Gideon58's Reviews

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What Just Happened
An Oscar winning director behind the camera and a serious dose of star power in front of it make 2008's What Just Happened, an allegedly intimate look inside Hollywood, worth a look.

This somewhat edgy black comedy chronicles a week in the life of a Hollywood producer named Ben, played by Robert DeNiro. As we meet Ben, he is juggling professional and personal crises that have him teetering on the edge. He has a film about to be released starring Sean Penn, that might not make it to the Cannes Film Festival because the director doesn't want to cut a scene where a dog is shot. He also has a film about to begin shooting starring Bruce Willis, where production has stalled because the star refuses to shave his beard. Ben is also seriously trying to get back together with his ex-wife (Robin Wright) and learn what's going on with his teenage daughter (Kristen Stewart).

The screenplay by Art Linson, based on his own book, is supposed to be a daring look at Hollywood stripped bare giving us an up close look at the Hollywood movers and shakers who make and break careers with just a phone call and then go home and throw a cocktail party. As accurate as everything that is portrayed here might be, it all comes off as pretentious and superficial. Watching the delicate egos being massaged, the craftsman begging for work, the wives and children being neglected, and the funeral services being desecrated, I couldn't help but think that there are a lot more important things going on in the world. Not to mention the fact that a lot of the material covered here was covered more efficiently in the Robert Altman film The Player.

Fortunately, the film does benefit from having Oscar winner Barry Levinson in the director's chair. Levinson understands the inner workings of the Hollywood machine and his camera effectively lets us inside Ben's head and the pressure and pain he's going through. Levinson's veteran directorial eye gives this story the shot of realism it needs, with a strong assist from film editor Hank Corwin.

It was refreshing to see DeNiro appropriately cast for a change, playing a character his own age and of whom he has an understanding. DeNiro gets solid support from Catherine Keener as a hard-nosed studio head (modeled after Sherry Lansing I'm assuming), Stanley Tucci as an ambitious screenwriter, Michael Wincott as the drug-addled director, and John Turturro as a neurotic agent. Penn and Willis also seem to be enjoying playing themselves. It's no classic, but Levinson and his cast make it worth a look.

Valley Girl
Though a lot of what this film is about and what goes on here is hopelessly dated, the 1983 teen romance Valley Girl still provides a modicum of entertainment thanks to some smart female characters and a star-making performances from its leading man.

Back in 1982, Moon Unit Zappa released a novelty record called "Valley Girl" that made fun of the teenage girls who populated the San Fernando Valley and their very special verbal vernacular that became part of pop culture for a year or so. A year after the record came out, we were blessed with the story of Julie (Deborah Foreman), a pretty and popular high school student who falls head over heels for Randy (Nicolas Cage), a punker with orange hair who lives on the other side of the Valley in Hollywood. Though Julie and Randy fall in love the second they meet, they find themselves being torn apart by Julie's stuck up friends, who can't abide their girl hooking up with a "Non-Val Dude."

It's no coincidence when during one scene we witness Randy and Julie kissing, they are standing in front of a movie marquee that says Romeo and Juliet, because this story is basically a contemporary updating of the Shakespearean classic. Two people from two different worlds falling in love but being kept apart by outside forces. In Romeo and Juliet, the teen lovers are kept apart by their families, but in this story, it is Julie's friends that are running interference.

One refreshing aspect of Andrew Lane and Wayne Crawford's screenplay is that, despite the Valley Girl speak, the female characters in this movie have brains and are in control of their own destinies. In this current "Me too" period, this aspect of the film is still relevant because the women in this story control most of what is going on and the men are sex objects who are dumb as a box of rocks. There is a subplot involving one of Julie's friends whose boyfriend is being pursued by her mother (Lee Purcell), but all it does is pad the running time.

Director Martha Coolidge controls the narrative with a sensitive eye that lets the viewer see who's really in control here. The other big selling point here is a charismatic sex on legs performance by Nicolas Cage, in his first leading role, that dominates the proceeding and put him on the Hollywood map. Mention should also be made of the voluptuous Elizabeth Daily as Julie's friend Loryn, and Frederick Forrest and Colleen Camp, who are a lot of as Julie's aging hippie parents. And don't forget to listen to the lyrics of the song being played at the prom called "Jimmy are you Queer?".

Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife
Shortly after her first Netflix special, Baby Cobra, Ali Wong gave birth to a baby girl. About eighteen months later, she returned to the standup mike for a 2018 Netflix special called Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife.

During her first special, Wong got a lot of comedic mileage out of the fact that she was pregnant and expected to hear about the birth during this special. Imagine my surprise when she walked onstage for this special and was again about six months pregnant. What was even more surprising was that she didn't address the fact that she was pregnant again. What she did do was launch into a hysterically funny documentation of the first pregnancy and how becoming mother has destroyed her, physically and emotionally. Her detailed experiences of going through an emergency C section and her travails about breastfeeding had me on the floor.

When reviewing other comics, I have spoken about the comedian's instrument, or more specifically, their voices. I really noticed the versatility of Wong's instrument during this special. It was fun listening to her voice change when she was talking about certain subjects. I especially love her stage whisper, which she always employs when she is about to let us in on a huge secret that no one else knows about, but we can all relate to.

Her replies to people's questions about the changes in her life since becoming mother were also fall on the floor funny, especially her reply to the question of how she balances her career with being a mother. She makes no qualms about the fact that she has a nanny who does a lot of the work and also reminds us that hiring is a nanny is not cheap and how it is important it is to never to hire a nanny under the age of 62.

As he did in the first special, Ali's husband takes a lot of hard knocks in this special. Wong again reminds us that she makes a lot more money than he does, which has allowed him to treat his own job as a time-killing hobby. She does make up for it later by explaining to us why she plans to stay married as long as she can to this man and has no interest in sex with a younger man. Wong continues to prove what a gifted writer and comic she is, always producing laughs that provide that sometimes shock, sometimes comes off as arrogance, but never fail to entertain.

The screenwriters of Splash and the director of Clue collaborated on a loopy 1994 black comedy called Greedy, which is well-acted and directed but the all over the place screenplay and fuzzy character motivations make it hard to call this one a direct bullseye.

The late Kirk Douglas stars as Uncle Joe, a billionaire who has a bunch of grasping, greedy relatives sucking up to him, waiting for him to die. When Joe hires a pretty young thing as his nurse, the family is afraid that she is after his money so they hire a detective to track down Danny (Michael J. Fox), Joe's favorite nephew who turned his back on the family years ago to pursue his dream of becoming a professional bowler. Danny finds his own motives in question when he finds himself trying to stop a manipulative gold digger from taking his uncle for all he has.

Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel have proven their screenwriting skills with films like Splash and Parenthood, but seem to have gone overboard in trying to provide a twist to a well-worn cinematic premise. The opening scenes introducing the bloodsucking family members are very funny, but once Danny arrives on the scene, everyone's motives come into question, especially Danny and Uncle Joe, leading to a third act plot twist that renders everything that came before it pointless, though it does manage to wrap for a dandy finale.

Director Jonathan Lynn does keep a tight rein on things that keep the story in a realistic vein despite some of the outrageous goings-on. The cast is first rate with excellent performances from Douglas and Fox, who work surprisingly well together. The late Phil Hartman steals every scene he's in as cousin Frank, oh, and by the way, that is the director playing Uncle Joe's butler, Douglas. This one gets an "A" for effort, but the screenplay is just a little too messy for my tastes.

Sid & Judy
The documentary and the biopic are blended to dazzling effect in 2019's Sid & Judy, an intimate, riveting, and consistently fascinating look at the life and career of the iconic Judy Garland, concentrating on her third marriage to Sid Luft and told mostly from Luft's point of view.

I have always prided myself on being an expert on the life and career of Judy Garland, but even I was blown away by the endless parade of interviews, still photographs, on the set clips, and musical memories from Garland's short-lived CBS variety series from 1963 that were on display here.

This film takes a daring and original approach to documenting Garland here that was a refreshing alternative to most Hollywood documentaries. The film opens with a recorded conversation between Sid Luft and a CBS television executive complaining about having problems with Judy on the variety show. Luft and Garland then begin providing portions of the narration about their marriage, alternating with scripted narration about certain events in their lives with Jennifer Jason Leigh providing Garland's voice and Jon Hamm providing Luft's.

The story of Sid and Judy's marriage is seamlessly interwoven with an overlook of Garland's entire career, dating all the way back to her vaudeville roots as part of the Gumm Sisters. We are treated to a clip of George Jessel on Judy's CBS show telling the story of how he was responsible for her name being changed from Frances Gumm to Judy Garland. We are given insight into her pain regarding the death of her father and her troubled relationship with her mother. One of the most heartbreaking moments is when Garland, in her own voice, talks about how much pain her mother brought to her life.

There's so much new stuff I actually learned that I don't want to spoil here, but I will tell you that just like "Get Happy" in Summer Stock, "Born in a Trunk" in A Star is Born was filmed after the rest of the film was completed. We were also treated to four different versions of "The Man that Got Away" with different settings and costumes that came about because of the decision to film the movie in Cinemascope. There is also a wonderful clip from the variety show where Judy talks about what happened the night she was nominated for the Oscar for the film and she was still in the hospital after giving birth to her son Joey.

We are also gifted with some heretofore unseen footage from Judy's incredible concerts at the London Palladium, the Palace, and at Carnegie Hall that made clear that, despite her movie career, Judy Garland was a live performer and made her biggest impression that way. My heart sank a little during a clip of an interview with Jack Paar who asked her what it was like being a living legend. Her reply to this question was the essence of who Judy was and why her life and career impacted so many people, regular folks and other show biz folks alike. A unique and beautifully crafted look at one of Hollywood's greatest creations whose fire would eventually flicker out.

Rat Race
The director of Ghost and Airplane struck out with a stupid and over the top slapstick comedy from 2001 called Rat Race that had to be a complete embarrassment for all involved, including three Oscar-winning actors, though it does attempt to redeem itself with a terrific finale.

This disaster seems to be a re-thinking of the 1963 classic It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World but even at half the length, isn't anywhere near as entertaining as the Stanley Kramer comedy. This is the story of a group of Las Vegas tourists who are selected by the hotel manager (John Cleese) where they're staying for a contest. They are informed that they are participating in a race to a train station in Silver City, Nevada to open a locker there that has a gym bag containing two million dollars.

Among the participants are a disgraced NFL referee (Cuba Gooding Jr); a middle-aged woman (Whoopi Goldberg) reunited with the daughter she gave up for adoption; a pair of con-men/brothers (Seth Green, Vince Vieluf), one of whom can't speak properly because of an infected tongue piercing; a goofy Italian with narcolepsy (Rowan Atkinson); and a compulsive gambler/family man (Jon Lovitz) vacationing with his wife (Kathy Najimy) and kids. When the con men brothers destroy a Las Vegas airport to slow the others down, the contestants have to find alternative ways to get to Silver City.

Director Jerry Zuker and screenwriter Andy Breckman have concocted a silly story of greed that throws all logic and realism out the window in order to provide a lot of intended laughs that just never came from this reviewer. I'm not sure what scenarios came off as the most ridiculous: Was it Gooding driving a bus full of women to an I Love Lucy convention, the con men brothers abusing a cow while dangling from a hot air balloon or maybe it was Lovitz and his family stealing Adolph Hitler's Mercedes Benz from a Nazi museum? Oh, and let's not forget the young law student (Breckin Meyer) trapped in a helicopter with a pretty pilot (Amy Smart) who goes ballistic when she flies over the home of her cheating boyfriend. I also found that with all the law breaking and destruction of property that this race involves, there is not a law enforcement officer in sight during the entire story. At least in the 1963 film, the contestants did have a police officer, played by Spencer Tracy, watching everything they were doing.

It's a little confusing when it's revealed that the race participants are being monitored back at the hotel by a bunch of wealthy businessmen from all over the world and what their stake in this silliness might be is never really explained. But just when we're about to check out completely, the film does manage to provide a really fun, if slightly predictable ending that almost made up for all of the stupidity that preceded it...almost. The performances are nothing to write home about, though Green and Lovitz provide the occasional laugh, but this film is just a big ol' mess.

In the Heat of the Night
Director Norman Jewison created his directorial masterpiece with the 1967 classic In the Heat of the Night, a taut and sizzling drama of murder and redneck justice that won five Academy Awards including Best Picture.

Set the small town of Sparta, Mississippi, a young black police officer named Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) is sitting in a train station waiting for a train when he is arrested for the murder of a local wealthy businessman who was planning to build a new factory in town. Sparta's hard-nosed police chief Gillespie (Oscar winner Rod Steiger) is thrown when he learns that not only is Tibbs innocent of the crime, but he is a police officer from Pennsylvania who proves that the believed killer is also innocent. Tibbs is thrown when his commanding officer up north commands him to remain in Sparta and assist Gillespie in tracking down this killer.

Stirling Silliphant's Oscar-winning screenplay, based on a novel by John Ball is a near flawless indictment of bigotry and the pursuit of justice and how so often one can block the path to the other. It is infuriating in 2020 to watch Tibbs be arrested immediately for the crime without a shred of evidence, but it is also was very entertaining to watch Gillespie's attitude change when he first learns that Tibbs is a police officer whose specialty is homicide.

And it is the back and forth of the relationship between Gillespie and Tibbs that becomes the center of this story, while never forgetting that there is a murder at the center of the story as well. The begrudging respect Gillespie affords Tibbs is almost hard to believe in the racially charged setting of the story, but neither Silliphant nor Jewison ever forget where this story takes place and effectively project the conflict that is going on with this Gillespie character. He respects Tibbs and his skills as a detective, but also realizes the aspect of helplessness he has in protecting Tibbs from the redneck denizens who just want Tibbs to leave town. There is a scene where Tibbs is about to get about to get beaten with chains and pipes where Gillespie stops what is about to happen but lets the perpetrators walk away. I'm not sure that a similar event would play the same in 2020.

Jewison creates an unerring tension that permeates the story throughout, creating that drippy, sweaty southern atmosphere that appropriately frames the story. The cast is perfection, topped by Steiger as Gillespie, who, after two previous nominations, won an Oscar for his intense performance as the seemingly laid back sheriff, matched scene for scene by Poitier, who appeared in another Best Picture nominee the same year, Guess Who's Coming to DInner? as well as To Sir with Love...three superb performances that were snubbed by the Academy. The wonderful supporting cast is headed by Warren Oates as a dim-witted deputy and Lee Grant as the widow of the murder victim. The film also won Jewison the second of his seven career nominations for Best Director and a Best Film Editing Oscar for future director Hal Ashby.

Grand entertainment that still packs a wallop. Twenty-one years later, the film was adapted into a television series with Carroll O'Connor playing Gillespie and Howard Rollins Jr playing Tibbs.

Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill
He's been considered the true king of stand up comedy for decades, but his 2020 Netflix special Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hour to Kill was a serious disappointment, mainly because the comedian tries a lot of stuff that he is not known for and has never done before and it just doesn't work.

It seems that someone has planted a bug in Jerry's ear about what all the young and hip comics are doing and that he needs to be trying some of this stuff if he wants to remain "relevant." He actually starts the show with a silly filmed prologue where he is observed jumping out of a helicopter dressed in a scuba suit, dumped in the middle of the East River, swimming to shore and walking straight onstage to the Beacon Theater, concluding with the obligatory spitting water out of his mouth.

First of all, Jerry's material seems to be returning to the unabashed arrogance that was the basis of his classic NBC sitcom. He immediately lets the audience know that the only reason he is doing this concert is because he had nothing else do and had time to kill (thus the title). The first half of the concert is an unfunny diatribe on varied topics like restaurants, texting, and portable outdoor toilets. This very dated material looks even more dated with the addition of a lot of physical comedy, not a Seinfeld forte. We don't watch Jerry for pratfalls, funny walks, and mugging. Jerry Seinfeld is the ultimate wordsmith, we watch Jerry for his writing and he lets his writing get overshadowed by a lot of silly physicality and vocal tricks that are just not a signature of Seinfeld and there's a very good reason for that. He's not very good at it.

The second half of the concert is a slight improvement as the material gets more personal, offering a lot of clever insights about marriage, but again the physicality gets in the way of what the man does best. One thing I have always loved about Jerry Seinfeld is his uncanny ability for picking just the right word for just the right joke, but he even seemed to be lacking here. There was a joke where he was talking about how women object the tone of voice their husband often use and he compared the tone to a pitchpipe. But Jerry couldn't even think of the word "pitchpipe". He called it "that black thing that the choir director blows into." So not Jerry.

This concert will probably disappoint even hard core Jerry fans because this is just not the Jerry we know and love. I think I laughed out loud three times. What a shame.

The Women (1939)
From the golden year of cinema, 1939's The Women is the deliciously entertaining film version of the Claire Booth Luce stage play that is an incisive and often stinging indictment of the battle of sexes told strictly from one side of the battle.

The story opens with the gossip-obsessed Sylvia Fowler learning from a chatterbox manicurist that Stephen Haines, the husband of her best friend, Mary, is having an affair with a vicious salesgirl named Crystal Allen. Once Mary learns the truth about what her husband is doing, she demands a divorce from her husband, even though she is still in love with the man.

Anita Loos does an Oscar-worthy adaptation of the stage play that opened on Broadway in 1938 and ran for over 600 performances. The primary hook for the story, onstage and in the movie, is that the story is told with an all female cast of characters. Even though the story is about a failed marriage (actually more than one when all is said and done), the story is told completely from the wives' point of she finds out, how her friends and family react, and what she decides to do about it, or not do, depending on your point of view.

We immediately feel for the Mary Haines character because director George Cukor takes time at the film's opening showing us how blissfully happy Mary is with husband Stephen and her daughter, Little Mary. Further sympathy is evoked for Mary when, instead of telling Mary herself, the two-faced Sylvia innocently sends Mary to the manicurist and makes Mary learn from the horse's mouth so to speak, what is going on with her husband. This is just the beginning of the plethora of backbiting that goes on between the women in this story.

There are some dated theories about love and marriage offered along the way. We're disgusted when Mary's own mother suggests that Mary pretends to know nothing about the affair and keep her marriage together for the sake of her own family. We are equally disgusted by the way Mary gives up on her marriage without any kind of fight. The most interesting aspect of this movie and one of its most entertaining aspects is the way Stephen Haines and other male characters in the story remain a viable part of what's going on even though we never see them. There's a terrific scene where Mary's maid is eavesdropping at Mary's door, listening to the argument between Mary and Stephen where she demands a divorce and then runs downstairs to the cook and re-enacts the entire fight she just overheard.

George Cukor's sparkling and energetic direction shows a great deal of care to Loo's screenplay and to making sure we never really miss the male characters who are part of the story even though they're not. The film features first rate production values, including lavish sets and costumes and a slightly overlong fashion show, which, for some reason, was filmed in color while the rest of the film was in black and white. Norma Shearer is charming as the put upon Mary and Joan Crawford is a wonderfully bitchy Crystal Allen. Rosalind Russell also steals every scene she's in as the two-faced Sylvia. The film was remade as a semi musical in 1956 as The Opposite Sex with June Allyson as Mary and Joan Collins as Crystal. It was remade again in 2008 with Meg Ryan as Mary and Eva Mendes as Crystal. but neither of those versions have the sparkle and bite that this one does.

The Hustle
The story first came to the screen in 1964 as Bedtime Story starring David Niven and Marlon Brando. The film was reincarnated in 1988 as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Michael Caine and Steve Martin in the starring roles. Now we have a distaff remake of the same story called The Hustle which offers sporadic laughs but isn't as funny as it should be due to the producer looking out for the star.

This 2019 comedy stars Oscar winner Anne Hathaway as Janet, a sophisticated con artist who has been making a very comfortable living in the south of France until the arrival of Penny (Rebel Wilson), a cruder but equally effective con artist who is trying to steal her thunder. Janet decides the only way to get rid of Penny is to make a bet with her about which one of them can squeeze $500,000 out of a geeky millionaire, with the loser having to leave France for good.

The screenplay is credited to the original screenwriters for Bedtime Story, unfortunately the story suffers because Rebel Wilson is one of the producers of the film and probably had a large say in the construction of the screenplay which clearly puts Penny in a sympathetic position. In the other two films the viewers' sympathy waffles between both characters, giving the story a little more balance than it does here. This version clearly establishes Penny as the heroine and Janet as the villainness and I don't think that was the original intention of the story, though with Wilson's purse stings backing the venture, it is not surprising that her character is made the good guy.

Penny is not only the good guy but is supposed to be the funny guy as well. No one in this movie really gets an opportunity to be funny but Wilson and it really works to the film's detriment. Not to mention the fact that Alex Sharp, the actor playing the mark here, has all the screen presence of a box of rocks, which also works the film's detriment.

Like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, this film features breathtaking production values, but pretty pictures don't make a great movie by themselves. Hathaway works very hard to make her role likable, a role which allows her to employ a number of different accents, but most of this film hinges on Rebel Wilson and her personal likability factor with the viewer, which for me, has never been much.

Spies in Disguise
In my review of the live action remake of Aladdin, I talked about the fact that the only thing that didn't work for me was Will Smith's performance as the Genie. How ironic that the best thing about a 2019 animated Bond spoof called Spies in Disguise is the voice work of Will Smith in the central role.

This overly complex spy adventure is about a suave and slick spy named Lance Sterling who has been framed by an enemy agent who has stolen a dangerous weapon while disguising himself as Sterling. Sterling turns to a techno geek who makes gadgets for the agency named Walter (voiced by Tom Holland) in assisting in helping Sterling disappear. Walter is working on a disappearing formula but it isnt quite ready before Sterling drinks it. Instead of turning him invisible, the formula turns him into a pigeon, requiring Walter to accompany him when he goes after the assassin who took his face and has ruined his reputation.

This movie was actually inspired by an animated short called Pigeon: Impossible, but Lucas Martell's adaptation for this full length animation is about as predictable as they come, bearing more than a passing resemblance to the recent Onward, where two people who are practically strangers must completely depend on each other to get what they want. In fact, Holland provides the voice for the geeky character in both movies, which really doesn't help to distinguish one movie from the other.

What does work here is the character of Lance Sterling and Will Smith's terrific work in voicing the character. His initial arrogance is played for laughs and is definitely nothing new for Smith, but what is fun is watching Lance adjust to life as a pigeon and realizing that he can't do all the things he did as a human. I loved near the beginning of the movie when he dispatches a villain with a lethal karate chop and tries it later with his tiny little pigeon wing and realizes it doesn't have the same effect. It also helps that the animated Lance Sterling bears more than a passing resemblance to Will Smith.

Outside of Lance/Smith, this story is rambling and confusing...when the story opens, we find Sterling dealing with the Yakuza, but when the real villain who stole his face appears, he sounds Australian. The animation is sharp and colorful, but keeping up with everything that's going on becomes exhausting around the halfway point and one might be tempted to check out, but Smith's work here will help keep the viewer invested.

There's a Girl in My Soup
The late Peter Sellers is probably best remembered as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, but was given the opportunity to go straight romantic leading man in a slightly dated but saucy little battle of the sexes called There's a Girl in My Soup, which was also one of the earliest film appearances for future movie icon Goldie Hawn.

The 1970 comedy finds Sellers playing Robert Danvers, an arrogant, womanizing television star who meets his match in a 19 year old party girl named Marian (Hawn, in her second leading role), whose no nonsense approach to sex and romance alternately baffles and fascinates Robert, leading to a no-strings relationship with Marian, that is complicated by her unresolved feelings for ex-boyfriend, a cheating musician who wants Marian back even though he has already moved another woman into his home.

Terence Frisby's screenplay, adapted from his own stage play, attempts to be hip and contemporary, utilizing a lot of English slang for sex that not only appears dated now, but even Hawn seems a little confused about it. The story is completely British, but there didn't appear to be any changes in the story to accommodate Hawn's casting as the leading lady. Hawn was the hottest thing in Hollywood at the time, having just been nominated for an Oscar for her performance in Cactus Flower. As a matter of fact, Hawn was unable to accept the Oscar she won because she was in London making this film.

Hawn is her usual bubbly self and gives her character an unexpected intelligence, providing a leading lady who has more in common with her leading man than he originally thinks. It's fun watching the initial sexual foreplay that begins the story, but it soon degenerates into standard predictable movie romance, climaxing in an ending that would set the feminist movement back about 500 years. Roy Boulting's stilted direction doesn't help either, keeping the film trapped in its stage origins.

Most of the pleasure that the film still provides after all these years comes courtesy of Sellers, who is actually quite charming in a role unlike anything he had been seen in up to this point and with the addition of some mod 1970's trappings and scenery, it is the performance of Sellers that still makes this one worth a look.

The Town
He first utilized the setting in Good Will Hunting and then returned to it for Gone Baby Gone. Ben Affleck once again returned to his beloved Boston as the director, co-screenwriter, and star of The Town, an overambitious crime epic that provides rather compelling drama that eventually leads to a hard-to-swallow ending.

Affleck plays Doug McRay, a career criminal from the Boston suburb of Charlestown, who is planning his final bank robbery, while trying to tie up a loose end of his previous job, a bank manager named Claire (Rebecca Hall) who was briefly held hostage during the robbery but was released unharmed. The relationship with Claire is complicated by Doug's partner, James (Jeremy Renner), who thinks Claire needs to be eliminated and by James' sister, Krista (Blake Lively) who has a child with Doug. There's also a hard-nosed FBI agent (Jon Hamm) determined to bring Doug and his team down for good.

The screenplay, adapted from a novel by Chuck Hogan, is an overly complex mishmash of crime drama and character study that is just a little too protective of the central characters. The story does an effective job of establishing this criminal suburb Charlestown and its reputation as a place of crime and criminals and how anyone brought up here is destined for a life of crime and how that will never change. When we are introduced to Doug and James, they are immediately established as a unit which can never be penetrated, but Doug's relationship with Claire threatens to change all that, even though Charlestown life is definitely akin to the mob...once you're in, it's pretty much impossible to get out.

This is where the story begins to lose me...the point where Doug begins to have feelings for Claire and decides he wants out. We believe the tension it brings to his lifelong friendship with James, but it's hard to buy Krista's undying loyalty to Doug or the way Doug is able to keep Claire in the dark, but especially the way too frequent close calls that Doug and James have with the police. I actually lost count of how many times these guys got by the FBI because they were wearing phony police uniforms and sunglasses.

Affleck's direction is superior to his screenplay. His on location shooting in Boston adds an authenticity to the proceedings and there are a couple of hair raising car chases through some very narrow Boston streets that will keep the average action fan committed to what's going on, but as the last act commences, the credibility of the story begins to slowly crumble, climaxing in a completely unbelievable ending.

Even with all the hats he wears here, Affleck is solid as Doug and gets terrific support from Renner and Hamm. Production values are first-rate with special nods to film editing and sound, but the story and where it goes made this overlong crime tale hard to stay with. Affleck does get an "A": for effort though.

The Love Bug
US sales of the Volkswagen "Beetle" probably took a serious spike after the release of the 1968 Walt Disney fantasy The Love Bug, a zany comic romp that provides plenty of laughs despite a screenplay filled with some serious holes.

Dean Jones plays Jim Douglas, a down on his luck race car driver, who finds himself the owner of a an old used Volkswagen, that seems to have a mind of its own as it deserts its owner, the evil Peter Thorndyke (David Tomlinson) and follows Jim home where Jim's best pal Tennessee (Buddy Hackett) becomes immediately aware that the car has a mind of its own, even though Jim and Thorndyke's ex-secretary (Michele Lee) might have their doubts.

For undiscriminating kids in 1968, there is a lot of fun stuff going on here, but as an adult viewing this film for the first time since my childhood, there's a whole lot that goes on here that's difficult to swallow. Are we supposed to believe that no one watched this car follow Jim home from Thorndyke's dealership with no driver in it? Are we supposed to believe that Jim and Carole don't believe the car has a mind of its own after it traps them in the car and sets them up on a date? Are we supposed to believe that the car knows how to squirt oil on Thorndyke's shoes?

Even if we're able to overlook all this and accept this boy meets car love story, it doesn't make sense that after the halfway point of the film, the car seems to completely lose the mind that we've finally accepted and allows Thorndyke to sabotage the car over and over again? Are we supposed to believe that Thorndyke pours Irish coffee into the gas tank and the car gets halfway through a race before it starts to malfunction? And why don't JIm and Tennessee guard the car with their lives before the big race, which allows Thorndyke to almost completely destroy the car, which again doesn't fall apart until the end of the climactic race.

Despite all of this, I can see why this movie was such a monster hit in 1968. Robert Stevenson's energetic direction is aided by some dizzying camerawork along some very narrow highways and Cotton Warburton's editing. Jones proves why he was one of Disney's favorite leading men and Tomlinson was the perfect mustache twirling villiain. Several familiar faces pop up aliong the way like Joe Flynn, Gary Owens, Herb Vigran, Iris Adrian, Joe E. Ross, and Ned Glass. It's definitely starting to creak around the edges, but really young kids might still find some laughs here. The film inspired several sequels and a 1997 remake.

21 Bridges
A problematic screenplay notwithstanding, 2019's 21 Bridges is a pretty solid tale of Manhattan crime and corruption that distracts the viewer with a few too many red herrings, but is well directed and acted, with a viable final act twist that makes up for a somewhat saggy middle.

Chadwick Boseman stars a hard-nosed NYPD detective who has just wrapped an internal affairs investigation who is brought in as lead investigator on a city wide manhunt for a pair of thieves who have murdered seven police officers, leading to a conspiracy that neither he nor the viewer see coming.

The screenplay by Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan is a little spotty and is rich with cheesy dialogue that we've been hearing in police dramas since the 1970's. The story does deserve credit for attempting to show all the characters involved as three dimensional human beings. The cop killers, despite their being cop killers, are revealed to be men of brains and conscience...they realize they have been set up from the beginning, they realize that 50 kilos of cocaine is not going to lead to a life of leisure and they don't hurt anyone they don't have to hurt. Once the story whittles down to our hero and just one of the killers, it is a little hard to believe that it takes so long for the entire NYPD to trap this guy just because he has to be brought in alive. The final act twist is a little long in its reveal, but it does explain a lot of confusion during the middle of the story and leads to a surprisingly quiet yet powerful denoument. And why are the heroes in stories like this always in the middle of an internal affairs investigation?

Brian Kirk, whose previous experience in directing is mostly limited to television like Game of Thrones, does an impressive job of mounting this often bloody and ugly story,. His visual concept of Manhattan on lockdown is often spellbinding and shows a definite skill with the steady cam that proves he is a director to watch. He gets first rate assistance from cinematographer Paul Cameron, film editor Tim Burrell and a heart-pumping music score by Alex Belcher and Henry Jackman.

Bosmeman continues to show his strength and versatility as a leading man and gets solid support from cinema's best female chameleon, Sienna Miller and Oscar winner JK Simmons. If the story had played out a little more logically, this could have been very special.

Sonic the Hedgehog
The 2020 big screen re-imagining of Sonic the Hedgehog has a few things going for it, such as some spectacular production values, but fails to hold interest due to a predictable and, at times, downright schmaltzy story.

For those who are unfamiliar with Seneca video game which was the genesis of the tile character, Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) is an alien version of the earth rodent who has been banished from his home planet and now resides in a small town called Green Hills, Montana, where he befriends a young police officer (James Marsden) who agrees to help Sonic get to San Francisco, where the magic rings that were given to him before he arrived on earth have gone to, after our hero caused a blackout in Green Hills, that not only earns attention from the government, but from an alien evil genius (Jim Carrey) who wants to take Sonic back to his planet so that he can perform experiments on him.

After the video game, Sonic became an animated television series that premiered in 1993 with Jaleel White voicing the title character and this film might hold more appeal for fans of that series, but I just don't get the appeal here...sometimes this character is dumb as a box of rocks one scene and the smartest character in the movie the next. He seems to have some knowledge of 2020 pop culture and other scenes he doesn't. He refers to Marsden's character as "Donut Lord:" because he's a cop and that joke gets very old very quickly. The most annoying aspect of the charatcer is the fact that he NEVER stops talking, This is the first alleged superhero I have ever encountered that I just wanted to stuff a sock in his mouth.

The story starts off predictably enough with Sonic and Marsden hitting the road to San Francisco with Carrey's evil robot lord hot on their tail. It's hard to accept the fact that Marsden and Sonic are traveling in an SVU and this evil genius has limitless technology at his fingertips and for some, reason, can't get his hand on the hedgehog, and not just because he is able to run 300 MPH, which seems to be his only real superpower, other than the ability to freeze action and adjust things to his advantage...hell Zack Morris could do that on Saved by the Bell, why should it be such a big deal here? And the scene where Sonic tears up a western bar is something out of a 70's Clint Eastwood movie.

Every penny of the film's humongous $85,000,000 budget is up there on the screen, but it doesn't help to hide the fact that there's just not much going on here. It's not often I've found myself checking my watch during an hour-40 minute movie. Carrey really chews up the scenery though and I also loved Adam Pally as Marsden's contemporary Barney Fife and Frank C. Turner as Crazy Carl, but this one was a big disappointment. The film also concludes with the most obvious set-up for a sequel I have ever seen. Fans of the series and of the video game might enjoy it more than I did.

Pretty Baby
The firestorm of multi-layered controversy that the film caused during its 1978 release might seem a little silly today, but Pretty Baby is still worth watching if, for no other reason, the delicately nuanced direction of French filmmaker Louis Malle.

The setting of this steamy story is an elegant brothel in 1917 Orleans where we meet a free-spirited prostitute named Hattie (Susan Sarandon) who seems content raising her 12-year old daughter, Violet (Brooke Shields) to follow in her footsteps until the arrival of an attractive and enigmatic photographer named Bellocq (Keith Carradine) who arrives to do a photo essay on the girls. It's not long afterwards that Hattie receives a marriage proposal that forces her to leave Violet at the brothel, a move that brings an entire new dynamic to the relationship between her daughter, Violet and the young photographer.

Screenwriter Polly Platt has crafted a bold and unapologetic story that often walks a very delicate line between good taste and soft porn that takes a sophisticated look at some very seamy subject matter that makes parallels to more universal themes. The story seems to compare prostitution to slavery. The scene where Violet is put on display for the first time as a professional finds her actually being auctioned off, like a slave. The more disturbing aspect of what happens to Violet here is her nonchalance about what she's doing. The life of prostitution is all she knows and she seems to have no desire to know any other way to live. Violet's unabashed pursuit of the photographer is completely inappropriate as is his not discouraging it, but it's a different time and place and we find ourselves drawn to something that really should make us squirm.

Even more so than Platt's story is Louis Malle's beautifully evocative direction that drapes this somewhat seamy subject matter in such a glamorous and tasteful atmosphere that we almost forget that we're watching women selling their bodies because they don't know how to do anything else and don't care. Malle's approach to the expected nudity in the story is quite tasteful for the most part,,,minimal frontal nudity but what shocked filmgoers was how much of it involved 12 year old Brooke Shields.

Moviegoers were not only outraged by the seemingly strong sexual content of the film, but more by some of the things that Brooke Shields had to do in this film, including frontal nudity. Strong criticism was even thrown the way of Shields' mother, Terri, because people felt the psychological effect this role would have on her daughter would damage her. Shields seemed to come out of it, unscathed though...she's still alive, still working, and this film just seems to be a postscript in her career.

Shields is an eye-opener in this film and, if the truth be told, she never did anything in her career more interesting than this. Susan Sarandon is delicious as her mother Hattie and Keith Carradine brings a sensitive sexuality to the Bellocq character that is most appealing. Older fans might recognize the brothel piano player: that's Antonio Fargas, who got his fifteen minutes playing Huggy Bear on ABC's Starsky and Hutch. When all is said and done, it is the work of Louis Malle that still makes this viable entertainment.

The Bellboy
Jerry Lewis had a really great cinematic concept that got away from him as the producer, director, and writer of a 1960 oddity called The Bellboy that does provide some laughs and is definitive proof why Lewis has always been considered one of the pioneers in the art of physical comedy.

Jerry plays Stanley, a bellboy at an elegant Miami Beach hotel called the Fontainbleu, who redefines the adjective "inept.", getting into all kinds of trouble with staff and guests alike, but somehow manages to hold onto his job.

Lewis did have a good idea, but even he must have had some reservations about it, evidenced by a prologue to the story featuring Jack Krushen as a Paramount studio head explaining to us that what we're about to see is not an average movie, featuring no story or plot, which it seems Lewis felt gave him the freedom to do what he wanted here.

The scenes of Stanley screwing up his job in the hotel are, for the most part, very funny. Even funnier, is the fact that Stanley doesn't speak a word throughout most of the running time. It was fun watching him retrieve the luggage from a Volkswagen, trying to press a guest's trousers, or destroying a still wet clay sculpture, but when the movie moves away from Stanley's antics, so does the humor. Ironically, beginning with the arrival of Lewis at the hotel, playing himself with a very large entourage, which leads into pointless cameos by Milton Berle and the legendary Stan Laurel. There are also silly scenes outside of the hotel at a dog race track and strip club that bring the film to a complete halt.

The film works when it stays focused on the strangely quiet Stanley and Lewis' concept of the bell staff being comparable to military soldiers. The scenes of Stanley trying to find someplace to sit in a crowded restaurant or pretending to conduct an imaginary orchestra produce big laughs, without a word of dialogue.

Lewis does make effective use of his limited budget (under a million)...the actual hotel is beautiful and the art direction/set direction team should be credited for that, it's just too bad that Lewis couldn't completely commit to the basic concept of the film, which was good one, unfortunately, the producer and director just get a little full of themselves.

Black and Blue
Despite a slightly predictable and cliche-filled screenplay, 2019's Black and Blue, is a first rate nail biter that works thanks to solid direction and the most bad ass movie heroine since Sigourney Weaver's Ripley.

Naomie Harris, a Best Supporting Actress nominee for the 2016 Best Picture winner Moonlight, plays Alicia West, a rookie police officer who witnesses three dirty cops murdering a drug killer and catches the whole thing on her body cam. She not only finds herself targeted by these cops. but by a powerful drug kingpin, who was the victim's uncle. Before she even realizes it, Alicia finds herself squaring against the entire police department but manages to find a single ally in a neighborhood store owner and childhood acquaintance named Mouse (Tyrese Gibson).

Screenwriter Peter A. Dowling, who also wrote the Jodie Foster thriller Flightplan has constructed a somewhat predictable story that initially starts off as a completely different kind of story. The film opens with her being stopped by police while jogging and then harassed by former friends of the hood, implying that the story is going to be about a black cop who has forgotten where she came from because she's a cop, but the real story does come into focus pretty quickly and also angers because we know this woman is innocent and can't believe no one in the department believes this woman and the allegiance of her old neighborhood seems to change with each scene.

Love this lead character though...even though she is a rookie on the police force, Alicia is a former soldier who did two tours in Afghanistan. She is no dummy, trained for tense situations, realizes immediately that she can't trust anyone, and no matter how bad the situation escalates. The story puts on her side immediately and the scene where she discovers that her own partner (Reid Scott) was in on the plan to get her, actually brought a lump to the throat.

More than anything, this film is a clear demonstration as to why people hate cops so much. That first scene where Alicia and her partner are riding through her old housing project is so telling...the looks of distrust and resentment on citizen's as if her joining the force was a personal betrayal. Even more upsetting was these dirty cops' reaction to finding Alicia has witnessed the whole thing...the idea that these guys would actually murder a fellow police officer in order to cover up their own crimes made me sick to my stomach. Not to mention, how long it took for the truth to come out and for these dirty cops to get what was coming to them.

Director Deon Scott has mounted a solid action thriller with first rate assistance from his film editing and second unit teams. Harris once again proves to be an actress of substance and versatility, playing one of the most durable heroines to hit the screen in awhile and Frank Grillo is completely hissable as the murderous dirty cop. Tyrese Gibson seems to have taken some acting lessons since the pathetic Baby Boy and Scott, Beau Knapp, and the bone-chilling Mike Cutler register in their roles as well. A solid action thriller that had me on the edge of my seat for most of the running time.

Louis CK: Oh My God
Louis CK knocks it out of the park with a fall on the floor funny HBO special from 2013 called Louis CK: Oh My God that put into focus for this reviewer what sets this guy apart from other stand-ups.

Performing in the round from a theater in Phoenix, Arizona, Louis covers a myriad of topics, some expected and some not, and without a lot of worrying about seguing from one topic to the next. His opening piece where he talks about an old woman who lives in his neighborhood who he sees walking her dog every day seemed to be sort of an odd topic to which to open the show, but once he has completed his very detailed physical description of this old lady and her dog, we are all in and cant wait to hear about whatever sordid adventures that Louis had with this old lady.

The closest thing to a segue that I experienced during the concert was when Louis was talking about what it's like to live in Manhattan to what it was like to be aging. Louis analysis as to why life at age 45 was so much better than life when he was younger was pretty much on the money.

There are two things that I noticed during this special that set Louis apart from a lot of other comics. In previous reviews, I have referred to Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Maher, and Ali Wong as polished wordsmiths...comics with the ability to always pick out just the right word for just the right joke. What I noticed in this special is that Louis CK is the master of the comic matter what twisted or sorted or initially confusing things he might be talking about, Louis has an uncanny ability to follow the subject with the perfect analogy that clears up for the audience what he's talking about and has them doubled over in laughter. I was also doubled over in laughter as he talked about why men love breasts and his tirade against parents filming their kids' dance recitals on the phone and then posting them on You Tube.

The other thing that Louis is fearless about is treading into edgy and dangerous comic territory where other comics fear to tread. His impassioned debate about why murder should be legalized and his final discourse on the state of the world entitled "Of Course...but really..." venture into unexplored comic waters but provide laughs where we're not sure we should be laughing or not...but we are.

Louis is also to be commended for never forgetting that he is performing in the round. I watched a Kevin Hart special last year where Hart was performing in the round and had his back to an entire section of the audience for the whole show. Louis never forgot that he was performing in the round and the camera followed him appropriately. I appreciated this and I'm sure the audience did too.