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The Changeling
The story definitely was problematic, but 1980's The Changeling is two thirds of a really great contemporary ghost story that falls apart during the final act, but remains watchable thanks to the presence of one of the greatest actors in the business inhabiting the leading role.

The late George C. Scott stars as John Russell, a college music professor who loses his wife and daughter in a tragic accident. After four months of drowning in his grief, John accepts a new job and with the aid of a naive real estate agent (Trish Van Devere) decides to rent a large mansion to re-start his life. Not long after moving in, John finds himself being contacted by the spirit of a child inhabiting the attic of the house, who empathizes with John's grief and "seeks his assistance" in bringing his killer to justice as well as uncovering 50 years of corruption and cover-ups.

Most of the problems with this film spring from William Gray's screenplay. It might seem a bit of nitpick, but I really didn't understand a man trying to get over the death of his family by moving into a giant mansion all by himself. Once he does this, the story is presented to us with all the stock players we expect in a horror movie and with all the subtlety of a monster truck rally...we have the household staff who pretend to know nothing, we have the creepy secretary who warns our hero that the house doesn't want people (a line that actually made me laugh) and the mustache twirling bad guy who's been keeping secrets that have had him racked with guilt for decades.

We accept what's going on up to a point and believe we are in the middle of a genuinely scary ghost story, but by the final third of the film, we are waist deep in so much mawkish melodrama , producing unintentional laughs that dilute what we have seen up to that point. What does work here and keeps us invested in what's going on is this central character portrayed by a great actor. Stories like this usually have women, small children, or teenagers at the center of the story and this one is given a margin of class by having the main character a middle-aged man drowning in grief.

Scott gives his accustomed splendid performance, fighting and defeating a screenplay that's fighting him all the way and works well with real life wife Van De Vere. Mention should also be made of two time Oscar winner Melvyn Douglas as the ruthless US Senator at the bottom of the mystery. The film is handsomely mounted and does feature some inventive camerawork and visual effects. My favorite was when a necklace buried under dirt actually un-buries itself and reveals itself to Scott. I wish the attention paid to visual effects was also applied to the story, but Scott is always worth watching.

Ron Howard's 1999 film edTV has been unfairly maligned by cinephiles as a poor man's variation of The Truman Show and though the stories are similar, this movie addresses a different set of issues than Peter Weir's 1998 masterpiece; unfortunately the long-winded screenplay attempts to cover too much, but what it does cover, it covers pretty effectively.

Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey plays Ed Perkurny, a 31 year old regular Joe who works at a video store in San Francisco who is chosen by a cable television station to allow television cameras to follow him around and document his life 24/7 with the exception of sleep and bathroom time. Immediate tension is established because Ed's brother Ray (Woody Harrelson) wanted to be chosen for this job so bad he could taste it. Things get even uglier when Ed acts on his longtime crush on Ray's girlfriend, Sherry (Jenna Elfmann).

Being fair to Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel's screenplay requires pointing out the differences between this story and The Truman Show, primarily that the world of Truman Burbank was completely fabricated and all of the people in Truman's orbit were actors, not to mention the fact that Truman somehow had no idea that he was being filmed and that this was his life from birth. In this film, a 31 year old man is paid handsomely to have his entire life filmed and learns that it's not all it's cracked up to be.

Issues presented here are different than in Peter Weir's film because the situation is very different. Of course, the subject of celebrity obsession is addressed as the show becomes popular and everyone in the city tries to be part of Ed's orbit. One of my favorite movie topics, the business of show business is also broached as fans start treating the show like a soap opera, turning on people they don't like, forcing the network to begin to manipulate the show into what viewers want to see. Most importantly, this film addresses what celebrities have to give up as the price of celebrity...the fact that any semblance of privacy a celebrity has is gone. It's a little too convenient the way a lot of secrets in Ed's life suddenly come to light just as his star begins to rise, resulting in the final third of the film degenerating into a whole lot of melodrama that didn't mesh with the rest of the story.

Howard's direction is centered, including some inventive camerawork and editing as is the impressive all-star cast he has assembled to pull this story off. McConaughey is appropriately sincere as Ed and receives solid support from Ellen DeGeneres and Rob Reiner as TV executives, Sally Kirkland and Martin Landau as Ed's mother and stepfather, and a lovely cameo from Dennis Hopper as Ed's real dad. A lot of other familiar faces pop up along the way, including Adam Goldberg, Bill Maher, Jay Leno, Elizabeth Hurley. Ariana Huffington, Michael Moore, Harry Shearer, and George Plimpton, but for my money, Harrelson steals the show as the jealous brother who can't stand being in his brother's shadow. No, it's not The Truman Show and it's not trying to be, but is still worth a look.

Racism is certainly not an uncommon cinematic theme, but it gets a refreshing and more balanced treatment in 2017's Mudbound, an exquisitely mounted and emotionally charged story that not only tackles racism, but other topics like family, war, loyalty, and most importantly, hope.

Based on a novel by Hillary Jordan, the story is set right before the outbreak of WWII in the Mississippi Delta. There is a stretch of farmland that is being worked by a God fearing black sharecropping family named the Jacksons. Hap and Florence have been running the farm aided by their four children. Their difficult but workable existence is disrupted when a white man named named Henry McAllan arrives with his new bride, Laura, their daughter. and his bigoted father. Swindled out of money he used thinking he has bought the farm, Henry is told his family can remain if they can help the Jacksons run the farm. Shortly after December 7, 1941, the Jacksons' eldest son, Ronzell, and Henry's younger brother, Jamie, are sent oversees to battle the Germans. The Jacksons and the McAllans are learning how to co-exist, but that process becomes hopelessly complicated when Ronzell and Jamie return home and become friends, despite the fact they never met overseas.

Director and co-screenwriter Dee Rees triumphs with a story that addresses the issue of racism without beating the viewer over the head with it. The story establishes that even though it is the 1940's, desegregation is still a pipe dream, but we are pleasantly surprised as the Jacksons and the McAllans tentatively begin to bond and become part of each others' lives...I love when Florence leaves her family to help Laura have a baby because she's a midwife. Even though Henry is a man who always insists on having his way, he treats the Jacksons with respect for the most part.

Ironically, things change when Ronzell and Jamie return from the war and become friends, a friendship that takes a bumpy road to fruition. LOVED the scene where they first meet...Jamie is leaving the store and hears a car backfire and hits the ground assuming it's gunfire and Ronzell witnesses it, knowing exactly what's going on. We love watching Ronzell and Jamie bond, but it is also made clear that both of them have returned from the war damaged, for different reasons, but damaged nevertheless. Sadly, their friendship leads to an ugly climax that shocks and saddens.

Dees' direction is focused and sensitive aided by some dandy production values, with a special shout to the Oscar-nominated cinematography by Rachel Williams. Dees' screenplay received a nomination as did Mary J Blige for Best Supporting Actress for her powerhouse turn as Florence, the Jackson matriarch who puts everyone else's needs before her own. Blige also received a Best Original Song nomination as one of the writers of "Mighty River". According to the IMDB, Blige was the first black woman directed to an Oscar nomination by a black woman and received a songwriting nomination the same year,

Can't leave this without mentioning other Oscar-worthy performances by Jason Clarke (so memorable as Ted Kennedy in Chappaquidick, Carey Mulligan as Laura, Jason Mitchell as Ronzell, Jonathan Banks in an especially slimy turn as Henry and Jamie's dad, and best of all, Garrett Hedlund as Jamie. What I loved most about this movie is that even though it didn't whitewash the issue of racism, it offered hope, just a glimmer of hope, that things might be different one day.

Kid Galahad (1962)
Elvis plays it relatively straight for a change in one of his stronger vehicles. Kid Galahad is a surprisingly watchable film thanks to a compelling story (for an Elvis movie) and a superb supporting cast.

This semi-musical remake of a 1937 drama starring Edward G. Robinson and Bette Davis finds Elvis playing Walter Gulick, a fresh out of the service soldier who returns to his hometown and gets a job as a sparring partner for aspiring boxers run by Willy Grogan, an innkeeper up to his neck in gambling debts who has mobsters on his tail, while trying to appease his marriage-minded girlfriend, Dolly. Naturally, it's not long before Walter displays a genuine talent for boxing and after defending Dolly in a tense situation, gets nicknamed "Kid Galahad". Complications arise when Willy is offered a way out of his mob trouble by having the Kid throw a big match and the kid falls in love with Willy's kid sister.

It seems like we're getting a typical Elvis vehicle when the movie opens with Elvis singing his first song during the opening credits, but this turns out not to be the case. There are enough musical moments in the film to satisfy fans who MUST hear the King sing, but this is not like Blue Hawaii where Elvis sings a song every ten minutes. The story takes priority here and it's a pretty interesting one. Boxing has always been a user friendly topic for the movies, though, if the truth be told, the boxing scenes are actually the weakest part of Elvis' performance, but we're so behind this very likable character he's playing that we're willing to forgive.

Director Phil Karlson (The Silencers) brings a lot of energy to the proceedings and gets a huge assist from the terrific cast he assembled to pull this off. Gig Young is superb as Willy, the Edward G. Robinson role, giving his accustomed slick performance that consistently entertains and he is well matched by Lola Albright as the long suffering Dolly. Charles Bronson also impresses as the Kid's trainer and corner man, as does David Lewis as a slimy mobster. Other familiar faces that pop up include Roy Roberts, Ned Glass, Thayer David, and a very young Edward Asner (with hair!). The advent of the Rocky franchise may have taken the bloom off the rose of films like this one, but this film is still better than a lot of Elvis' films and fans should definitely have a look.

You can't make a rainbow without a little rain.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Despite imaginative touches in writing and direction and solid performances, the 2019 docudrama A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood wasn't everything it could have been, thanks primarily to an air of predictability that pervaded most of the proceedings.

The pre-release hype on this film was unlike anything I have seen in years and like a lot of movies in the last few years, was probably incorrectly marketed in order to get people into theaters to see it. If you're looking for a biopic on Fred Rogers, there is no such thing, you need to check out the documentary Won't You Be Neighbor?, which was vastly superior to this film.

This is the story of a writer for Esquire magazine named Lloyd Vogel, cynical and "broken", who has never gotten over the death of his mother for which he blames his father and has recently become a father himself. Vogel finds his life changed forever when his editor, who is on the verge of firing him, asks him to do an interview with legendary children's program icon Fred Rogers and the genuine and unexpected friendship that blossoms between these two very different people.

Screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster have a provided a story that follows a pretty predictable path most of the way, but there are imaginative touches along the way, that work because this reporter is profoundly affected by his meetings with this TV icon, or at least we want to think that he is. I enjoyed the scene where Vogel passes out at the studio and wakes up as a part of Fred Rogers' imaginary neighborhood. Did find it a little troublesome that the screenplay tried to add layers to the character of Fred Rogers that I'm not so sure existed in his real life and were added here for the purpose of entertainment. Rogers' instant liking of Vogel borders on obsession and makes Rogers a little creepy, but I think that was done here to make this story a little more entertaining than it might have been when it actually happened to Vogel.

Director Marielle Heller, who directed Melissa McCarthy to an Oscar nomination in Can You Ever Forgive Me, brings a solid directorial hand to the proceedings, respecting not only the story being told, but the characters involved, especially Fred Rogers. The final moments onscreen with Fred Rogers on a dark soundstage are lovely.

Two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks works very hard at being a believable Fred Rogers and it is a lovely performance, but Hanks never loses himself in the role the way this reviewer wanted him to. I was never able to forget I was watching Tom Hanks, but the performance is getting strong reviews and has earned the actor a Golden Globe nomination. Matthew Rhys, Emmy winner for The Americans offers a flashy performance as the tortured Lloyd Vogel and Oscar winner Chris Cooper is brilliant as his father. Also loved Susan Kelechi Watson as Lloyd's wife and Tammy Blanchard as his sister, but after everything I had heard about this film, it was a bit of a disappointment.

I finally watched this movie, and I agree with everything you said. I expected a biopic of Fred Rogers, but I was disappointed with what I got. Maybe I would have liked the movie if it had been advertised correctly, but I just felt like I was lured in by false advertising.

I usually like Tom Hanks, but in this movie, I thought he was miscast. I didn't feel like I was watching Fred Rogers at any point in the movie. I always knew that it was just Tom Hanks playing him.

I'll have to find the documentary Won't You Be Neighbor?, and try that instead.
If I answer a game thread correctly, just skip my turn and continue with the game.

Drive (2011)
Drive is a violent and moody nail biter from 2011 that benefits from endless style behind the camera and undeniable suspense that leads to very selective and very shocking violence unlike anything this reviewer has ever seen.

Ryan Gosling plays a stuntman and mechanic who moonlights as a getaway driver, but whose real dream is to become a professional stock car driver. His garage mechanic boss is trying to make his dream come to fruition with the assistance of mob money. Our hero finds himself involved with his pretty young neighbor who's raising her son alone because his father's in prison. Driver's life is forever altered when the boy's father comes home and elicits Driver's help in a robbery that goes horribly wrong.

The success of this film has to go to director Nicolas Winding Refn, who displays endless style and imagination in bringing this story to the screen and takes his sweet time doing it. In another rare instance where it works, this story unfolds at a leisurely pace...and a quiet one too. The opening scenes of the film are so quiet that there were moments this reviewer had difficulty hearing some dialogue, but dialogue is not what this film was about. This film was all about the visual and establishing this enigmatic central character, done simply by placing the camera in the vehicle with him and letting him display his skill for the viewer. The first getaway we witness is brilliantly crafted, with uncanny use of the steady cam and first rate assistance from film editor Matthew Newman. Even his co-criminals in the backseat are silent and seem to marvel in his skill as much as we do. Loved when it was revealed why the driver was listening so intently to the baseball game on the radio. Possibly the smoothest getaway I have ever seen.

The director and screenwriter are also very efficient at establishing a real air of mystery around the driver. There is nothing revealed about Goslings character in terms of backstory. The character's backstory is revealed through his present actions. It's the story being told in the present that lets the viewer know that this guy definitely has a shady past and that the situations he gets involved here are nothing new. We never see this guy sweat and we never see him do anything really stupid. It isn't until he's in that hotel room with Blanche (Christina Hendricks), that it comes to light exactly what kind of life this guy is trying to get away from.

The other thing that works here is the way the expected violence is depicted. We have to wait for it, but even after it starts, it's not continuous throughout the running time. The violence comes at very selective moments and when it does, it is unrelenting and apologetic, to the point of making the viewer turn away from the screen. Every act of violence depicted in this film had me literally jumping out of my chair and then anxiously anticipating the next one.

Gosling brings a James Dean quality to the central character that is riveting. There's also a beautifully cast against type performance from Albert Brooks as a mafioso that commands the screen, but it is the dazzling direction, with the aid of a crack production team, that makes this film sizzle, shock, and paralyze the viewer.

Heavenly Creatures
A decade before winning twin Oscars for co-writing and directing The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Peter Jackson put his imagination in overdrive and applied it to a real-life murder case and came up with a disturbing and riveting cinematic acid trip called Heavenly Creatures, which crafts an extraordinary cinematic universe around a rather simple story and lets the viewer form their own opinion regarding exactly what's going on here.

This 1994 melange of fantasy, friendship and family dysfunction begins in 1953 New Zealand where two students at an all girls high school, Juliet (Oscar winner Kate Winslet) and Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) meet and become immediate best friends, but this friendship goes far beyond the normal high school friends. The girls initially bond over issues they are both having with their parents, but they become inseparable, to the point of being considered unhealthy. Once their parents decide that they need to be separated, it only strengthens their bond and threatens to destroy both girls' families.

Jackson and Fran Walsh, who also collaborated on the Lord of the Rings screenplay received their first Oscar nomination for this fascinating, head-spinning story that builds an elaborate and fantastical drama around what is, on the surface, an ordinary murder. Jackson and Walsh apparently based their screenplay on Pauline's actual diary which was rich with the girl's highly stylized and theatrical look at her relationship with Juliet, perfectly balanced with the anger that was quietly bubbling to the surface regarding her parents and their attempt at keeping her and Juliet apart.

And it is the relationship between Juliet and Pauline that is the most interesting aspect of the film, primarily because Jackson and Walsh never make a full commitment to exactly what the relationship is. They start off as best friends, but we know there's something more when they both come to the conclusion that they are both insane and think there's no problem with that, thinking the rest of the world insane. The screenplay goes a step further, implying that the relationship might be sexual, but at this point of the story, the fantasy elements of the story are so seamlessly mingled with the reality of the relationship that we're really not sure what the extent of the relationship is and that's no accident. It seems as if Jackson wants the viewer to decide what this relationship is all about, providing evidence to support any hypothesis that might enter the viewer's mind.

Jackson's direction is endlessly imaginative, rich with dizzying camerawork, including splendid use of the steady cam, not to mention an uncanny use of the close-up, which actually allows us to look inside the heads of these two girls, if only so far.

The film is exquisitely photographed and edited, featuring an unusual song score, consisting primary of 1950's leading movie tenor, Mario Lanza. Jackson also manages to retrieve a pair of dazzling performances from Winslet and especially Melanie Lynskey as Juliet and Pauline, respectively. Those who only know Lynskey from her role as psycho Rose on the CBS sitcom Two and Half Men, will be in for quite the shock here, proving to be an actress of extraordinary depth. Diane Kent also impressed as Juliet's mother. A bizarre and fascinating cinematic journey that doesn't answer all of the questions it asks and that is no accident.

Even the most logic-defying movie, has to offer one or two things: some kind of acceptable explanation for what we've just witnessed or an "And then I woke up" scene, which implies everything we've witnessed happened in someone's head. Unfortunately, we are offered neither of these things as the 2019 cinematic nightmare Vivarium comes full circle to its conclusion.

We are introduced to an ordinary couple named Gemma and Tom. Gemma (Imogen Poots) is a grade school teacher and her boyfriend, Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) is the school handyman/gardener. Gemma and Tom are planning to move in together and have an appointment at a real estate office to look at a house. They are greeted by a creepy real estate agent named Martin who takes them to a huge housing development called Yonder. The development is monstrously large and all of the houses look absolutely identical. Martin gives Tom and Gemma a brief tour of the house and disappears. Gemma and Tom are plunged into an unimaginable nightmare when they realize they are trapped in this labyrnth maze of homes that all appear to be empty.

The nightmare is given added layer when the day after their arrival, the couple find a baby in a box who begins imitating everything they say and do and ages while Tom and Gemma don't.

Director and screenwriter Lorcan Finnegan gets an "A" for imagination, but even the most imaginative and illogical story has to have some tiny basis in realism and there is nothing here for the viewer to hold on as a possible explanation for the bizarre goings-on. We see where the story is going when Tom climbs to the top of the house and he can see nothing but Yonder as far as the eye can see, and we can even accept when Tom decides to signal for help by burning the house down and it reappears just when they find the baby, but there's nothing else for the viewer to latch onto.

When Martin shows them the house, he goes to the fridge and shows them a housewarming gift of champagne and strawberries, the only contents of the fridge, but once Tom and Gemma accept what is happening to them, they seem to be eating every day. The house was virtually empty upon their arrival, but once the couple realize they're not going anywhere, the house suddenly supplies everything it needs.

We're confused as the level of acceptance that Tom and Gemma have regarding what's going on changes from scene to scene. We think they're going to fight what's happening when they refuse to name the baby...Tom won't even refer to him as "him", he uses the word "it", but when we see Tom produce a hole in the perfectly manicured lawn by throwing a cigarette butt on the lawn and decides the answer to getting out is in digging that hole, we know he has given up, and frankly, so has the viewer.

The story does eventually come full circle and offers a half-assed explanation for what we've witnessed, but it just left this viewer confused and aggravated. Finnegan employs first rate production values to this nightmare, but when nothing that happens making sense. we just don't care.

Fiddler: Miracle of Miracle
The original Broadway show opened on September 22, 1964, ran for over 3000 performances, and won nine Tony Awards. It became a motion picture in 1971 that received 9 Oscar nominations including Best Picture, and won three Oscars. I have appeared in three productions of the stage musical myself (not to mention knowing the entire score by heart), so I was naturally drawn to a brilliant and fascinating documentary called Fiddler: Miracle of Miracles, a warm and informative look at the history of the iconic Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof.

The simple opening of the film which features violinist Itzhak Perlman sitting on a Manhattan rooftop playing the famous opening of the show and gradually segues into a thorough examination of how the musical came to fruition, with a look at the stories of Sholom Alecheim, which centered around much darker themes than most people think of when they think of this musical, specifically the Holocaust and white slavery of young women, which was actually the inspiration behind the song, "Matchmaker. Matchmaker".

We are introduced to Joseph Stein, who wrote the original libretto and Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock who wrote the score. We are treated to a television appearance by Harnick and Bock shortly after the opening where they perform the original lyrics for "Tradition", a song that was added late in the production because director Jerome Robbins felt this was the basis of the story and that the score needed to reflect that. Robbins' reputation as a tyrannical direction who often terrified his cast members is also touched on, which came partly from his inner torment regarding his sexuality and his involvement in the communist blacklisting of the 1950;s.

As the only black cast member in three different productions of the show, I was particularly fascinated by this documentary's examination of the racial barriers this show has broken since 1964. This is a show that has transcended race over the years. The film shows productions of the musical done in Thailand, Japan, and even at a Brooklyn high school with a cast of black teenagers.

Especially impressive were some of the people chosen to be interviewed for this film. In addition to Stein, Harnick, Bock, commentary is also provided by Oscar winner Joel Grey, who, in 2018, directed a revival of the show done in Yiddish and Austin Pendleton, the only actor featured here who was in the original Broadway production with Zero Mostel. Topol, who received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for playing Tevye in the movie is also interviewed. He shares that he had a terrible toothache while shooting "If I Were a Rich Man" and what his favorite scene in the movie was. Actor Michael Bernardi is also on hand..Bernardi played Tevye in a Broadwayt revival of the show and his father, Hershel Bernardi, took over the role of Tevye during its original run when Zero Mostel left the show. We even get to see actor Steven Skybell, who played Tevye in the Yiddish production, recording "If I were a Rich Man" in Yiddish for the cast album. Harvey Fierstein, Joshua Mostel, son of Zero, and legendary Broadway producer Harold Prince (to whom this film is dedicated) offer commentary as well.

The film concludes with a lovely visit to present day Anatevka, neear Kiev in the Ukraine, where violinist Kelly Hall-Hopkins performs the score on the violin. Another unexpected treat was an appearance by Hamilton creator Lin Manuel Miranda, who appeared in the show as a kid and treated us to his original "Tradition" choreography and shared his staging of "To Life" for his own real life wedding. For fans of this immortal Broadway musical and anyone of the Jewish faith, this is appointment viewing.

Mikey and Nicky
Elaine May impresses as the director and screenwriter of 1976's Mikey and Nicky, an atmospheric and squirm-worthy look at the power of friendship that takes a dramatic turn during the final third of the film we sadly don't see coming, but by this time we are already enveloped in May's stories and the brilliant performances by the stars playing the title roles.

John Cassavetes plays Nicky, a small-time bookie who is holed up in a seedy hotel room in Philadelphia because he has stolen mob money. He knows he has to leave town but is so paralyzed with fear he has given himself an ulcer and is afraid to leave the hotel room. He decides his only option is to call his best friend from childhood and former business associate Mikey, played by Peter Falk, to help him.

May's screenplay is deceptively clever because it initially has the feel of a black comedy where Mikey is doing everything he can to help Nicky and Nicky is fighting him every step of the way. Once he finally manages to get Nicky out of the hotel, Nicky takes Mikey on a squirm-worthy journey that includes visits to a bar, a cemetery, and a hooker and this is the point where the story that we have been nervously laughing about up to this point turns deadly serious.

May also had the wisdom to cast two professionals who have a lot of history in film together cast as these very flawed principal characters. What Mikey puts up with from Nicky during the first half of the film would have had most people strangling Nicky, but an unexpected plot twist actually motivates a change in allegiance for the viewer that is a bit of a letdown because a lot of what we have seen up to this point seems unreal, but we are still riveted and anxiously awaiting the outcome.

The late John Cassavetes delivers one of the most dangerously unhinged performances of his career as Nicky, matched scene for scene by Falk, which is nothing unusual, but the power of this deceptively simple story helps these actors make this story leap off the screen and into the viewer's gut. It is the work of Cassavetes, Falk, and the severely underrated Elaine May that make this sadly intense drama worth watching.

Citizen Kane
It's considered a landmark in the art of film making and by many cinephiles the greatest film ever made. If he had done nothing else in his distinguished career, Orson Welles carved a place in movie history with the 1941 classic Citizen Kane, a dark and stylish look at a media mogul, based a real life figure, that still impresses as a master class in the art of film making that received nine Oscar nominations, but for this reviewer, the film didn't quite live up to its reputation.

The film opens with an authentic looking newsreel centered on the death of one Charles Foster Kane, an enigmatic and newspaper publisher and politician, which has moved several members of the media to find out who the real Charles Kane was. Research and visits to his estate provide little insight into what made Kane tick, but an investigation is instigated into his life prompted by the reveal of the last word Kane uttered before his death..."rosebud."

Welles' passion and artistry as a filmmaker is everywhere here. He is presenting a very specific portrait of a person, based on a real life figure, which is probably why the film caused the controversy that it did. As most people know, the character of Charles Foster Kane was based on William Randolph Hearst, who was actually still alive and well at the time this film was made. As the saying goes, names were changed to protect the innocent, but the story could only be disguised so much. Apparently, the thin disguise was a little too thin as Hearst forbid the film to be advertised in any of his newspapers and attempted to buy the film from RKO with the intent of destroying it.
The Oscar-winning screenplay by Welles and Herman J. Manckiewicz is effective in its general structure but a little sketchy in some details. The film begin with a brief look into Kane's troubled childhood where a financial arrangement is arranged for his upbringing and then immediately flashes forward to him buying and taking over the New York National Inquirer. it's never really made clear how that initial contract with his mother (beautifully played by Agnes Moorehead) turned into millions. I did enjoy that scene at the Inquirer where he smells a story where the current editor doesn't and demands that he pursue it, even if it means threatening the victim. Unfortunately as the story progresses, it is overpowered by elements of melodrama that dilute the power of the story.

It's the presentation of this character, Charles Foster Kane, that makes this film so riveting. We are fascinated watching his pursuit of power, even though power seems to be the last thing on his mind. The man is not above using his money to get what he wants while simultaneously feigning disdain for the almighty dollar. Kane's love of power over money comes through when he throws his hat in the political arena...this is the only time in the story where he really seems to enjoy what he's doing and is most destroyed when it comes to an end. It was pretty gutsy of Welles presenting a fictionalized version of a real person in such an unflattering light.

The real star of this film is Orson Welles the director. The style and imagination that Welles puts into the visual presentation of this story can't be denied. It was so interesting the way a lot of the film was shot in shadows, giving it almost a supernatural feel. The sweeping camera work over Kane's empire seems to imply that Kane might be more powerful than a mere earthling, or might just be a figment of the viewer's imagination. The film features incredible Oscar-nominated cinematography, set direction, and film editing. The film was actually edited by future Oscar winning director Robert Wise. It gets a little too melodramatic in spots, which slows the film down, but this piece of cinema is still worth experiencing, almost 80 years later.

Marsai Martin, who has spent the last six years playing Anthony Anderson's black-hearted daughter on the ABC sitcom Black-ish was given a shot at big screen stardom with a 2019 comedy called Little, which seems to have been inspired from a classic 1980's comedy.

Regina Hall plays Jordan Sanders, a high-powered shark of a businesswoman who treats everyone in her path like dirt and whose biggest client has threatened to walk in 48 hours. Jordan has a spell cast over her which turns her into a 12 year old girl (Martin). Once she convinces her assistant, April (Issa Rae) that she really is Jordan, she is horrified when Child Services sends her back to the middle school she went to when she was 12 and runs afoul of a female bully who looks exactly like the bully who made her middle school life a living hell.

This contrived and predictable comedy is obviously a re-thinking of the Tom Hanks comedy Big and it would have been nice if director and co-screenwriter Tina Gordon had given the writers of that film credit where credit is due. Unfortunately, this reversal of the 1988 classic doesn't work nearly as well. In Big, Josh Baskin accepts what happens to him to a point and makes a concerted effort to fit into the adult world. The transformed Jordan Sanders in this movie never accepts what has happened to her and makes no effort to act like a 12 year old, putting her in a lot of squirm-worthy situations and making it difficult for the audience to have sympathy for her plight.

The one part of the story that does work is the evolution that the April character goes through during the film. As the film opens, it's made clear that April hates her boss but is also afraid of her own shadow and is clueless about how to stand up for herself. Somehow, April learns to put her big girl pants on and help Jordan without ever disrespecting her boss.

Martin works very hard to keep 12 year old Jordan likable but the screenplay is fighting her all the way. Regina Hall appropriately chews the scenery as the adult Jordan, but it is the star-making performance by Issa Rae as April that keeps the audience invested in this film. SNL's Mikey Day also garnered some chuckles as Jordan's juvenile client, but this film is done in by its rampant predictability and a hard-to-like central character.

I was so nervous about you reading this review. I know Rosebud was the sled but I missed the other meaning
Yes the sled is the tie-in from the movie. But reportedly Orson Welles somehow found out that William Randolph Hearst nickname for a certain erogenous body part of his girlfriend's body, Marion Davies was called 'rosebud' by Hearst. I don't know if that's been confirmed but it's a good story anyway.

Orson was very mischievous when young and he thought he could take on one of the richest, most powerful men in the world. Instead the aftermath of Citizen Kane was that Orson's career was in shambles and for the rest of his life he had to fight for artistic control of the movies he made. Citizen Kane was the only film where he was given complete control of.

Swing Vote
Despite a highly improbable premise, the 2008 film Swing Vote is a long-winded and manipulative Capra-esque comedy that is worth watching thanks to solid direction and an impressive all-star cast working at the top of their game.

The story is set in a fictional town called Texaco, New Mexico. Oscar winner Kevin Costner stars as Ernest "Bud" Johnson, a hard-drinking, recently unemployed factory worker and single dad to a bright and politically conscious daughter named Molly. Even though Bud doesn't have a political bone in is body, he has agreed to meet Molly at the polling place to vote on the 2004 presidential election. Bud gets drunk and doesn't make it, so Molly manages to vote for him, but the voting machine malfunctions and the vote isn't counted. The following day, Bud learns that the entire election has come to a dead heat and that his vote alone is going to decide who is going to be the new POTUS. He has been given the right to re-vote and has been given ten days to consider said vote.

Director and co-screenwriter Joshua Michael Stern has delivered a thoughtful and balanced story of family and politics based on a seemingly impossible premise. I've watched the returns of a lot of presidential elections on television and have often been baffled by the popular vote and the electoral college. I just don't see how a presidential election can possibly come down to one vote. There was a lot more than one vote that kept George Bush from winning Florida, prompting a recount, which really makes it hard for me to believe that an entire presidential election can come down to one vote.

Upon accepting this ridiculous premise, it's very easy to get involved in this story that looks at the ramifications of everyone involved. The most startling aspect of watching two presidential candidates campaigning for one vote is that the candidates actually reversing their views on issues that have never been in question before. The speed at which the candidates handlers did their deep background on Bud in order to find out what his passions are was alarmingly squirm-worthy. The current POTUS parks Air Force one right in front of Bud's double wide and his democratic opponent actually gets the members of Bud's former band out of jail so that they can perform at a party for Bud. We also witness an initially sincere local news anchorwoman use poor Molly for her own personal agenda.

The heart of this movie that keeps the viewer invested is the lovely relationship between this guy Bud and his daughter, Molly. This is one of those oft-seen parent-child relationships in the movies where the child is really the parent and the parent really doesn't have a problem with it. Geez, the guy can't get out of bed in the morning without Molly waking him up, but when Molly realizes that her dad is in over his head (partially because of her actions), she totally steps up.

The pacing of the story is a little too leisurely, making the film longer than it needs to be, but by the halfway point, we can't wait to see how this is going to end. The film is beautifully photographed and expertly cast, headed by Costner who brings a combination of Jimmy Stewart and Bill Murray to his loopy performance as Bud. Kelsey Grammer and the late Dennis Hopper bring very human qualities to the POTUS and his democratic opponent as do Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane as their handlers. Madeline Carroll is a total charmer as Molly and there's a superb cameo by Mare Winningham as her mother. As expected with a story like this, Bill Maher, Chris Matthews, and Ariana Huffington also make appearances. The ending is beyond schmaltzy, but the journey getting there is entertaining.

Superb performances by the stars make 2020's Downhill, a squirm-worthy and tension-filled drama about a family torn apart through an act of God, worth a look.

This film is based on a 2014 French/Norwegian film called Force Majuere and stars Will Ferrell and Julia Louis Dreyfuss as Pete and Billie, a couple vacationing with their two sons in the French Alps. The family is seated at an outdoor cafe when an avalanche hits the place. The family escapes unharmed, but deeper problems find their way to the surface because, as the avalanche comes to an end, Pete is walking back to the table where his family was sitting, making it appear to Billie and his sons that Pete left his family to die.

This film starts out very promisingly, it providing more and more discomfort for the viewer as the film progresses, but then makes a couple of bad detours. We understand when Pete tries to minimize what happened and Billie isn't able to do the same, especially after a very intense confrontation with Austrian authorities that implies the act of God might not have been as natural as it seemed. We can no longer sympathize with Pete when Billie makes her sons admit to Pete (in front of other people yet), that they also felt Pete was leaving them to die.

The story gets tricky for the viewer here, because we want to go back to the scene where the avalanche hit and figure out exactly why Pete was away from his family when the avalanche hit. It's horrible when we think what Billie says is true, yet we understand why Pete can't be honest about it. We understand the gulf that begins to grow between the couple, but we don't get is Billie coming thisclose to having sex with a handsome ski instructor and Pete getting drunk at a club, hitting on everything in a skirt. This is where the story loses this reviewer. This is something this couple needed to deal with directly and this separation Pete and Billie spits in the face of the contrived climax that made no sense after everything else we've witnessed.

What did work here were two surprisingly solid performances by Will Ferrell and Julia Louis Dreyfuss, actors definitely working out of their comfort zones, that rivet the viewer to the screen, despite the fact that this is the last kind of movie we expected from these two. The swiss scenery is gorgeous and if for nothing else, co-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash are to be applauded for the dramatic performances they pull from Will Ferrell and Julia Louis Dreyfuss, which definitely raise the bar on this one.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
Alfred Hitchcock scored a bullseye when he actually decided to remake his own 1934 dramatic adventure The Man Who Knew Too Much, a lavishly mounted remake that completely engages the viewer with a compelling and complex story, superb performances by the stars and genuine doses of what Hitchcock provided onscreen better than any other director...suspense.

Dr. Benjamin McKenna (James Stewart), his wife Jo (Doris Day) and their young son, Hank are vacationing in Morocco and meet a mysterious Frenchman on a bus. While visiting the marketplace the next day, the Frenchman is murdered right in front of the McKennas, but before he dies, the Frenchman whispers information about an assassination being planned in London. As the Moroccan police are questioning the McKennas about what they saw in the marketplace, Dr. McKenna gets a phone call stating that if he breathes a word about the assassination, he will never see his son again.

John Michael Hayes' rich screenplay is a little more complex than it needs to be, but it provides plenty of mystery and thrills that unfold in a methodical manner that the viewer doesn't really pick up on. The exposition not only provides a proper set-up for what's about to happen, but offers plenty of clues that we really don't know are clues. We're not really sure why it's so important that Jo McKenna used to be a singer or why there's a whole scene of her singing a lullaby with her son before she and the doctor go out to dinner. We don't understand why this seemingly innocent old English couple is following the McKennas around and manage to manipulate them into having dinner with them. We're also not sure why we have a scene of Jo asking her husband when they can have another baby.

It turns out that the McKennas understand a lot more than we do, especially Jo McKenna. Jo is the first to suspect that the mysterious Frenchman knows more than he's supposed to and the first one to notice the old couple following them around. And as sharp as Jo might be, we understand when she falls apart when she learns her son has been kidnapped. Love the scene where Dr. McKenna insists on sedating Jo before breaking the news to her.

Hitchcock remains in complete control of this story with his detailed attention to the actions and body language of all the characters involved in the McKenna's nightmare. Confusion is aroused for the viewer as to how many guys are involved in this and how high up the conspiracy goes. We're even thrown a red herring or two to throw us off the scent, the scene with the taxidermist in particular.

Hitchcock does a wonderful job of establishing the relationship between the McKennas...they are one of the most engaging movie couples I have ever scene. When he's not allowing the McKennas to tell the story, he lets his camera do it...I love in that final scene where Jo is singing at the embassy and the camera takes her voice up the several staircases, carrying Jo's voice to her son...classic Hitchcock.

Stewart is solid, as always, as Dr. McKenna, but it is Doris Day's intelligent and vivacious performance as Jo McKenna that commands the screen here. Day's rich, Oscar-worthy performance here is right up there with her work in Love Me or Leave Me. As long and distinguished as her career was, Day didn't get to work with a lot of "A" list directors, but this film proved what she was capable of with a strong director. The song "Que Sera Sera" won the film its only Oscar nomination and its only win and became the song with which Day would be identified with for the rest of her life. A first rate nail-biter that had me on the edge of my chair for most of the running time. Nobody did it like Hitch.