual Suspects. With each scene that Pearson appears in, the size of his power grows as does the length of his reach. A frightening meeting with a heroine dealer who he has already poisoned before sitting down with him brings this point home.

Those more familiar with Richie's work will not be surprised by the stylish, almost theatrical approach to presenting this story, and Richie never allows us to forget that it is a story, constructing his own 4th wall for us through proven cinematic trickery. The film employs endlessly inventive camerawork, with a sterling assist from film editors James Herbert and Paul Machliss. The cast effectively serves Richie's work with standout work from Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey in an icy star turn as Mickey Pearson. Charlie Hunnam, Colin Farrell, and especially Hugh Grant also make every moment they have onscreen count. Fans of Richie will find a lot of gold here and newcomers to the directors' work but fans of the genre should find treasure here too.

GI Blues
After the success of two his best films, Jailhouse Rock and King Creole, Elvis Presley's film career took a serious backslide with a flimsy outing from 1960 called GI Blues, which features a really tuneful score and an offbeat choice of leading lady, but suffers due to a badly dated storyline and some less than stellar production values.

Elvis plays Tulsa McLean, an army soldier stationed in East Germany who is planning to open a nightclub back home with two of his army buddies. In order to make the money he needs to open his club, he gets in on a bet that a ladies man in his unit named Dynamite can spend the night with a beautiful nightclub dancer named Lili (Juliet Prowse). Unfortunately, Dynamite gets transferred out of the unit and guess who's drafted to take his place in seducing the beautiful dancer?

Edmond Beloin and Henry Gibson are responsible for the rather skimpy screenplay that really doesn't play too well in 2020. There have been several Broadway musicals, Guys and Dolls and My Fair Lady among them, whose plots are centered on the concept of a bet, but these bets always seem to have a sexist component to them and that is definitely the case here. I also found the military motif for the story to be rather superfluous...the setting of the film is supposedly 1960 and I don't think there was any war going on at the time, but for guys who are supposed to be in the military, they seemed to have an awful lot of free time, During Tulsa's first date with Lili, there are a half dozen soldiers following them all over town...these soldiers have nothing else to do?

My other problem with this film was a serious lack of care to production values. All of the musical numbers sound canned and Elvis' lip-synching to his own voice doesn't match the sound he produced recording the numbers in the sound studio. There is one song called "Pocketful of Rainbows" that Elvis and Prowse sing together, but when Prowse sings, her voice sounds like it's in a tunnel a thousand miles away from Elvis. She also kisses him at the end of the number, while the vocal track is still singing. It should also be mentioned that despite being set in Germany, it is more than obvious that most of this film never left a Hollywood soundstage.

On the plus side, Juliet Prowse was an unusual choice of leading lady and her dance numbers were definitely among the film's few highlights. I also thought Elvis had one of the better scores he has had to sing here including "Frankfort Special", "Tonight is so Right for Love" "Shoppin Around", "Didja Ever" and the jazzy title tune. Granted, this was only Elvis' fifth film, but after Jailhouse Rock and King Creole, this Elvis outing was a real disappointment, Elvis does look great in an army uniform though.

Pete Davidson: Alive From New York
I have to confess that I have always found Pete Davidson hysterically funny on Saturday Night Live, so my curiosity was naturally piqued when I happened upon this 2020 concert because, outside of Eddie Murphy, I don't recall a lot of SNL cast members doing stand-up. Sadly, the show did not live up to my expectations.

Davidson joined the cast of SNL at the age of 20, making him one of the youngest performers ever cast on the show. Over the years, he has provided his share of comedy and controversy, the latter courtesy of his openness about his drug use, his making fun of Congressman Dan Crenshaw for his eye patch during a segment of "Weekend Update", and for his brief romance and engagement to singer Ariana Grande. It goes without saying that all these issues get addressed with Davidson's very twisted comic eye.

Before he gets to these issues, he starts the show off with a very funny story about Louis CK ratting him out to Lorne Michaels for smoking weed in his SNL dressing room. Unfortunately, this story ends up being the funniest thing in the show.

Davidson is a funny guy but I'm just not sure if stand-up is his forte. He spends a lot of time onstage looking at the floor and fidgeting and his transitions from subject to subject are uncomfortably abrupt. There are certain things he said that came off like they were things that got big laughs from his stoner buddies but this reviewer just didn't get.

There were scattered laughs provided from his views on gay man/straight woman relationships, but his biggest laughs came from his tirade on Ariana Grande, which also contained the most venom. He concluded the show with some oddly unfunny stories about his father, who died in 911, which were more strange than funny. This concert made me think that Pete Davidson is a lot funnier when he is given a character to portray because the odd guy doing this stand-up wasn't nearly as funny as the guy I've been watching on SNL since 2014.

The Panic in Needle Park
Some striking directorial touches and solid performances from the stars make 1971's The Panic in Needle Park a gritty and uncompromising look at addiction that still rivets the viewer despite slightly dated elements.

The story is set at the corner of Broadway and 72nd Street near the entrance to Central Park, which is known as Needle Park, as it has become a refuge, shopping center, and gathering place for heroin addicts. In his second film, Al Pacino plays Bobby, a two bit hustler and drug addict who hooks up with Helen (Kitty Winn), a homeless girl who has just left her boyfriend after aborting his baby. The attraction between the two is immediate and it doesn't take Helen long to catch onto who Bobby is and tries to turn a blind eye to the life he leads. Things change though when Helen also begins shooting heroin, sending this pathetic couple on a downward spiral of addiction, betrayal, and crime that threatens to tear apart their toxic relationship at every turn.

The premise and setting of this story is definitely dated because drug dealing and using openly in Central Park is something that stopped decades ago. What the story does nail though is the concept of addiction and where it leads people. We see how it is impossible for an addict to be in a relationship with someone who is not an addict and the scene where Helen decides the only way to make the relationship work is to start using, though our hearts sink, we aren't really surprised. Helen's addiction takes a predictable path to prostitution and theft and it's sickening when Bobby supports what she's doing if it will support his habit. In the character of Bobby's older brother, we see the saddest kind of addict...the self-declared recreational user who doesn't realize that he has already crossed that line over recreation into adiction.

The other thing that really makes this film the effectively uncomfortable experience it is has to be credited to Jerry Schatzberg, a former professional photographer who became a director and it his skill with a camera lens that makes this often harrowing film experience so startling at times. Schatzberg shows unparalleled skill with the steady cam and the hand-held camera that thrust viewer right into the center of the action and often, we don't really want to be there. The scene where Bobby suffers an overdose in a hooker's apartment is shot almost exclusively with a hand-held camera with such an unapologetic viewpoint that the viewer is tempted to look away. I also love the way the camera lovingly follows Helen when she shoots heroine for the first time.

Schatzberg's on location shooting in Manhattan is also a huge asset to creating the story's dark atmosphere. Al Pacino delivers a performance of such power that it's hard to believe that this was only his second film. He brings an explosive unpredictability to Bobby that brings unbearable tension to the story. Kitty Winn is equally impressive in the complicated role of Helen and never allows Pacino to blow her off the screen. Alan Vint and Richard Bright provide solid support as an undercover cop and Bobby's brother, respectively, but it is Schatzberg's brassy direction and the performances by Pacino and Winn that make this one still sizzle.

The Way Back
A solid performance from Ben Affleck in the starring role notwithstanding, 2020's The Way Back is a curiously tiresome character study that suffers due to a messy screenplay that has gaping storyholes, tries to cover too much territory and a lot of that territory is borrowed from other movies.

Affleck plays Jack Cunningham, an alcoholic construction worker who is separated from his wife and has never gotten over the death of his nine year old son. Jack was the star of his high school basketball team who walked away from the sport without any explanation after high school. He is thrown a lifeline when he is offered the job of head basketball coach at his old alma mater.

The story tries to become more complex as Jack begins making inroads with the team, but the scene involving the basketball team and the players are given short shrift and they are all reminiscent of scenes that we've in other movies. Anyone who has seen Coach Carter, Blue Chips, or Hoosiers will recognize this section of the film, rich with stereotyped characters like the cocky player who thinks the team is nothing without him, the insecure player who is really the star and doesn't know it, and the kid who is more interested in girls than basketball.

Of course, just as the story has us behind poor Jack and what he's doing with these boys, it completely degenerates into predictable, schmaltzy melodrama, resembling an overlong commercial for Alcoholics Anonymous.

Gavin O'Connor. who directed Affleck in The Accountant, just seems out of his element here. His overly stylized direction is more suited to action films like The Accountant than with character stories like this. Ben Affleck works very hard in the role of Jack Cunningham, offering one of his strongest performances, rivaling his work in Gone Girl and Hollywoodland, but the muddy screenplay is fighting him all the way. His performance does make the film worth a look.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Director and screenwriter Andrew Dominik triumphed with a probing psychological examination of a real life folk legend through the people who were actually in his orbit called The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, a haunting and handsomely mounted melange of western drama and biopic that was robbed of a 2007 Best Picture Nomination.

It is Missouri in the year 1882 when we are introduced to Jesse James and his small gang of criminal "sidekicks", one of whom is the older brother of Robert Ford. Robert Ford is a sensitive 19-yer old who has worshiped James ever since he was a child and has made it his mission in life to become part of James' gang. By making inroads through Jesse's older brother Frank James, Robert finally finds himself face to face with his idol, inches away from his dream becoming a reality. It's not long before Robert begins to see his hero in a more realistic light and hero worship turns to resentment, which leads to Robert's somewhat reluctant part in his idol's downfall.

Dominek's Oscar-worthy screenplay is actually based on a novel by Ron Hansen, implying that not everything we see here is completely factual, but what Dominek has crafted here, wrapped around a poetically beautiful narration, probably my favorite narration of a film ever, is a look at a legend from subjective observers that may have colored exactly who Jesse James was, but provided a look at the folk idol that we have never seen before.

Jesse James has had a history of being portrayed as a cold-blooded killer who treated murder as a sport and made his victims turn their back to him before shooting them. The Jesse presented in this film is highly intelligent, completely trusting of no one, and only kills in the name of self-preservation. The murders we see Jesse commit in this film are always committed far from probing eyes and are only committed in the act of self-preservation.

Even more fascinating than the presentation of James in this film is the relationship between James and young Robert Ford. The child-like innocence in Robert's eyes during his initial confrontation with Jesse is quite ingratiating. I loved the scene in which Robert rattles off the similarities between himself and Jesse and Jesse is clearly unimpressed. And this is the scene that triggers the change in Robert's feelings that give his relationship with Jesse an almost biblical connotation, where their relationship begins to resemble the relationship between Jesus Christ and Judas uncomfortable blend of betrayal and mutual respect that often blurs and confuses them and us. The film also fascinates during its very disturbing denoument, in which we see Ford and many others turn James' death into a marketing empire.

This is film is gorgeous to look at, thanks primarily to Oscar-nominated cinematography by this year's winner in that category, Roger Deakins, creating cinematic pictures that looked like paintings. The film also features superior art direction, film editing, sound, and music. Brad Pitt gives one of his most explosive performances as the enigmatic James and Casey Affleck lights up the screen as the conflicted Robert Ford, an endlessly rich performance that earned Affleck his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Some might have considered the film a tad overlong, but I never looked at my watch. This was a film of haunting beauty that mesmerized this reviewer.

Slap Shot
Four years after collaborating on the Best Picture Oscar winner The Sting, Paul Newman and director George Roy Hill reunited for Slap Shot, a gloriously raunchy 1977 comedy that combines seriously black humor , over the top slapstick, and surprisingly three-dimensional characters, delivering consistently delicious entertainment executed by a winning cast.

Newman stars as Reggie Dunlop, the aging player/coach of a fourth rate Federal League hockey team called the Charlestown Chiefs who haven't been filling arenas for quite awhile and are in danger of being disbanded. In an effort to save the team and his own career, Reggie decides that the way to get fans back in the seats is for the team to get down and dirty on the ice, which puts Reggie in direct conflict with an idealistic rookie named Ned (Michel Ontkean). Reggie also decides the way to boost the morale of the team is by starting a rumor that the team might be purchased for a franchise in Florida.

Off the ice, Reggie is still desperately in love with his wife (Jennifer Warren), who he is separated from because she loves him but hates hockey. Ned is also having marital troubles with his icy and bitter spouse (Lindsey Crouse), who actually begins to catch Reggie's eye. This complicated triangle actually is the inspired hook to the outrageous finale of this one of a kind comedy.

Oscar winning screenwriter Nancy Dowd (Coming Home) has provided a rowdy and sexy story that's rich with outrageous characters, sexual debauchery and enough cinematic testosterone to fill three or four sports-themed movies. This movie provides consistent hilarity throughout without ever straying from realism, thanks primarily to characters who are funny because they are so human.

George Roy Hills's direction supplies just the right amount of breeziness that the comedy requires while providing a semblance of discipline to his cast. Paul Newman embraces a very welcome change of pace here and seems to have a ball doing it. I can't remember the last time I've enjoyed watching Newman this much. Strother Martin, who starred with Newman in Cool Hand Luke, also takes advantage of a change of pace as the Chiefs' greasy manager. A minor comedy classic that has never really gotten the attention it deserved.

The Shop Around the Corner
The film has inspired two film remakes and a Broadway musical, but I don't think any of them hold a candle to 1940's The Shop Around the Corner, an enchanting and sophisticated comedy/drama that still entertains after all these years thanks to a clever story that never falls into predictability, smooth direction from one of the masters of the era, and some sparkling performances.

The story is actually set in Budapest, Hungary and stars James Stewart as Alfred Kralis, the head sales clerk in a gift shop who has been secretly corresponding with a young woman he met through a newspaper ad. A young woman named Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) cons her way into a job at the shop and she and Alfred immediately start butting heads. It is soon revealed that Klara also has a pen pal that she has fallen in love with. Three guesses who Alfred and Klara are corresponding with? The story also introduces a subplot involving Klara and Alfred's boss (Frank Morgan), whose often insensitive treatment of his employees reveals to be in connection with domestic troubles of his own.

Samuel Raphael's screenplay, based on a play by Nikolaus Lazlo, is an irresistible blend of star-crossed romance, heartwarming sentiment, and best of all, surprising unpredictability. The basic premise of this film appears to be pretty basic and the viewer is pretty certain they know exactly what they are going to see, but the path to the happy ending that we expect is twisted and layered and goes in a couple of directions we never see coming at all. The story of Klara and Alfred's boss really comes out of nowhere and adds an underlying layer to the story that is an unexpected delight.

I was also impressed by the intelligence and sophistication of the characters involved and how, despite the fact that the film is essentially a comedy, most of the characters are adults and behave as such. The scene of Sullavan making the sale that leads to her being hired, the scene where Alfred is fired and is saying goodbye to his co-workers, the scene where Stewart and Morgan mend their fences, are a flawless marriage of the smile and a lump in the throat.

A lot of the credit for this has to go to legendary director Ernst Lubitsch, whose loving service to this lovely story is evident in every frame. What could have been a very predictable movie battle of the sexes becomes a full-bodied story that warms the heart and never makes us upset for having to wait for that happy ending. Lubitsch creates a warm romantic story with just the slightest air of sexual tension between the leads that gives the story an adult romantic air, done with style and taste.

James Stewart gives one of his most charming performances, on par with the performance that won him an Oscar the same year (The Philadelphia Story) and Margaret Sullavan brings an ethereal, almost Audrey Hepburn quality to her Klara. Frank Morgan also brings the just right combination of warmth and bluster to his boss, a rich performance that should have earned him a supporting actor nomination. Also loved Felix Bessart as Stewart's co-worker, who disappears every time the boss asks for an honest opinion and William Tracy as an ambitious delivery boy. If I had one small continuity quibble, it might be the fact that the film is set in Hungary, but Stewart and Sullavan do not employ any kind of accent in their characterizations.

MGM remade the film as a musical nine years later called In the Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland and Van Johnson in the leads. The film was re-thought as a Broadway musical in 1964 called She Loves Me with Barbara Cook and Jack Cassidy playing the leads and was again re-thought for the screen as You've Got Mail, which was the third onscreen pairing of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. And though I've said this about other films, I'm a little surprised that I'm saying it in this case but, stick to the original.

Talk to Me (2007)
A charismatic performance by Don Cheadle in the starring role does make the 2007 biopic Talk to Me worth a look, despite heavy-handed direction and a screenplay that employs every show biz biopic cliche in the book.

Cheadle plays, Ralph "Petey" Greene, a Washington DC convict who gets hired as a DJ at a small DC radio station with the aid of a straight-laced radio executive named Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) where he becomes an instant sensation with his outspoken opinions and colorful language, eventually parlaying his minor celebrity into becoming a standup comic, talk show host, and civil rights activist.

It's difficult to believe that this Petey Greene was a real person and not just because I had never heard of him prior to seeing this film. It's hard to believe because the cliche-ridden screenplay contains every scene that we've all seen in a thousand other biopics, except this time the characters are mostly black. We're not surprised when our hero talks his way out of prison during the opening five minutes of the film and then spends the rest of the film reminding anyone he talks to that he used to be in prison. We also get the expected defying the boss at his first job scene, the rise to success montage, and the eventual fall of grace after getting to the top of the mountain, in this case, an appearance on The Tonight Show. I knew we were in trouble when he finally gets his first shot on the radio and has to run to the bathroom and throw up before he can go on the air.

Kasi Lemmons, who directed Harriet, presides over the proceedings with a heavy and melodramatic hand, consisting of a lot of headache-inducing camera work and a general air of pretension over most of the film, trying to make everything we're seeing a lot more important than it is. This becomes evident during the second half of the film where we see a complete change in Greene after the assassination of Martin Luther King, that happens too quickly to be completely believable.

Don Cheadle is a wonderful actor and it was because of him that I watched this film. He does not disappoint, splendid as usual, even though he is fighting the screenplay all the way. Ejiofor starts off promisingly but his performance becomes overly mannered as does Taraji P, Henson, in a performance that makes Cookie Lyon look like Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant's Woman, Lemmon's husband, Vondie Curtis Hall makes his required appearance in one of his wife's films as a rival DJ, but this one was a real disappointment.

Melinda and Melinda
The effectiveness of comedy versus tragedy as storytelling tools as well as lifestyle lessons are examined with middling success by Woody Allen in a 2004 oddity entitled Melinda and Melinda which is hampered by Allen's lack of complete commitment to his premise, but is made watchable because of some wonderful acting by a winning ensemble cast.

The film opens with a quartet of New York playwrights sitting in a Manhattan eatery discussing the merits of comedy versus tragedy and how almost any story can be told in a comic or tragic manner. One of the writers then sets up a very basic story premise and asks his dinner companions if the story would make a better comedy or tragedy.

The fictional premise established is that a young woman named Melinda Robicheaux arrives in Manhattan and interrupts a dinner party saying she needs a place to stay and this is where the comic and tragic stories separate for the most part. In the drama, Melinda is an old college roommate of the hostess and one of her guests. In the comedy, Melinda is a complete stranger to all the dinner party guests who happens upon the apartment after swallowing a bunch of sleeping pills and that's where the similarities in the two stories end...or so we think.

Leave it to Woody to take one story and tell it two completely different ways, but the stories are not as different as we are led to believe at the beginning of the film. It becomes apparent quickly that Melinda's presence in the home is going to affect the marriages of the hosts of the dinner party but the effects are not what we see coming at all. More similarities and more differences in the two stories continue to materialize as the film progresses, but the point the playwrights are discussing at the beginning of the film is never really resolved.

This was my second viewing of this film and one of the reasons I didn't review it the first time I watched it because I really didn't understand what Allen was trying to do here. The tragic story has comic elements and the comic story has tragic elements and Woody never commits to one story being more effective than the other and I realize now that this was Woody's point all along...that all stories combine comedy and tragedy, but this made for a rather confusing film experience. The tragic story didn't move me to tears or leave a lump in the throat and the comic version never had me rolling on the floor with laughter.

What does make the film worth a look is some really terrific acting by a wonderful cast. Rahda Mitchell is absolutely luminous as the two Melindas, creating two distinctly different characters who are actually one. Chloe Sevigny, Amanda Peet, Jonny Lee Miller, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and especially Will Ferrell (playing this film's version of Woody) also provide solid support to both stories. As always, production values are first rate, especially Woody's flawless taste in music, and for Woody-philes, definitely worth a look.

Christine (2016)
Christine is a somber and heavy-handed docudrama about Christine Chubbuck, a field news reporter at a small Sarasota, Florida television station who claimed immortality during the summer of 1974 when she committed suicide on air during a live television broadcast.

This low-budget indie introduces the viewer to Chubbock at a point in her career where she is feeling unappreciated at her job and completely stressed out. It turns out that her personal life is not much more satisfying than her professional one. Health problems lead her to a doctor who advises surgery that may render her unable to bear children. Eventually, it comes to light that Christine's real problem is serious clinical depression, even though nobody seems to realize it.

The story of Christine Chubbuck is definitely a story worthy of a screen treatment, but she deserves a better one than she gets here. The primary problem with this story is that the screenplay by Craig Shilowich (Marriage Story) is vague and meandering and we really have no idea what's going on with this women until two thirds of the way into the film. When we first meet Christine, she is an ambitious woman all about her work who is constantly butting heads with her boss over the quality of her work. She thinks everything she does is gold and can't take constructive criticism at all. She is a social hermit who keeps everyone in her life at arm's length, including her own mother, who she lives with. Her mother knocks on her door to speak to her and she converses with her through the door, not allowing her to come in. The writing is cliched and unimaginative. I was shocked to learn that this film was written by the screenwriter of Marriage Story.

We know this woman is terribly unhappy, but the audience is completely kept in the dark as to why until the final act. The character doesn't even crack a smile until said final act, and when we finally are privy to some of the issues that have her in such an emotional vacuum, we almost don't care anymore because we've been kept in the dark for so much of the story. The scene where she is tricked into a group therapy session and actually talks about what's troubling her is where the film starts to come alive, but by that time, it's too little too late.

This is a sad story on an important topic. Discussion of clinical depression is necessary because it is seemingly a very hard thing to diagnose, but this film just seems to have been done on the cheap. It's low budget is apparent throughout and the casting is on par with a LIFETIME TV movie. Rebecca Hall works very hard in the title role, but the performance is kind of one-note and hard to latch onto. Michael C Hall and Tracey Letts make the most of their roles as an anchorman and Christine's boss, respectively, but this film is lethargic and uninteresting for most of its running time and it really shouldn't be.

Major League
Movies about rag tag sports teams beating the odds are a dime a dozen, but 1989's Major League manages to rise above its predictability thanks to some colorful characters brought to life by a perfect cast.

The Cleveland Indians haven't had a winning season in 34 years and the new female owner of the team has brokered a deal to move the franchise to Florida and rebuild the team there on the promise that the Indians finish dead last. So she hires a catcher with bad knees from the Mexican League (Tom Berenger), a hot-headed pitcher fresh out of prison (Charlie Sheen) who has an amazing fast ball but no control of it, a voodoo worshiping hitter (Dennis Haysbert) who can't hit curve balls, and a spoiled outfielder (Corbin Bernsen) who doesn't mind making a play as long as it doesn't muss his hair, among others, to make sure the team goes down the tubes. Unbeknownst to the owner, the team gets wind of her plan and guess what happens?

Director and screenwriter David S. Ward, who won an Oscar for writing the 1973 Best Picture Oscar winner The Sting has taken a well worn cinematic formula and brought fresh life to it by populating the story with outrageous characters who are still steeped in realism and make us care about them. We even have a player named Willie Mays Hayes (played with just the right amount of slick by Wesley Snipes) who shows up to spring training uninvited and earns himself a spot on the team. We also get just the right sized peek into these guys' personal lives as it's revealed that Berenger's character is still hung up on his ex-wife and Bernsen's marriage isn't it all it seems to be.

There's nothing here we haven't seen before, but the story is mounted with sincerity and a surprising amount of intelligence for a sports film. I love the scene near the beginning where the players learn whether or not they have made the team not by direct communication from the coaching staff, but by going to their lockers and hoping that their isn't a small piece of red construction paper hanging in their locker. Honestly, as the guys enter the locker room, we know who's going to make it, but Ward still manages to establish a palatable tension in the scene.

Ward also pulls some winning performances from his cast. Tom Berenger's catcher, Jake Taylor, is a perfect moral center of the team and Sheen's stone-faced work as Wild Thing perfectly fits the character. Snipes and Haysbert steal every scene they're in and Rene Russo impresses in her second film appearance as Jake's ex. Also loved the late James Gammon as Coach Lou and can't leave wrap this without mentioning the delicious scenery-chewing from the late Margaret Whitton as the bitchy team owner. What it lacks in originality it makes up in energy and an appropriate dash of warm sentiment.

Mr. Church
A beautifully understated performance by Eddie Murphy in the title role, playing a character unlike anything he has ever done, is the centerpiece of 2016's Mr. Church a warm and emotionally charged drama of friendship and family, rich with lump-in-the-throat moments, that overcomes elements of predictability thanks to a star working clearly out of his element and a proven commodity in the director's chair.

Henry Joseph Church is a gourmet cook who, upon the death of his employer, is sent to cook for the employer's lover, Marie, a beautiful woman dying of cancer who has a pre-teen daughter named Charlotte. Marie bonds with Mr. Church immediately, but Charlotte is a harder sell, though eventually melting into a friendship with Mr. Church that would last long after her mother's death.

Susan McMartin's intricate screenplay, based on a true story, is a story that takes a somewhat expected path but brings levels to the story that we don't see coming. An initially troubling layer is added to the story from jump when it is revealed through a scene with Mr. Church and Marie that Charlotte doesn't know her mother is dying and this was my one problem with the story...I didn't mind that Charlotte didn't know her mother was sick, but the story never provides the moment where Charlotte does learn about her mother's condition and skips directly to her caring for her mom, knowing that she hasn't much time left. I also loved the way Charlotte fights Mr. Church's presence in her home, but never disguises the fact that she loves his cooking.

The initial relationship established between Mr. Church and the dying Marie was a joy to watch. Marie calmly accepts what her lover did for her and there is an instant understanding between them that is quite moving. The mutual respect between them was lovely...I loved the way he always called her "ma'am" and she always called him "Mr. Church."

The crafting of the Mr. Church character was also quite appealing...the character was quiet and intelligent , artistic, and well read. He cherished his privacy the way the screenplay did, providing minimal backstory for the character so that when bits and pieces of backstory come to light, the audience feels rewarded.

Bruce Beresford, who directed Robert Duvall to an Oscar in Tender Mercies and Jessica Tandy to an Oscar in Driving Miss Daisy provides sensitive and detailed direction to this story, perhaps allowing the story to unfold a bit too slowly, but guiding the viewer to feel what they're supposed to feel through his camera and his storytelling eye.

Production values are first rate, with standout work from film editor David Beatty. Eddie Murphy delivers a performance of such substance and death, unlike anything he has ever done. It was so unsettling watching Murphy play a character completely devoid of ego, definitely a departure for him, but delivering a performance like this was the only kind of character he has ever played. Anna Paquin look-alike Britt Robertson gives an intelligent and warm performance as Charlotte and the beautiful Natascha McElhone is enchanting in the performance of her career as Marie. But it is Eddie Murphy who quietly owns this very special motion picture experience. A must for Murphy fans and, more importantly, for non-Murphy fans who will be pleasantly surprised.

Despite incredible production values and the expected splendid performance from Robert Downey Jr., 2020's Dolittle, the third version of the classic Hugh Lofton character, is an overblown and overly complex look at the doctor who talks to animals where the real problem lies in the basic premise of the film.

The film begins after the death of Dolittle's wife, where he has cut himself off from normal society and lives behind closed gates with his large menagerie of animals. Dolittle is summoned to the bedside of a dying Queen Victoria where he is asked to travel to a mysterious island that has a tree which contains the medicine which is believed to be a cure for the monarch.

This story first came to the screen as a dreadful musical in 1967 with Rex Harrison playing the good doctor and the only animal who actually spoke was his beloved parrot, Polynesia. Eddie Murphy brought the character back to the screen in 1998 with the animals all voiced by celebrities. Screenwriter/director Stephen Gaughan, who won an Oscar for the screenplay to Traffic has tried to incorporate elements from both previous versions and added new layers of his own, but it doesn't really work because the entire premise of this film spits in the face of the original concept of the character of John Dolittle: Dolittle is supposed to have turned his back on humans because he likes treating animals better than he likes people. Why would John Dolittle put himself and his entire animal family at risk for the very human Queen Victoria?

The film provides Dolittle with a new backstory that does connect with the finale (though, for reasons I couldn't fathom, was animated). The character of young Tommy Stubbins, who was introduced in the '67 film as pretty much a glorified cameo, is beefed up here but seemingly just to pad running time. The journey to the mysterious island is a labored one, which actually climaxed with a confrontation with a fire breathing dragon which, considering the story that is being told here, smacked of cliche. This movie attempts to capture the spirit behind both of the previous Dolittles, but seems to be mocking them. Gaughan's screenplay even incorporates contemporary pop culture references and language that were completely out of place in the period setting.

There are some positives here. The film is sumptuously mounted with superb production values, with standout art direction, film editing, and sound. No expense was spared to bring this film to fruition and it aids the enjoyment a bit. Robert Downey Jr. is superb in the title role, employing a decent Welsh accent and there is outstanding voice work for the animals, especially Emma Thompson as Polynesia, Rami Malek as the gorilla named Chee Chee, John Cena as a polar bear named Yoshi, Ralph Fienines as Barry the tiger, and Jason Mantzoukas as a firefly named James, but a great film is dependent on a great story and the story here just didn't work for this reviewer.

Louis CK: Hilarious
The same year his FX comedy series Louis premiered, Louis CK also found time to film a very funny stand up concert called Louis CK: Hilarious. The 2010 concert gets off to a slow start, but does end up delivering some big laughs.

Performing in front of a sold out audience at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Louis starts the show with a lot of self-deprecating humor where he feels the need to explain the audience how stupid he is and how ugly he is. We've heard this kind of humor from a million other comics and it all just comes off as kind of forced, even if it did get big laughs from the live audience.

The show picks up though when Louis gets off himself and starts commenting on society and telling actual stories that he witnessed. He had me on the floor when he started talking about New Millenium technology and how we, as a society, are so unappreciative of the miracles of modern technology. It initially seems a little dated when he talks about people complaining about their cell phones never working, but everything he says is something we have all heard people say at one time or another. This led into an equally funny routine about the miracle of flying and how we also take it for granted. Can't remember the last time I heard the Wright Brothers referenced in a comedy routine.

His story about a man in a wheelchair being stopped at airport security garnered huge laughs. Louis proves to being a gifted storyteller, which was definitely the strongest part of the show. He got his biggest laughs telling stories centered around events he actually witnessed. Also loved his diatribe on society's misuse and overuse of certain words like "amazing" and "hilarious." On the other hand, one of the biggest laughs he got was when a cameraman got a little too intrusive.

Like a lot of stand ups, Louis was also able to garner huge laughs about his two daughters. These stories made it obvious that Louis is raising these girls on his own and is often clueless about what he's doing. Though his adult take on what his daughters are thinking and not always saying is roll on the floor hilarious. The stories of preparing breakfast for one daughter and a big accident in the bathroom had me on the floor. The show was a little slow getting started, but Louis CK definitely knows how to bring the funny.

Hollywood Shuffle
Robert Townsend was the creative force behind a slightly dated but often very clever comic farce from 1987 called Hollywood Shuffle that takes some very accurate pot shots at the foibles of being a black actor in white Hollywood.

Townsend plays Bobby Taylor, a struggling young actor who finally nabs his first role in a movie called "Jivetime Jimmy's Revenge", that not only has him questioning his career as an actor, but his principles as a black man.

The screenplay by Townsend and Keenan Ivory Wayans is a somewhat effective combination of a realistic look at a black actor struggling to make it in Hollywood and some very effective pot shots at tinsel town, including a hysterically funny commercial for something called the Black Acting School, a spoof of Siskel and Ebert and spoofs of Sam Spade, Dirty Harry, and Zombie movies.

Though the point of the movie is driven home with a slight sledgehammer effect, the message Townsend is trying to communicate comes through loud and clear. It's no accident that the writer and director of "Jivetime Jimmy's Revenge" are white and we're not surprised when on the first day of filming, Bobby is told by the director that he needs to be "more black", but the influence his baby brother has on his career choices are a little hard to take.

Townsend brings strength, sincerity, and sensitivity to the role of Bobby Taylor and co-screenwriter Wayans has some funny moments in a dual role as a fast food co-worker of Bobby's and a movie bad guy named Jheri Curl. A couple of other familiar faces pop up along the way including Damon Wayans, Franklyn Ajaye, Paul Mooney and John Witherspoon, but this is Townsend's show, though a lot of it is kind of dated, there are still laughs to be found here.

Bad Boys for Life
Will Smith and Martin Lawrence return for what is hopefully the final installment of the franchise, 2020's Bad Boys for Life, an overblown cops and robbers movie that falters because of a problematic screenplay and leads who are just too old to be making these kind of movies.

The film opens with Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) celebrating the birth of his first grandchild and seriously contemplating retirement. Marcus has to put his retirement on hold when partner Mike Lowrey (Smith) gets shot and the investigation into the shooting leads to a mother and son operating an international drug cartel.

The long winded screenplay spends too much time establishing the differences between Mike and Marcus, which were already made crystal clear in the first film, way back in 1995. The dialogue is straight out of a million other crime dramas, which is another problem with this story that differs from the first film...the humor that permeated the first two films is non-existent here, though Martin is given what is supposedly all of the funny lines in the film, but I didn't find much humor here.

There was also a giant plot hole that nagged at me throughout. Mike gets shot and we see Marcus and his fellow officers gathered around his bed as he hangs on for dear life. All of a sudden, the story skips six months and Mike asks his boss (Joe Pantoliano) to work on the case. It appears that the force has made little or no progress regarding who shot Mike except for the make of the bullets removed from Mike's body. What the hell were these guys doing for six months? Not to mention the reveal of who these mother and son drug lords are, telegraphed throughout the film, making the actual reveal seriously anti-climactic.

For me though, the main problem with this movie was that Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are just too old for this kind of hardcore action/adventure. Lawrence, in particular, who appears seriously out of shape, seems to be huffing and puffing throughout, looking like he could collapse from exhaustion at any moment. Needless to say, with Smith and Lawrence involved, this film was afforded a huge budget utilized on first rate production values, but the hard to swallow story and over the hill stars in denial of same really hurt this one.

The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear
Leslie Nielsen made a second trip to the big screen as Lieutenant Frank Drebin in 1991's The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear, a roll-on-the-floor funny sequel to the 1988 film that is funnier than the first one.

At some point between the two films, Frank broke up with girlfriend, Jane (Priscilla Presley), who has moved to Washington DC and is working for a scientist researching new energy sources. The scientist is kidnapped by Jane's new boyfriend and replaced by a double and, of course, it's Frank to the rescue.

The success of this film must be credited to director and co-screenwriter David Zuker. who has crafted a credible spy spoof with a real story that doesn't stand up to a lot of scrutiny, because Zuker has pushed the actual story to the backburner and provides consistent laughs from the opening credits (which feature an unusual journey for a police siren) and the
ridiculously over the top finale (which features a room of sleepy banquet guests being awakened by a romance novel).

Zuker's undeniable attention to details, especially the visual jokes, is what makes this movie so funny. Look at the pictures on the wall as Frank enters the Blue Note nightclub or the images in the background at the police station, or the elaborate set up of the very durable Nordberg (OJ Simpson) getting caught underneath a car and where it leads. Not to mention the violence that Frank inflicts on First Lady Barbara Bush. The comic cha cha between Jane and Frank as he reveals the truth about her boyfriend is also very funny.

As for the writing, the conversation about a prize fighter from a newspaper and a henchman's ransom demands are so delicately crafted that they can only have come from the creative genius behind Airplane!. In addition to his own wit, Zuker also provides
clever winks to films like ET and Ghost

Nielsen receives solid support from Robert Goulet as the bad guy and the brilliant Richard Griffiths in the dual role, but it's the genius of David Zuker that makes this one work. And yes, there is a third film.