Gideon58's Reviews

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One of these days I'm going to watch every single Elvis movie, but right now I haven't seen Girls, Girls, Girls.

This one was pretty bad, Citizen, there are probably others you should watch first.



I Married a Witch
There is some fuzzy plotting, but some very funny dialogue and top-notch performances by the stars make the 1942 romantic comedy I Married a Witch sparkling entertainment that had me completely captivated.

Jennifer is a witch from the 17th century who was burned at the stake by a Jonathan Wooley. A bolt of lightening releases the souls of Jennifer and her father, Daniel from their earthly prison ( a gigantic tree) and they manage to locate the most recent descendant of Wooley, a gubernatorial candidate named Wallace, whose family has had a curse placed on them by Jennifer's family. Jennifer decides to ruin Wallace's life by breaking up his upcoming wedding by having Wallace fall in love with her, with the aid of a love potion, but Jennifer ends up consuming the potion instead.

The screenwriters had a really terrific idea here but the story gets a little sketchy at times. I don't understand how getting drunk would make Daniel lose his powers nor do I understand why he completely turns on his daughter during the final act. It was also confusing the way Wallace develops feelings for Jennifer even though she's the one who takes the love potion. It was also odd that after everything she did to get Wallace, she was willing to give him up when it meant losing her powers. These are minor nitpicks that didn't really cloud the real joy of this movie.

The real joy of this movie was some extremely clever dialogue, some pretty neat visual effects for 1942, and the delicious performances by the stars. Loved when Daniel was told he might get a hangover and he bellowed, "Don't tell me what I've got! I invented the hangover!". Loved watching Jennifer sliding up and down the fancy banister and trying to start a fire. There was also an adorable moment when her broom walked over to Jennifer and she told the broom, no thank you I don't want to leave now.

The casting of the ethereal Veronica Lake in the role of Jennifer was a perfect marriage of actress and character. Like one of her contemporaries Carole Lombard, Lake was a deadly combination of sexy and funny that was totally irresistible. Lake appears to really be having a ball in this role. Fredric March once again documents his uncanny versatility with his loopy Wallace. Cecil Kellaway steals every scene he's in as Jennifer's loopy warlock father and a young Susan Hayward impresses in an early role as Wallace's bitchy fiancee.

Needless to say, this film was a partial inspiration for the classic 1960's sitcom Bewitched. In that show, however, the mortal and the witch fell in love without witchcraft, which was the central theme of this movie, that love is better than witchcraft. Lovers of classic cinema and of Bewitched should eat this one up.



I Heart Huckabees
Director and co-screenwriter David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) is the creative force behind one of the most bizarre black comedies I have ever seen. A meticulously crafted 2004 film I Heart Huckabees redefines a phrase I have often used in reviews, "cinematic acid trip" but is never boring and features a spectacular ensemble cast completely committed to Russell's vision.

This logic defying story begins when Albert (Jason Schwartman), a passionate young conservationist, sees a tall African doorman at three different locations in a single day. He decides to go to a pair of married detectives (Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin) to get the bottom of this coincidence, who are "existential" detective who specializes in helping people figure out what life is all about. Albert's case soon becomes intertwined with two other cases of the detectives, one is a neurotic firefighter named Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg) and the other is an obnoxious co-worker of Albert's named Brad (Jude Law).

If the truth be told, I almost turned this movie off at least three times during the first 30 minutes and I'm still not sure what made me keep watching. Russell and co-screenwriter Jeff Baena have taken the concept of existentialism and almost mangle it beyond recognition, through often pretentious dialogue and visual imagery unlike anything I have ever seen. There is also a very strong feeling that a lot of what happens here was unscripted, Russell's bizarre directorial eye is brought to often confusing fruition with the aid of film editor Robert K. Lambert and visual effects supervisor Russell Barrett. The viewer is constantly barraged with so much technical hocus pocus that we can't help but think that the only logical resolution of the story is a "and then I woke up" scene which never happens. I would say that the story requires undivided attention, but it didn't help this reviewer.

The inventive technology that went into this film is equally matched by the absolutely amazing cast Russell has assembled for this bizarre vision. Hoffman and Tomlin are magical together and Scwartzman provides his accustomed crisp performance as Albert. Wahlberg and Law also offer wonderfully unhinged performances. And for those who like to play "Spot the stars", the film also features appearances from Naomi Watts, Isabelle Huppert, Kevin Dunn, Jean Smart, Richard Jenkins, Tippi Hedren, Jonah Hill, Isla Fisher, Bob Gunton, and Scwartzman's real-life mother, Talia Shire. Not for all tastes, but the cast alone makes it worth a look.



The Haunting (1963)
After winning his first Oscar for directing West Side Story and before winning his second Oscar for directing The Sound of Music, Robert Wise managed to squeeze in a heart-stopping psychological chiller called The Haunting that riveted this viewer to the screen thanks to a compelling, multi-layered story and some extraordinary performances.

Hill House is a mysterious mansion that has stood for 90 years and has a history of violent and grisly deaths, which have spearheaded the belief that the mansion is haunted. Dr. John Markway is an anthropologist who is obsessed with the supernatural and obtains permission to move into the house in order to prove that Hill House is indeed haunted. He is joined in the house by a lonely spinster named Eleanor who is believed to have psychic powers, a sophisticated clairvoyant named Theodora and Luke, the son of the mansion's owner who wants to purchase it for himself. It isn't long before strange occurrences within the house imply a special connection between the house and this woman Eleanor.

Based on the novel "The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson, Nelson Gidding's screenplay subtly but directly sets up a very creepy story that eventually whittles down to a one on one battle between this woman Eleanor and this house. We are given hints that going to this house is Eleanor's destiny through the fact that she is the only character with which get some backstory and, upon her arrival at Hill House, is determined to stay no matter what happens because she's supposed to be here. The story is provided an extra level of creepy by the fact that the antagonist in this story is invisible...even though we know this house is haunted, we can't see them, but we can see them communicating with Eleanor...loved when she first pulled onto the grounds and stopped in front of the mansion and said to herself that the house was staring at her. Speaking of which, Eleanor is also the only character given inner monologues regarding what's going on with the house.

This reviewer was also intrigued by what comes off as an underlying component of sexual tension to the story when it not only appears that Eleanor is attracted to Dr. Markway, but Theodora might be attracted to Eleanor as well, which gets even another level with the unexpected arrival of Dr. Markway's wife on the scene. It doesn't detract from the primary story, but adds a wonderfully human element to the supernatural story that we don't see coming at all.

Julie Harris turns in an extraordinary, Oscar-worthy performance as the tortured Eleanor that commands viewer attention. She is beautifully complimented by Claire Bloom's slick and sexy Theodora. After being directed by Wise in West Side Story, Russ Tamblyn provides just the right comic relief as young Luke. Richard Johnson and Lois Maxwell complete the sterling ensemble as the Markways. Exquisite black and white cinematography and chilling music are also great aids in pulling off this chilling tale of an invisible horror.



The Farewell
Despite only one feature length film to her credit, director and screenwriter Lulu Wang hits an emotionally charged bullseye with 2019's The Farewell, a warm, funny, and often moving tale of family set in a foreign culture but rich with universal themes and emotions.

Billi is a young Chinese woman living in New York who learns that her grandmother is dying of cancer. She hops the first plane to China, even though she's not happy to learn from her parents that the family has decided to keep the truth about the grandmother's illness from her, using the upcoming wedding of Billi's cousin as an excuse for all of the family to gather around the family matriarch.

Wang presents an emotionally manipulative story on a very touchy subject that takes on a special air thanks to its loving respect to Chinese tradition and culture. We initially understand Billi's anger because she thinks her grandmother should know the truth. Then we meet grandma who thinks she has just gotten a clean bill of health from her doctor. We see how thrilled she is to see Billi and the rest of her family and we see how pumped she is about planning this wedding and we're re-thinking our position on the whole thing. And so is Billie. Though the movie's standout scene was when grandma goes back to the doctor to changer her medication and the whole family shows up. When Billi realizes the doctor speaks English, she takes the opportunity to ask him about grandma's condition for real because no one else present speaks English, except Billi's parents, who remain silent.

I was also impressed with the appropriate doses of humor that are woven into the story. Loved grandma causing a scene at the restaurant where the wedding dinner is going to be because she ordered lobster and the chef is preparing crab. The actual wedding dinner is a lot of fun too, rich with the kind of silliness that we've seen at a lot of movie weddings...people drinking too much, reunited military pals bragging about their kills, the awkward speeches, and bad karioke performances. The balance that Wang brings to this story only enhances its realism.

The location filming in China is a lovely canvas for the story featuring breathtaking cinematography by Anna Franquesa Solano. Awkwafina, who provided terrific comic relief in Crazy Rich Asians, proves herself to be an actress of real substance with her gutsy performance as Billi, a performance that earned her a Golden Globe nomination. I also loved Shuzhen Zhao as the grandmother and Diana Linn as Billi's mother. A unique and moving motion picture, that if caught in the right mood, will definitely ignite some tear ducts.



Stella
Bette Midler fans will definitely find entertainment value in Stella, a 1999 soap opera rich with dated plotting and cliched dialogue that is still worth a look thanks to some really terrific performances.

This film is actually the second remake of a story called Stella Dallas that first came to the screen in 1925 with Belle Bennett in the starring role. The film was remade in 1937 with Barbara Stanwyck, who received an Oscar nomination for her performance. This version stars Bette Midler as Stella Claire, a loud-mouth, free-spirited bartender in Watertown, New York who has a one night stand with a handsome doctor named Stephen Dallas (Stephen Collins), which results in her pregnancy. Stella turns down Stephen's tentative marriage proposal and decides to raise the baby herself. We then watch the gradual evolution of this Stella character who completely devotes her life to the happiness of her daughter, Jenny (Trini Alvarado) who often feels smothered by Mom's constant attention.

Screenwriter Robert Getchell (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore) has made a couple of major changes to the original story that give it an entirely different feel. In the original film, Stella and Stephen actually get married and have the baby before going their separate ways. I'm guessing that Stella becomes a single mother in this remake is to make her a more contemporary 1990 movie heroine...a woman doesn't need to have a man to raise a child. This is probably also why the brief relationship between Stephen and Stella have at the opening of this film is crafted with such detail. It establishes Stella as a woman of independent means and attempts to paint Stephen as a black-hearted villain, which he really isn't. This is why Stephen probably remains a more viable part of the story than in the previous versions.

One thing I loved that director John Erman does here is establish how becoming a mother brings about a remarkable change in Stella in one very single, very effective moment in the film. The moment where the baby is placed in Stella's arms for the first time is the film's loveliest moment, where we actually see Stella become a completely different person in a matter of seconds, a person who has now decided that her life is all about her daughter's. We see it again when Stephen wants to take Jenny to New York on Christmas Eve and even though Stella would rather slit her own throat than let Jenny go, she lets her go anyway. For the most part, what we have here is a 1930's melodrama in a 1990 setting that eventually drowns in its own soap suds with a finale too corny to be believed.

What keeps the viewer interested is a cast really committed to this sappy cinematic vision. Bette Midler is bold and gutsy as the title character, making us care about this often silly and sappy woman. Trini Alvarado (whatever happened to her?) is charming as Jenny and helps Midler create the most interesting mother/daughter movie relationship I've seen since Shirley and Debra in Terms of Endearment. John Goodman also impresses as Stella's platonic BFF as does Marsha Mason as Dr. Dallas' new girlfriend. And if you pay attention, you will also catch Ben Stiller, in his sixth feature film, playing Jenny's obnoxious first boyfriend. It' a little on the sudsy side, but hardcore Midler fans will find entertainment here.



Midnight Run
Martin Brest, who triumphed as director of Beverly Hills Cop, delivered another bullseye with Midnight Run, an endlessly entertaining action comedy that features a near brilliant screenplay and surprising chemistry between the leads.

The 1988 film stars Robert De Niro as Jack Walsh, an ex-cop turned bounty hunter who is offered $100,000 by a bondsman to bring in Jonathan "The Duke" Mardukas (Charles Grodin), a nerdy but intelligent accountant who embezzled an obscene amount of money from the mob and gave it away to charity. In addition to the mobster the Duke stole the money from, Jack also finds his mission complicated by a stone-faced FBI agent who lost his ID to Walsh and and a foul-mouthed fellow bounty hunter who the sleazy bondsman also hires to get the Duke when he thinks Jack has messed up.

Brest gets grand assistance from an intricate, Oscar-worthy screenplay by George Gallo that requires complete attention but said attention is totally worth it as we find ourselves immediately sucked into an outrageous story that stays just within the realm of realism while providing major laughs throughout. If I had one quibble with the story, I don't think a real bounty hunter would open up about his personal life the way Jack does to the Duke. but it was necessary for this story to play out.

The real pleasure of this film is the relationship between these two lead characters and Brest absolutely deserves a lot of credit for this. It is so much fun watching the slow burn of this relationship as we watch the always thinking Duke trying to get inside of Jack's head in hopes of tripping him up and Jack trying not to get caught up in his feelings that Jonathan is in over his head and really doesn't deserve what's happening to him. We have to wait for the eventual bonding we just know is going to happen between these guys, but they never forget their heads or their individual missions.

De Niro and Grodin command the screen creating the core of one of the best buddy/road movies ever made. Grodin's underplaying as the Duke is especially masterful...Grodin can convey five pages of dialogue in one furtive glance. They receive solid support from Yaphet Kotto as the FBI agent with anger issues, Dennis Farina as the mobster, Joe Pantoliano as the greasy bondsman and in one of the best scene-stealing performances ever, John Ashton, who played Taggert in Beverly Hills Cop as the nasty bounty hunter out to steal Jack's thunder, a role light years away from Taggert.

Brest has employed first rate production values in mounting some of the most outrageous action sequences ever put on film, including superb cinematography, production design and Danny Elfman's toe-tapping music. More than anything, this is a testament to the directorial eye of Martin Brest, who creates the near perfect action comedy.



The Theory of Everything
Eddie Redmayne blindsided Michael Keaton when he won the Oscar for Outstanding Lead Actor of 2014 for his performance as Dr. Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, which not only profiles the work of the famed physicist but his romance with the luminous Jane as well.

The film opens at Cambridge during the 1960's where Hawking is befuddling his professors with some outrageous theories regarding physics and cosmology and beginning a tentative romance with a fellow student named Jane. Just as Stephen is about to commit to Jane and graduate from Cambridge with a doctorate he is diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Hawking is told he has two years to live and is ready to face what's going to happen to him, but he begins to push Jane away who is not having it. She declares that she wants to spend whatever time Stephen has left at his side.

After they are married, Stephen's mother notices that Jane is overwhelmed and needs some kind of outlet in her life besides Stephen. She suggest that Jane join the church choir, a move that alters the state of Stephen and Jane's marriage permanently.

Admittedly, I knew close to nothing about Stephen Hawking before watching this film, which allowed me to judge it purely on entertainment value. Anthony McCarten's screenplay is based on a book by the real Jane Hawking, so trust in the facts presented is assumed.

The lion's share of the credit for why this emotionally charged film works has to go to director James Marsh, who won an Oscar for directing a documentary called Man on Wire. Marsh scores with his leisurely yet realistic pacing of this story. I liked that once Hawking learns of his diagnosis, he's not in a wheelchair in the next scene..Marsh puts undeniable detail into the first scene where Hawking loses his footing and the first time he actually falls to the ground...that fall recalled the fatal fall that Hillary Swank took in Million Dollar Baby. Watching the ravaging of Hawking's body is heartbreaking to watch. I also loved the scene where he takes his place in his wheelchair for the first time. The progression of the disease is realistically mounted. I was also impressed by the efforts of the people in Hawking's orbit walk the tightrope of treating the man as normal as possible and making sure he received the treatment and care required.

The production values are first rate with special nods to Benoit Delhomme's cinematography and Johann Johansson's gorgeous Oscar-nominated music. One reason I wanted to see this film because I was shocked when Redmayne won the Best Actor Oscar over Michael Keaton for Birdman, but I understand Redmayne's win now. The actor completely loses himself in this physically and emotionally demanding role and Felicity Jones, who impressed as Ruth Bader Ginsberg in A Matter of Sex is lovely as Jane. Impressive support is also provided by Charlie Cox as Jonathan the piano teacher and Simon MacBurney as Stephen's father. There's supreme entertainment here despite a lot of the squirm worthy story elements. All the more compelling because it's a true story...a true love story.



Wow, really? Different strokes I guess...I also would have considered this not your type of movie, another one I'm surprised you even watched.



Anna and the King of Siam
The 1946 melodrama Anna and the King of Siam is a sumptuously mounted, fact-based story of politics and clashing cultures that engages the viewer and stirs emotions with a darker tone than the Broadway musical it became six years later, but still provides solid entertainment.

Based on a book by Margaret Landon, this is the story of a widowed English schoolteacher named Anna Owens who travels halfway across the world with her young son to the Asian country of Siam (which is now Thailand) to tutor the King's wives and children and finds herself in a constant battle of wills with the stubborn and tyrannical king.

The Oscar nominated screenplay by Talbot Jennings and Sally Benson is a surprisingly serious look at 19th century politics outside of the United States blended with a dual character study of two people from completely different worlds learning to co-exist and trust each other. There is an immediate tone of sexism in the story as Mrs. Owens is informed by everyone she meets prior to the King that her opinion on most subjects is meaningless because she's a woman. What's fun about the relationship is that the King almost immediately realizes that Mrs. Anna is his intellectual superior but has no intention of letting her know.

Of course, this story reached the Broadway stage as a musical in 1951 as The King and I starring Gertrude Lawrence as Anna and as the King, in the role that would pretty much define his career, Yul Brynner as the King, with a score by Rodgers and Hammerstein. The musical came to the screen in 1956 with Brynner and Deborah Kerr and earned a Best Picture nomination. I don't want to spoil this movie for viewers who have only seen the musical, but I will say that one of my favorite things about the 1956 film version of the musical that is absent here is the romantic tension between the lead characters. A feeling of mutual respect is definitely achieved in this film, but I never got a sense of romantic feelings between Anna and the King in this film.

Director John Cromwell has mounted a beautifully looking film that features Oscar winning art direction/set direction and cinematography. Irene Dunne is nothing short of enchanting in her Oscar-worthy performance as Anna that should have earned her a nomination. As competent as Rex Harrison is as the King, it was hard for me to get the picture of Yul Brynner out of my head because his performance has become the gold standard for this role. Gale Sondergaard, the first Best Supporting Actress winner for Anthony Adverse, received another nomination for her performance as the King's #1 wife, but for me, Lee J. Cobb seemed miscast as the Kralahome. For fans and non-fans of the musical, a rich and warm melodrama with the just the right dash of humor that will warm the heart and possibly produce a tear or two.



Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind
The life, career, and tragic death of the Hollywood icon are uniquely and lovingly brought to the screen by HBO in a beautiful 2020 documentary called Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind which takes a different approach to offering a new look at a lot of things we already know about the star and offers new information as well.

The documentary opens with its executive producer, Wood's daughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner talking off screen about the day she learned about her mother's death and then segues into Natasha sitting down and talking to Robert Wagner and playwright Mart Crowley, probably Natalie's best friend, who share memories about their first meetings with Natalie, intermingled with a barrage of home movies, still photographs, and film clips.

This documentary didn't follow the traditional chronological route of most celebrity documentaries. The interview goes straight to the end of Wagner's first marriage to Natalie, right around the time Wood's career was blowing up. It then goes back to her childhood and then an emotionally charged sequence where several different people are asked to talk about the exact moment they heard about Wood's death and it was interesting to watch how every single person who was asked about this remembers in vivid detail exactly where they were, what they were doing and exactly how they felt when they got the news. Of course, Robert Wagner did not participate in this section of the film.

Don't get it twisted though...Natasha Gregson Wagner and Robert Wagner do sit down together and talk about that tragic night on the boat. It was very hard watching this part of the film because it was clearly not easy for both of them. It was genuinely moving to watch both Natasha and Wagner's eyes well up with water as Wagner talked, though I still get the feeling that Wagner is hiding something, but this is the most opening up I have seen about what happened that night from Wagner.

There's also a nice overview of her career that revealed a lot of things I didn't know. This was my first exposure to a lot of personal and professional turmoil during the filming of The Great Race and the pain she went through when, for the first time, she and RJ were working at the same time. He was working on Hart to Hart and she was working on her final film Brainstorm which co-starred Christopher Walken, who was on the boat that night but only appears in archival footage in this documentary.

In addition to Natasha, Wagner, and Crowley, commentary is also provided by Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Richard Benjamin, George Hamilton, Jill St. John, Natalie's daughter Courtney and stepdaughter Katie Wagner. There is also a rare appearance from Natalie's second husband Richard Gregson, who now suffers from Parkinsons. And as superficial as it might sound, another thing this documentary brought home for me was that Natalie Wood was one of the most breathtakingly beautiful women who walked the planet. Second only to Marilyn Monroe, I don't think there was any actress the camera loved more than the incredible Natalie Wood.



Body Heat
Director and screenwriter made an impressive feature film debut with Body Heat, a dark and steamy homage to the film noir genre that was so prevalent in the 1940's, even if it plays a lot of its cards a little too quickly.

The 1981 film stars William Hurt as Ned Racine, a lawyer in a small Florida coastal town who finds himself entering a clandestine affair with a beautiful married woman named Matty Walker (Kathleen) who is dreadfully unhappy in her marriage, but because she signed a pre-nup, she doesn't want to walk away from her wealthy husband empty-handed, she convinces Ned to help her murder the man.

Kasdan's screenplay starts off promisingly by establishing the undeniable heat between Ned and Matty, putting the viewer on their side, despite certain clues that everything is not as it seems. We know something's up when Matty brings Ned to her house, makes him leave, stands at the door and waits for him to throw a chair through the door so that he can get in. Another effective plot point was the way Matty talks Ned into this crime but makes him think it's his idea.

Unfortunately, after the deed is done, the story begins to wrap up a little too quickly. So much time is spent establishing the chemistry between Ned and Matty that the exposure of their crime comes to light way too quickly. It starts when Matty makes the stupid mistake of trying to change her husband's will and everything goes down from there. The way Ned's buddies put together exactly what happened was a little rushed and convenient to be completely believable.

Kasdan does show real style as a director...the opening scenes establishing Ned and Matty's relationship are undeniably steamy,,,the viewer can feel the sweat dripping off their bodies as it couples with the sexual heat they produce. Kasdan helps William Hurt and Kathleen Turner create one of cinema's steamiest couplings. Their chemistry burns a hole in the screen and makes this film worth checking out alone. Richard Crenna as the husband and Ted Danson and JA Preston as Ned's buddies offer solid support, but it is Kasdan's style behind the camera and the chemistry between Hurt and Turner that make this one work. Fans of the Billy Wilder classic Double Indemnity will have a head start here.



5 Flights Up
Sparkling performances by a pair of veteran Oscar winners and some clever writing make the 2014 indie 5 Flights Up seem a lot better then it really is.

Alex (Morgan Freeman) and Ruth (Diane Keaton) have been living in the same Brooklyn apartment for 40 years and are now seriously considering selling the apartment and moving out of Brooklyn. While holding an open house organized by Ruth's real estate agent niece, Alex and Ruth are also dealing with the very serious of their dog, Dorothy and news reports of a terrorist supposedly hiding out in the neighborhood which might affect the turnout of the open house.

The structure of Charlie Peter's screenplay, based on a book by Jill Climent, cleverly blends an organized story with some offbeat and spontaneous humor too maximum effect. The first half the film follows Alex and Ruth's dealing with trying to sell their apartment and their conflicting feelings about it and the second half deals with them trying to find a new apartment, all the while dealing with their seriously ill dog (every shot of that dog was heartbreaking). It was also amusing watching the niece treat 40 years of memories like a businiess portfolio. Loved the way she referred to three interested possible buyers as "dog ladies", "matching sweaters", and "blue leggings." If I had one small quibble, the screenplay did feature some unnecessary narration provided by Ffreeman which felt like it was just added because they had Morgan Freeman to do it.

During this turning point in their lives we also get a thoughtful overlook at Alex and Ruth's marriage, which surprisingly had very little to do with the fact that they were an interracial couple. I was impressed with the fact that director Richard Loncraine had the sense to cast younger actors in the flashbacks to Alex and Ruth's beginnings and did a superb job in the casting.

The on location filming is Brooklyn and Manhattan was effective and a big thumbs up to set director Alexandra Mazur for her meticulous attention to the look of Alex and Ruth's apartment. The chemistry created by Freeman and Keaton is wonderful, completely believable as a couple who's been married for a hundred years. Cynthia Nixon's effervescent performance as the real estate agent/neice was on the money and I loved Claire van der Bloom and Korey Jackson as young Ruth and Alex. A warm and engaging comedy/drama that was a pleasant surprise.



Dangerous When Wet
I was a little disappointed after viewing my first Esther Williams musical, Neptune's Daughter, due to the lack of screen time Esther actually spent in the water. MGM's Queen of the Aqua Musical delivers what fans of hers are looking for in the colorful and, of course, splashy musical Dangerous When Wet.

The 1953 musical comedy stars Williams as Katie Higgins, the eldest daughter of a health-oriented famijly who begin every day with a vigorous swim. A fast talking advertising executive named Windy Weebe (Jack Carson) drafts Katie to participate in an international race to swim the English Channel. Katie's training does get disrupted by a handsome French playboy (Fernando Lamas) while Windy finds himself fending off the advances of a beautiful French swimmer (Denise Darcel).

Dorothy Kingsley, who also wrote the screenplays for Kiss Me Kate and Seven Brothers has written a story that combines classic musical comedy misunderstandings with legitimate reasons to have Esther in the water.

There's one glaring problem with the film that I just couldn't get past and that involves the leading man. Kingsley and director Charles Walters try to pass off Argentinian actor Lamas as a Frenchman. This was not the first time that MGM pulled this either. Lamas also played an alleged Frenchman in a 1950 Jane Powell musical called Rich Young and Pretty and it's a hard thing to overlook when the guy is doing scenes with actual French actors.

There are songs by Johnny Mandel and Arthur Schwartz like "I Got out of the Right Side of Bed", "In My Wildest Dreams" and "Ain't Nature Grand?", but the musical highlight of the movie was an elaborate animated dream sequence featuring Esther and MGM's biggest cartoon stars at the time, Tom and Jerry.

Williams and Lamas do generate a nice chemistry onscreen (they would marry IRL thirteen years later and have a son named Lorenzo who also become an actor). Jack Carson offers breezy support as Windy and William Demarest and Charlotte Greenwood are a lot of fun as Katie's parents. Esther Williams fans will definitely find what they're looking for here.



Do the Right Thing
With everything that is going on in this country right now, I thought it was a good time to take a look at Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, a ferocious, uncompromising, and emotionally charged look at racism that has obviously become more timely than ever. Spike Lee has always been a hit and miss director with me, but this is his masterpiece, a compelling story on the surface that creates a suspense, and I mean Hitchcock-like suspense, that we know is going to lead to an explosion, even if we're not sure exactly what kind of explosion is coming.

The 1989 drama opens on the hottest day of the year in a racially turbulent neighborhood in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. The neighborhood is viewed primarily through the eyes of Sal (Danny Aiello), the white owner of the local pizza parlor that has somehow has survived for decades in a neighborhood that is primarily black and Puerto Rican, and Sal's delivery boy, Mookie (Spike Lee) the slick talker who knows everyone in the neighborhood, trapped in a relationship with a girl he got pregnant (Rosie Perez). The rest of the canvas is introduced but the fuse is lit when a militant black who calls himself "Buggin Out" (Giancarlo Esposito) demands that Sal hangs some photos of black people on his celebrity wall.

Lee nails the canvas he creates here with a lot of stereotyped characters who are all steeped in realism: There's the nosy old lady (Ruby Dee) who watches the neighborhood like a hawk; Radio Rhaheem (Bill Nunn) is an ignorant thug who carries around a boom box at full volume and refuses to turn it down; the old man (Ossie Davis) whose only mission in life is his next drink; Sal's two lazy sons (Richard Edson, John Turturro); and three old men (Frankie Faison, Robin Harris, Paul Benjamin) who sit on the sidewalk offering pointless commentary on the neighborhood madness.

What I love about Lee's Oscar-nominated screenplay is that he spreads the blame around with equal relish. None of the characters in this story do complete right or complete wrong. They are all deeply flawed and are all racist in one way or another. This is a point that Lee drives home with a sledgehammer. Racism is about ignorance and it doesn't solve anything and there's a little bit of it in all of us. There are innocent bystanders and collateral damage here, but everyone involved in this mess does wrong.

Lee gets some splendid performances from his ensemble cast. Danny Aiello's world weary pizza parlor owner earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Esposito, Nunn, Davis, and Dee score as well. Easily, the zenith of Spike Lee's career.



The Stunt Man
A dazzling performance from the late Peter O'Toole is at the center of a richly entertaining action comedy called from 1980 called The Stunt Man which blends a clever look at Hollywood behind the scenes with a convoluted romantic triangle to maximum effect.

Cameron is a former Vietnam vet who is now a fugitive from the law who unknowingly runs into the middle of a movie set for a WWI epic and causes an accident that actually kills the stunt man operating a vehicle. The brilliant egomaniac directing the film, Eli Cross, witnesses the entire thing and in order to save the film and cover his own ass, Eli blackmails Cameron into replacing the dead stunt man and pretending to be him. Things get complicated when Cameron falls in love with Nina, the film's leading lady, who still is very much involved with Eli, even though she's in deep denial about it.

Director and co-screenwriter Richard Rush created his masterpiece here. an intoxicating blend of show business and romance, rich with enough complexities to give the story its own air of originality. Watching Eli getting a second chance on life is a lot of fun, but it becomes so much more interesting when he gets involved with Nina because the triangle that develops here is painted in serious shades of gray. Cameron's hero worship of Cross begins to look like something else once he learns that Cross and Nina have a past...that something else might be jealousy. The other fascinating aspect of this story is this director Eli Cross,,,this guy has a serious God complex and casts a spell on everyone in his orbit. It was funny the way everybody working on this film felt that this one of a kind relationship with the guy that no one else did.

I loved this movie because it revealed the arduous, detailed, tedious and never-ending work involved in making a movie. A lot of the professional secrets about stunt work, makeup, and other areas of production are presented without filter here, but it didn't at all destroy the magic movie-making either, it just enhanced it.

Can't make a movie about making a movie without first rate production values and Rush and company deliver, with special nods to cinematography, editing., the quirky musical score. and, of course. the stunt work. As always, Peter O'Toole commands the screen in a charismatic star turn as Eli Cross that earned him his sixth Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Steve Railsback (so memorable as Charles Manson in the CBS miniseries Helter Skelter) is kinetic and intense as the severely damaged Cameron and Barbara Hershey brings a richness to Nina that we don't see coming. A delicious valentine to Hollywood featuring a heart stopping climax that had me on the edge of my chair.



Man of the House
A fuzzy screenplay and a miscast leading man are the primary issues with 1995's Man of the House, a silly and not very funny movie that was supposed to make a movie star out of Jonathan Taylor Thomas.

Thomas plays Ben, a young boy who is not all pleased with the idea of his divorced mom (Farrah Fawcett) moving in with a US Attorney named Jack Sturges (Chevy Chase). The boy does everything he can to break up the relationship, but just as Jack is starting to make inroads with the boy, things get very complicated when some mobsters decide they want Jack dead because he sent their boss to prison for 50 years.

Jonathan Taylor Thomas was the breakout star of the ABC sitcom Home Improvement who let his success on that show go to his head. He left the show and decided to pursue a movie career; unfortunately, this vehicle is not worthy of him at all. The premise is about as predictable as they come and most of the characters involved are silly stereotypes.

The other problem is that leading man Chevy Chase is just miscast. This story and character do not play to Chase's strengths at all. Chase's onscreen strength was outrageous physical comedy and the sensitive stepdad just didn't work for me. Fawcett's role as the mom is basically thankless, though George Wendt has a couple of funny moments as a fellow stepfather. It wouldn't be as sad if the film had accomplished its mission to make Jonathan Taylor Thomas a movie star, but when was the last time you saw Jonathan Taylor Thomas in anything?



Mississippi Burning
Alan Parker has built an impressive resume as a director that defies rhyme and reason in terms of the type of movies he likes to make. I've seen a healthy chunk of his work and there's no doubt in my mind that his masterpiece has to be 1988 Best Picture nominee Mississippi Burning, an angry and disturbing docudrama that brings three dimensional characters to an ugly true story that will manipulate viewer emotions to maximum effect.

In 1964, three civil rights activists were murdered in Mississippi and disappeared and this film documents what happened when two very different FBI agents are sent down south to find out exactly what happened. Agent Ward (Willem Dafoe) is a buttoned-up, by-the-book, strictly by procedure kind of agent while Agent Anderson (Gene Hackman) is a little more folksy and thinks the way to find the answers they're looking for is by cozying up to the people, even though they have already formed a code of silence and have no attention of cooperating with the FBI. Agent Anderson further complicates the investigation by getting a little to close to a deputy's wife (Frances McDormand).

Parker has mounted an emotionally charged scale on a large canvas that still maintains a sense of intimacy, with grand assistance from Chris Gerolmo's unapologetic screenplay which puts bigotry front and center and often shocks the viewer with the kind of behavior this kind of hate can manifest. My jaw dropped when the agents were sitting in their motel room and it was suddenly riddled with gunfire. It's frightening that these people were not the least bit concerned about the possible consequences of murdering a federal agent. On the other hand, I loved when Agent Ward is informed that the motel owner wants them out because it's bad for business and Ward tells his assistant to buy the hotel.

There were a couple of minor storyline moves that I found troublesome, troublesome to the point that we're not sure if they really happened or if they were added for dramatic effect. The relationship between Anderson and the deputy's wife was particularly troubling. Anderson had to know that what he was doing was compromising the investigation and had to know that it wouldn't bode well for this woman, but it made for some compelling drama.

In addition to Best Picture, this powerhouse docudrama received six other nominations. Gene Hackman's alternately folksy and no-nonsense Anderson earned him a Lead Actor nomination and McDormand's genteel deputy's wife earned her a supporting actress nomination, as did Parker for Best Director. Film editing and sound also received nominations and Peter Biziou's cinematography won the Oscar that year.

Performance wise, can't wrap without mentioning Willem Dafoe's crisp and controlled performance as Agent Ward, Brad Dourif's smart-assed deputy, Stephen Tobolowsky's icy Klan leader, Gailard Sartain's nasty sheriff, and R, Lee Ermey's mayor. A shattering and thought provoking cinematic experience that provides some closure, but not enough, never enough.



Something to Talk About
The premise is as old as the hills and the movie is about as predictable as they come, but the 1995 comedy Something to Talk About is worth watching because of some clever writing and some terrific performances.

The film stars Julia Roberts as Grace Bichon, a woman who gave up her dream of becoming a veterinarian when she become pregnant and began managing her father's horse ranch. Grace finds her comfy existence blown out of the water when she learns her husband, Eddie (Dennis Quaid) has been cheating on her. A parallel story comes about when Grace's mother (Gena Rowlands) learns that her husband (Robert Duvall) cheated on her 30 years ago and everyone in town, including her daughters, knew about it but her.

This movie works thanks to a clever screenplay by Oscar winner Calli Khouri (Thelma and Louise) that simultaneously shows us an imploding marriage and revealing backstory about the relationship at the same time without spelling it all out for us. There is a brief but telling scene between Eddie and Grace's sister (Kyra Sedgewick) that, without actually saying it, reveals that they once had a relationship and it is confirmed later. Khouri's crafting of the expected advice Grace is given about her marriage also provides some surprises, especially the advice Grace gets from her Aunt Rae.

There are a couple of scenes that are standouts, one in particular that has become part of movie pop culture where Grace addresses what has happened to her during a snooty women's committee meeting. Also loved Grace's mom locking her dad out of the house and dad's lament about how other parents complain when their kids leave home and why that can't happen to them.

What really makes this movie special is some really wonderful performances from a hand-picked cast. Julie Roberts underplays the starring role very effectively, never resorting to the histrionics that the screenplay sometimes requests. Quaid invests in a character who is really a jerk, but it's forgiven in that scene with his lawyer (a very classy cameo by the late David Huddleston). Gena Rowlands is lovely as Mom and it goes without saying that the masterful Duvall steals every scene he's in. Nothing groundbreaking here and yes, it takes a little longer to wrap up than need be, but the acting really raises the bar on this one.