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The Prom (2020)
Ryan Murphy returns to his musical comedy roots that originally manifested themselves with the musical television series Glee. The Prom is an overblown though well-intentioned film version of a Broadway musical that features a serious dose of star power and attempts to send some positive and important messages about bigotry and acceptance. Sadly, said messages get lost among a lot of musical razzle dazzle.

Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep), Barry Glickman (James Corden), and Angie Dickinson (Nicole Kidman) are three arrogant and self-absorbed Broadway stars whose careers are circling the drain and decide that they need to get behind some kind of cause to bring credibility back to their lives and careers. Accompanied by a former sitcom star who now works as a bartender at Sardi's (Andrew Rannells), the stars travel to a small Indiana town to support a teenage girl whose desire to take her girlfriend to prom results in the school cancelling the prom.

The musical upon which this film is based opened on November 15, 2018 and ran an unimpressive 309 performances but I'm sure it was Murphy's passion regarding the subject matter was probably his driving force in bringing this story to the screen, but I think Murphy's passion for the project gets clouded with his desire to bring a good old fashioned musical to the big screen. The contemporary messages in Bob Martin and Chad Begulin's screenplay are important ones and a couple that haven't really been addressed onscreen before. Primarily, that people don't "turn" gay, they are born that way and that a man doesn't have to be gay to enjoy Broadway musicals, evidenced in a nicely realized subplot that finds Dee Dee falling for the school's principal, nicely played Keegen-Michael Key, who saw Dee Dee's first Broadway show and has worshipped her ever since.

Unfortunately, these important message get buried under a lot of very long and elaborate musical numbers that, though competently mounted with some great choreography and editing, all go on much longer than they need to and take the focus off a really important story that is attempted to be told. There was a point where it felt like this story could have been told much more effectively without the musical numbers.

Several songwriters contributed to the slightly sugary score, which should have been edgier than it was, considering the subject matter. Musical highlights for this reviewer were the production number led by Streep called "It's Not About Me", Key's "We Look to You", Streep's number in the principal's office called "The Lady's Improving", and Kidman's Fosse-like showstopper "Zazz."

Meryl Streep fully commits to this sometimes obnoxious character who is aware of her flaws but we can't help but love her. James Corden is a lot of fun, in a performance that seems to be channeling Eric Stonestreet on Modern Family, and Kidman makes the most of a thankless role. Mention should also be made of Kerry Washington, surprisingly effective as the story's villain, the uptight PTA mom whose daughter is part of the couple at the heart of the story, charmingly played by Drew Barrymore look-alike Jo Ellen Pellman and Ariana DeBose. Murphy's direction is sincere but undisciplined, just wish the whole thing had been reined in a bit.



Mank
Despite stylish direction from a surprising source, a spectacular performance from Hollywood's greatest chameleon, and what I expect is some wonderful behind the scenes karma, the 2020 biopic of writer Herman Mankiewicz, affectionately entitled Mank isn't quite the film it should be thanks to a long-winded and meandering screenplay that never really answers the questions it poses.

The film attacks a subject for which there is a lot of information, rumor, innuendo, and speculation out there, but no two sources tell the exact same story...the making of the 1941 classic Citizen Kane. This film opens in the early 1930's when a 24 year old writer, director, and actor named Orson Welles has been given complete artistic control of a movie called Citizen Kane, a thinly disguised biography of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. Welles turns to a hard-drinking writer named Herman Mankiewicz to assist him with the screenplay and it is said screenplay that is the backbone of most of the delays in getting the movie made and also won Citizen Kane its only Oscar out of nine nominations. Checking Mankiewicz' IMDB page, it was fascinating to learn that Mank worked on almost two dozen films between the time this film begins and the release of Citizen Kane.

The film reveals two primary sources for all the problems with getting the film made...Mankiewicz' antagonistic relationship with Hearst, which had a lot to do with Mank's relationship with Hearst's mistress, actress Marian Davies, and his relationship with Louis B Mayer, which became unglued when Hearst pulled a lot of his money out of the funding for MGM which forces Mayer to have all of his contract players take a 50% cut in pay.

David Fincher, best known for films of darkness and realism like S7ven and Fight Club puts enormous detail and loving care into the mounting of this Hollywood story and does it in the style of a Hollywood story...even the opening credits look like something out of a 30's melodrama. Exquisitely photographed in black and white, this business behind the business of show business story suffers due to a long-winded screenplay that offers more of a look into Mank's personal demons than the look at the making of the film classic that it seems to promise us. Since Mankiewicz was a writer, we expect the screenplay to be on the wordy side, but it was a little too wordy for this reviewer's tastes. The story of how this film got made might make a more interesting film, since it was written by Fincher and his father, who died 17 year ago. The story of Fincher getting this film made sounds like a real passion project for Fincher, the way 1917 was for Sam Mendes.

The movie is worth a look thanks to extraordinary production values and superb performances down the line. Gary Oldman could win a second Best Actor Oscar for his blistering performance as Mank, an almost seamless combination of flash and understatement. Charles Dance sinks his teeth into playing Hearst and Amanda Seyfried is surprisingly good as Marian Davies. Mention should also be made of the severely underrated Arliss Howard as Louis B Mayer, Tom Pelphrey as Herman's brother, Joseph L Mankiewicz who, a decade after Citizen Kane, would win 4 Oscars for A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve and Tom Burke, who is frighteningly on-target as Orson Welles, the best onscreen interpretation of Welles I have ever seen. With a tighter screenplay, this film could have been extraordinary. If the truth be told, that dinner party scene at Hearst's mansion was worth the price of admission alone.



Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band
Fans of the 1975 rock opera Tommy might have a head start with 1978's Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band a silly and overblown tribute to one of the Beatles' best albums that attempts to craft a story around the songs on the album, with pointless and confusing results. The film also attempts to turn certain rock and roll musicians into actors with disastrous results.

The so-called story follows a band from a small fictional town called Heartland that consists of lead singer Billy Shears (Peter Frampton). the Henderson brothers (The Bee Gees), and Billy's brother Dougie (Paul Nicholas) who acts as their manager. They are discovered by a sleazy record producer with a bad toupe named BD Hofler (Donald Pleasance), who gets them in the middle of a dangerous plot against the entire music industry in LA.

The plot, if you want to call it that, is really not the thing here. The thing here was to provide a cinematic valentine to one of the Beatles biggest selling albums and on that angle, the movie really delivers. Some of the Beatles' most memorable hits are lovingly recreated with the respect they deserve. Unfortunately, the story that screenwriter Henry Edwards comes up with, based on a play by Tom O'Horgan and Robin Wagner, is so convoluted and pretty much impossible to follow. It's only made worse by the fact that the story is done in the form of a rock opera, I assume in an attempt to make sure Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees didn't have to attempt any real acting.

The Bee Gees were fresh off their monster selling soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever and Frampton had just completed a 1000-city tour of the US, so it's not a surprise that producer Robert Stigwood wanted to ride the crest of these guys' success, Unfortunately, director Michael Schulze, who is best known for directing a lot of Richard Pryor's earlier work, was out of his element here, overseeing a big budget musical, thinking if he bombarded the senses enough, the viewer wouldn't notice the empty cinematic experience they were getting.

Some of the musical sequences worked. I liked the opening rendition of the title tune, the fantasy production of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" consisting of a billboard coming to life, Aerosmith's take on "Come Together" and Earth Wind and Fire's cover of "Got to Get You Into My Life." But every time the operatic narrative took over, the film came to one dead halt after another.

This film did nothing for the careers of Peter Frampton or the Bee Gees, but there are a couple of other people whose careers managed to survive this debacle like Pleasance, Carel Struycken, and in his official film debut, Steve Martin playing a demented plastic surgeon, bringing down the house with a number called "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," Sadly, stealing this film was no great feat. This big budget disaster is pretty much an embarrassment to all involved, except maybe the Beatles, who were wise enough to stay off screen.



Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
The explosive performances from Oscar winner Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman, in his final film role, electrify 2020's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, the film version of the Pulitzer-prize winning play by August Wilson (Fences) that almost escapes its stage origins, creating a period gone by, populated by characters who leap off the screen in a story that still connects with 2020 movie audiences.

It's Chicago in the roaring 20's where we meet the legendary blues singer Ma Rainey, who was known as "Mother of the Blues". As this film opens, we meet Ma (Davis) interrupting her latest national tour to record an album. It is her arrival at the recording studio in Manhattan that is the springboard for multiple dramas, including Ma's arrogant cornet player, Levee (Boseman), who is tired of being in Ma's shadow and wants to have a band of his own; Ma's desire to have her nephew, Sylvester, provide a spoken introduction to one of her songs on the record, despite the fact that he stutters and the ambitious and manipulative Dussie Mae, who seems to be using Ma to further her career, but finds herself drawn to Levee.

A big bouquet to Netflix for greenlighting a project like this, one that is definitely going to have limited appeal. The limited appeal is not just due to the subject matter, but to the unfamiliarity of the piece. The show opened on Broadway in October of 1984 and ran for 276 performances with Theresa Merritt playing Ma and Charles S. Dutton playing Levee. Director George C. Wolfe and screenwriter Ruben Santiago Hudson really amped the appeal off the piece by giving it a serious dose of star power, a power that has only grown with the passing of Chadwick Boseman.

Those who enjoyed Denzel Washington's mounting of Wilson's most famous piece, Fences should have a head start with this respectful reimagining of Wilson's stage play, that never completely escapes its stages origins, but brings the past to life with a contemporary flavor, thanks to characters we can relate to...black musicians who have talent and ego but are still God-fearing people who allow that fear to creep into everything they do. Ego is a big part of what drives both Ma and Levee and from their first moment onscreen together, a palatable tension is created between the characters and we can't wait for it to actually hit the fan. Loved when Ma wouldn't continue the recording session without her coke.

Wolfe pulls extraordinary performances from the leads. A Best Actress Oscar nomination is pretty much in the bag for Viola Davis, who loses herself in Ma Rainey and I wouldn't be surprised if a posthumous nomination wasn't in the cards for Boseman, who comes thisclose to stealing the film from Davis, not an easy feat. Boseman did some splendid work in his too-short career, but he definitely went out with a bang in his final role. Loved Glynn Turman as Toledo and Jeremy Shamos as Irvin too. Production values are first rate, with a special shout out to editing, costumes, and sound, but more than anything else, this film is a sad but rich reminder of what we lost in Chadwick Boseman.



Two Girls and a Sailor
MGM was the king of musicals in the 1940's and 50's, but 1944's Two Girls and Sailor is an overlong musical comedy where a 75 minute movie is blown into a 2 hour movie thanks to a parade of musical sequences that have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie.

June Allyson and Gloria DeHaven play Patsy and Jean, respectively, a vaudeville sister act who both find themselves attracted to a handsome sailor named Johnny (Van Johnson). Patsy and Jean want to open a service canteen to entertain military men and are actually gifted with a warehouse by a mysterious benefactor (guess who) to make their dream a reality.

This is another musical from the Joe Pasternak unit of MGM. Pasternak preferred that his musicals have more of a classical slant, preferring stars like Kathryn Grayson and Jane Powell to Judy Garland and Fred Astaire. His films usually included appearances by classical musicians, most notably pianist and conductor Jose Iturbi, who appeared with Grayson in Anchors Aweigh.

This very simple story, which incredibly earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, is the standard romantic triangle, blown up to spectacle, thanks to elaborate musical sequences featuring Xavier Cugat and his orchestra and Harry James with his orchestra. As a matter of fact, I think James must have put some financing into this one, because he's all over the place in this one. There are also appearances by conductor Albert Coates, Virginia O'Brien, Gracie Allen, and Lena Horne.

Musical highlights include two duets for Allyson and DeHaven, "A Tisket a Tasket" and "A Love Like Ours", DeHaven's "My Mother Told Me", Allyson's "Young Man with a Horn", O'Brien's "Take it Easy" and Horne's steamy rendition of "Paper Doll". Cugat and James get plenty of time to show off their respective bands as well, maybe a little too much and Jimmy Durante gets to perform his signature song, "Inka Dinka Doo."

Allyson is her usually sugary self and DeHaven is a lot of fun as the flighty Jean. MGM definitely poured some money into making this movie, despite the fact that it was filmed in black and white, but for an MGM musical, this one was a disappointment.



Girl Crazy
Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney had their eighth onscreen teaming in a brassy little musical outing from 1943 called Girl Crazy, which shines thanks to exuberant performances from the stars and a hard to resist score by George and Ira Gershwin.

Rooney plays Dan Churchill, Jr., a teenage playboy who is making so many headlines that his father decides that Junior needs a change so he enrolls him in small all- male college in the mountains of Colorado called Cody College, which he hates until he meets the Dean's pretty granddaughter, Ginger (guess who). Despite a blossoming romance with Ginger, Dan hates college and is ready to quit when he learns that the school is being threatened with foreclosure unless they get some new enrollees...the school's about to close because it needs money, so what do you think Mickey and Judy are going to do?

This is easily the best of the Mickey-Judy backyard musicals that were box office champs during the 1940's thanks to a believable story in an unusual setting and that great music. Girl Crazy premiered on Broadway in 1930 but was completely revamped to suit the talents of Judy and Mickey. The thing I enjoyed about Fred F. Finkelhoffe's screenplay that sets it apart from most Mickey/Judy vehicles is that this time Mickey is doing the chasing. In most of their movies, Judy is competing with several girls for Mickey's attention, but with the setting being an all-boys school, Judy's Ginger is the only girl around for miles and doesn't have to compete with other females until the climactic crowning of the rodeo queen.

Co-directors Norman Taurog and Busby Berkley had plenty of experience working with Mickey and Judy prior to this film and were very careful not to tamper with their very special chemistry, which always manages to make any slow moments in the story bearable.

Mickey and Judy also have one of George and Ira Gershwin's best scores to work with. Loved Mickey and June Allyson's opening number "Treat Me Rough" and Mickey and Judy's duet "Can You Use Me?" Judy also offered two of the strongest vocal performances of her career with "Embraceable You" and especially "But Not for Me", which almost ignited a tear duct for this reviewer. Needless to say, Busby Berkley pulled out all the stops for the "I've Got Rhythm" finale which featured magical streamers and hundreds of dancers. According to the TV mini-series Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows, Berkley drove Garland so hard during the staging of the finale that she passed out on the set, but none of that shows onscreen.

Guy Kibbee is his usual befuddled self as the Dean and Nancy Walker manages to steal a scene or two as Ginger's girlfriend, but this is Mickey and Judy's show and they make this movie a smooth musical comedy experience.



Ragtime
Six years after winning the Best Director Oscar for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and two years before winning another Best Director statue for Amadeus, Milos Foreman was robbed of a Best Director Oscar for 1981's Ragtime, a sweeping and sumptuously mounted epic of racial tension, artistic expression, and infidelity that starts so quietly that the viewer is amazed at how the size and scope of the story grows and completely rivets the viewer without even realizing how involved we've become.

The film is based on a novel by E L Doctorow and takes place in New York City circa 1910. Two separate stories evolve centering around an upper middle class family who reside in New Rochelle. Henry Thaw is outraged that a naked statue that his trampy wife, Evelyn, allegedly posed for, and Stanford White, the man who has the power to destroy the statue, refuses to and murders him. A young musician named Coalhouse Walker Jr, is preparing to start a new life with the family's housekeeper, Sarah and his infant son when a minor racially charged incident lands Walker in jail, but Walker refuses to let the incident go and demands revenge on the bigoted volunteer fireman who sabotaged his automobile. Walker's plan reveals him to be an intelligent and methodical genius with enough power to bring New Rochelle to a standstill and have the police commissioner at his mercy.

Screenwriter Michael Weller, who also wrote another Foreman directed film (Hair) has done an admirable job of adapting a book to the screen that many felt was not viable as a film, but this screenplay works because of the slow burn of the events presented here. He begins the story as a quiet look at a wealthy New York family, but this family is utilized as a blueprint for the events that follow, evidenced by the fact that three of the family members are billed merely as "Father", "Mother", and "Younger Brother." Two stories slowly materialize as Evelyn finds a new life without Henry and actually reconnects with Mother while Father and Younger Brother find themselves on opposites of Walker's story, though they really aren't. The best thing about the screenplay is that Coalhouse Walker turns out to be the most intelligent character in the story...a man aware of racism but refusing to tolerate or accept it. The way this story builds from sort of a roaring 20's escapism to a frightening story of violence and revenge is a singularly unique cinematic experience.

Milos Foreman brings meticulous direction to this somewhat complex story that might run a little longer than it needs to, but everything that happens seems relevant to the story. He employs exquisite camerawork that gets inside these characters that tells as much of the story as the screenplay does. Watch the camera as it follows Sarah through a crowd trying to reach the Vice President or moving about the deserted library with Coalhouse and his crew. Also loved when Father was approaching the library doors and the door opened without the viewer seeing who opened the door...it felt like everything froze at that moment.

The film was nominated for eight Oscars, but didn't bring home a single statue. The late Howard Rollins Jr received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his explosively controlled Coalhouse Walker and Elizabeth McGovern, in the performance of her sporadic career, received a Supporting Actress nomination for her brassy performance as Evelyn. Loved James Olson and Mary Steenburgen as Father and Mother and there's a dazzling turn from Brad Dourif, who Foreman directed to a supporting actor nomination in Cuckoo's Nest as Younger Brother. Movie legend James Cagney is glorious in his final theatrical film role after a 20 year absence from the screen, as the police commissioner. Robert Joy, Kenneth McMillan, Mandy Patinkin, Debbie Allen, Jeff Daniels, and Frankie Faison round out the impressive supporting cast.

Not sure how it was done, but this compelling story of passion and violence was actually turned into a Broadway musical, premiering in January of 1998, ran for over 800 performances, starred Brian Stoke Mitchell as Coalhouse Walker and was nominated for 13 Tony Awards. Something tells me the musical probably pales next to Milos Foreman's work here. Stunning.



Big Tim Adolescence
The teen coming of age movie gets a facelift in a 2019 comedy-drama called Big Time Adolescence centered on a relationship between two characters that makes absolutely no sense.

SNL's Pete Davidson stars as Zeke, an aimless, 23-year old college dropout who breaks up with his longtime girlfriend, but continues his relationship with her 16-year old brother, Moe, that leads Moe down a very destructive path.

Director/screenwriter Jason Orley has constructed a story that the viewer immediately realizes can't go anywhere good, evidenced by the opening scene which is really the end of the story and then flashes back to how we got there. Even as the story flashes back, we see almost immediately that there's something very unhealthy about a 16 year old kid who is yearning for what every high school freshman is yearning for, romance and popularity with upper classmen and a 23 year old stoner whose life is going nowhere. Orley somehow manages to make us really like Moe and Zeke together, even though we're not supposed to. We really want the relationship to work until we see Zeke giving Moe bad advice and getting him in all kinds of trouble that only comes Moe's way because of his relationship with Zeke.

Not sure if it's intentional. but the viewer has to wonder why the people in Moe's life allow his relationship with Zeke to get as far as it does. Moe's father sees that Zeke is a bad influence on him, but never really puts his foot down regarding it until it's too late. We're actually two thirds of the way through the movie before Moe's sister reads Zeke the riot act, which seemingly should have happened a lot earlier in the story than it did. And when Zeke's romantic advice finds Moe pushing away the girl he really likes and having sex with Zeke's girlfriend, we know it's the beginning of the end. There's also a questionable placing of the Connie Francis classic "Where the Boys Are" on the audio track that didn't really work for me.

Though the path the story takes is slightly predictable, the film is imminently watchable, thanks to some striking camera work, sharp editing, and a raw nerve of a performance by Pete Davidson as Zeke that keeps the viewer riveted to the screen. Davidson gets a strong assist from a star-making performance by Griffin Gluck, who never allows the charismatic Davidson to blow him off the screen. There's also a superb performance from Jon Cryer as Moe's father, light years away from Alan Harper. For a relatively inexperienced filmmaker like Jason Orley, a first rate twist on the teen angst drama that will demand viewer attention.



Dangerous (1935)
Bette Davis won her first Oscar for her charismatic performance in a steamy 1935 melodrama called Dangerous that is still worth watching thanks to Davis and solid writing and direction.

Davis plays Joyce Heath, an alcoholic actress whose career is circling the drain because she has caused so much pain and heartache during her career that she has been labeled a jinx in New York theater circles. A wealthy architect named Don Bellows (Franchot Tone), who is engaged to an elegant socialite (Margaret Lindsay), runs into Joyce in a drunken stupor and decides to take her up to his country estate to sleep it off. It's not long before Joyce and Don are falling in love with each other, though they are both in denial about it.

Laird Doyle's screenplay is surprisingly sophisticated. Loved the opening scene of Don and some wealthy fat cats comparing their memories of Heath's career with the sordid gossip her life has become. That first scene where Joyce wakes up at Don's home is a lot of fun where the first thing Joyce does is demand a drink and makes Don's housekeeper nuts. Loved Don and Joyce's first kiss in the rain and I especially loved the scene where Don breaks up with his fiancee. Alfred E Greens direction really kicks in high gear here as we watch Don doing something he really doesn't want to do and the woman he loves trying to pretend that she doesn't know what's coming.

Love the title of the film because that's exactly what the title character is. The relationship between Joyce and Don is toxic and even though they think it's love, it's more like obsession or addiction. Don's addiction to Joyce turns out to be as strong as Joyce's addiction to alcohol and though we hope against hope, we just know this can't end well.

Davis dazzles as usual and won the Oscar for Outstanding Lead Actress on her first nomination, though there is a school of thought that the award was a consolation prize for being denied a nomination the previous year for Of Human Bondage. It's a terrific performance that makes the movie worth watching, but Davis has done better work. This was my first exposure to Franchot Tone, who was a little one-note as Don, but I love his voice. Mention should also be made of Margaret Lindsay's as Don's jilted fiancee and Allison Skipworth as his housekeeper, but as always with the actress, it's Davis' show and her fans will not be disappointed.



Audrey
She was a dancer, an actress, a humanitarian, and one of Hollywood's greatest icons, but a gifted director named Helena Coan gives us an unexpected and completely enchanting look inside a Hollywood actress unlike anything we've ever seen. The 2020 documentary Audrey doesn't offer the behind the scenes dirt we expect from such a film, but gives the viewer a look at the person behind the icon.

The reason I first mentioned that she was a dancer is because we are told almost immediately, in Audrey's own voice, is that Audrey's first show business ambition was to be a ballet dancer. Some early footage of Hepburn's dance ability, which eventually became forgotten, morphs into a framework for Audrey's story which director Coan represents through three ballet dancers dancing Audrey's life in symbolic ballets that introduce different parts of her fascinating life and career.

After brief introductory material around the war-torn Belgium that brought her parents together, we are immediately thrust into the beginning of Audrey's incredible career, narrated by herself and the people who knew her best. Audrey worked with some of Hollywood's most charismatic leading men, but it was wonderfully refreshing that the first two connections she made with men were men who were behind the camera: Fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy and photographer Richard Avedon.

We are treated to a lot of lovely footage of Audrey arriving at movie premieres and getting off planes, showing her being mobbed everywhere she went and we can see that she really didn't know what all the fuss was about. The Hollywood scene held no interest for her and never felt she was worth all the attention. Despite being known as one of our great beauties. there's a lovely moment in the film where we hear Audrey voice everything that she would have changed about herself physically if she could.

The film looks at her marriages to Mel Ferrer and Andrea Dotti, two very controlling men who managed to have an iron grip on Audrey and having numerous affairs behind her back at the same time. What we also see and hear in Audrey's voice is no bitterness and taking her own part in what went wrong in the marriages. If it weren't for these marriages, she wouldn't have her greatest joy, her two sons, who were also the inspiration for her tireless work with UNICEF.

Commentary is provided during the documentary by Peter Bogdanovich, who directed Audrey in They All Laughed, Richard Dreyfuss, her son Sean Ferrer, her granddaughter Emma Hepburn Ferrer, and producer Andrew Wald among others, but the real star of this film is director Helena Coan, whose perfect crafting of film with narration is what makes this such a simultaneously joyous and beautifully quiet look at a Hollywood icon who had no interest being any such thing.



Audrey
She was a dancer, an actress, a humanitarian, and one of Hollywood's greatest icons, but a gifted director named Helena Coan gives us an unexpected and completely enchanting look inside a Hollywood actress unlike anything we've ever seen. The 2020 documentary Audrey doesn't offer the behind the scenes dirt we expect from such a film, but gives the viewer a look at the person behind the icon.
Gosh, I need to see that! I'm a big fan of Audrey Hepburn. Glad to see you rated it so highly.



Life with Father
Warner Brothers spared no expense in bringing their lavish screen adaptation of Life with Father to the screen, a warm slice of cinematic Americana that engages the viewer thanks to superb production values, some clever dialogue and sparkling performances from the stars.

The setting is 1883 Manhattan where we meet wealthy businessman Clarence Day (William Powell), a no-nonsense businessman who thinks he runs his home with the same skill with which he runs his business, but it is Day's wife, Vinnie (Irene Dunne) who really runs the house, including her tyrannical husband and her four redheaded sons. Among the mini-dramas that spring up during the course of the story are the unwelcome visit from Vinnie's cousin and her young companion, Mary Skinner, who finds herself immediately to eldest Day son Clarence Jr. Vinnie also becomes very concerned when she learns that her husband has never been baptized.

The film found its roots in a memoir by the real Clarence Day Jr, which was turned into a play by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse, which premiered on Broadway on November 8, 1939 and ran for over 3200 performances, holding the record as the longest running Broadway show until 1972. Donald Ogden Stewart, who won an Oscar for writing the film version of The Philadelphia Story, does a wonderful job of capturing the spirit of the stage piece, especially in the writing of these central characters, Clarence and Vinnie Day, showing the viewer how much his parents meant to Clarence Jr., especially his hard-nosed father, who wasn't the household dictator that he thought he was.

I love the way the opening scenes of the film establish Clarence Day's intimidation factor through Vinnie's warnings to the new maid with very specific instructions about how Mr. Day likes things. Even our first glimpse of Mr. Day isn't an actual glance, it's his shadow against the wall at the top of the stairs, bellowing at the top of his lungs, a nice directorial touch by Michael Curtiz. I also love Vinnie's subtle manipulation of her husband that she does so effortlessly without him knowing what she's doing. Was also amused by the way Vinnie sees her husband through an entirely new set of eyes when she learns he was never baptized.

Curtiz' direction could have used a little more pacing, but it does display loving respect for this classic piece of theater and the performances he elicits from his cast absolutely light up the screen. William Powell received a Best Actor nomination for his blustery performance as the iron-fisted Clarence Day and the lovely Irene Dunne was robbed of a nomination for her performance as Vinnie, the real head of the Day household. Jimmy Lydon and a young Martin Milner are fun as Clarence Jr and John and a beautiful young teenager named Elizabeth Taylor makes an impression as Mary Skinner. A classic stage piece makes a smooth transition to the screen.



Malice
In the tradition of films like Out of the Past and Body Heat comes 1993's Malice, a sizzling noir-ish type thriller that takes its time getting to the story it really intends to tell, but is consistently watchable thanks to a superb cast working at the top of their game.

Andy (Bill Pullman) is a college dean married to Tracy (Nicole Kidman), a teacher, who are happily married but have been having trouble conceiving a child. Their troubles are further complicated when a medical condition of Tracy's forces Dr. Jed Hill (Alec Baldwin), an arrogant surgeon we're told has a "God complex", performs emergency surgery on Tracy that required the removal of one of her ovaries, forbidding her from having children permanently. Tracy leaves Andy for giving the doctor permission to operate on her and sues the doctor for $20,000,000, but it's not long before it's revealed that Tracy is not the hapless victim that she originally appears to be.

Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and Scott Frank (Minority Report) have constructed a screenplay that is initially centered around a fascinating character in this Jed Hill, putting an arrogant surgeon in the position of possible losing his entire career but deciding instead to tell a much more conventional story about infidelity and blackmail, which is a viable story, but a much more interesting story could have been told here centering on the destruction of this self-absorbed surgeon who refuses to admit that what he did to Tracy was wrong. It's probably no coincidence that the hearing in the attorney's office where Tracy and her attorney press formal charges reminded me of the hearing scenes in The Social Network.

The story that is eventually told here is quite unsettling for myriad reasons. It's hard to believe that Tracy would go to the elaborate lengths that she does here. It was unclear how Jed and Tracy were able to manipulate that entire hearing in order to make it appear that she was suing Jed. Some of the detective work that Andy does to figure out what was going on didn't make a lot of sense either.

What does work here is some terrific performances that really help engage the viewer. Alec Baldwin, whose career has recently been reduced to playing Donald Trump on SNL, shows what a powerhouse actor he really is here and is perfectly complimented by Kidman's bitchy temptress. Bill Pullman also offers the finest performance of his career as the cuckolded Andy. Josef Summer and Peter Gallagher offer solid support and I loved a pair of classy cameos by the late George C. Scott and Anne Bancroft. A drama that remains watchable despite a muddy screenplay.



Draft Day
Imaginative direction and a terrific ensemble cast are the main selling points of a glossy comedy-drama called Draft Day that takes an up close and personal look at an aspect of professional football that is of paramount interest to anyone involved in the NFL, but I don't think has ever been addressed on film before.

The 2014 film stars Oscar winner Kevin Costner as Sonny Weaver Jr., the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, who took over the job after firing his father from the job. The draft is coming up and Sonny has been afforded the opportunity to get the hottest quarterback in the country, Bo Callahan, as a first round draft pick. As word spreads of Sonny's good fortune, internal investigations reveal that Callahan is not the guy Sonny thinks he is and that choosing him for a first round draft pick could be a huge mistake.

There are other mini-dramas surrounding the central one, including a running back named Vonte Mack (the late Chadwick Boseman) who has been pursuing his dream of being a Cleveland Brown for years to Sonny's distraction; a running back named Ray Jennings, whose past might keep him being a draft pick, the revelation that Sonny's co-worker and girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) is pregnant, and Sonny's mother (Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn) who wants Sonny to drop everything he's doing so that he can spread his father's ashes over the field.

The draft is an aspect of the NFL that really hasn't been addressed on the big screen before and screenwriters Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph deserve credit for this earnest look at this little addressed aspect of the game. There are a few holes in the plot that this reviewer couldn't get past: The previous relationship between Sonny and Vonte Mack is established early on but not explained in a way that made what we saw happen between them make sense. More importantly, it is never really explained what Bo Callahan was hiding, outside of the fact that his college teammates didn't show up to his 21st birthday party.

The other thing works here is the stylish and imaginative direction of the late Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters) who gives this story a real Capra-esque quality with his attention to the setting of the film, which is actually every US city with a pro football team and making sure that the viewer knows where we are at all times, including absolutely gorgeous shots of all of the major football stadiums. Reitman also scores with his updating of the classic split screen technique, that sometimes moves when it should and moves when it shouldn't and the pictures actually cross the lines at time, allowing the viewer to watch one character slam down a phone and see the reaction of the person receiving the slam.

Costner gives another of his patented Jimmy Stewart turns, which quietly anchors the proceedings and is provided solid support from Denis Leary as Coach Penn and the fabulous Frank Langella as the Browns' owner. Sharp eyes will also catch appearances from Timothy Simons, Stephen Root, Terry Crews, Rosanna Arquette, Anthony Rizzo, Deion Sanders, Chris Berman, and Sam Elliott. There's a slow spot here and there, but Costner and company make it worth your time.



28 days...6 hours...42 minutes...12 seconds
I liked this movie and I don't care about football....maybe that helped?
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Suspect's Reviews



Dance Girl Dance
A dazzling performance by Lucille Ball is at the center of a 1940 musical melodrama from RKO called Dance Girl Dance that has a place in cinematic history as Hollywood's first example of feminist cinema that was actually directed by a woman, something pretty much unheard of in 1940.

Judy (Maureen O'Hara) and Bubbles (Lucy) are dancers in an Akron, Ohio nightclub that gets shut down. Finding themselves unemployed, Judy decides to seek her dream of being a prima ballerina, but decides against it after watching ballet dancers in a company run by Steve Adams (Ralph Bellamy). Meanwhile, Bubbles finds success as a burlesque queen and gets Judy a job as her "stooge" while both girls find themselves pursued romantically by a wealthy divorced playboy (Louis Hayward) still in love with his ex-wife (Virginia Field).

Director Dorothy Arzner, whose other directorial credits include The Bride Wore Red and The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, brings a firm yet understated hand to Tess Slassinger and Frank Davis' thoughtful and adult screenplay that was groundbreaking in 1940 because female characters are at the center of the story as leads, and not just as romantic interests. Judy and Bubbles are the heroes here...these characters have brains and hearts and ambition and have more on their minds than marriage. The character of Bubbles has a surprising complexity to her that I really didn't expect. It's never really made clear whether Bubbles getting Judy hired for her show was an act of altruism or an act revenge and I think that was Arzner's intention. We're not supposed to know, because in the grand scheme of the story, it's really not important. If I had one problem with the story, it would be Hayward's
character. This guy is clearly still in love with his ex and still chasing these other two women. The cap on this character's appeal was permanently sealed when he tells Judy that he doesn't like that her eyes aren't the same color as his ex-wife

When it comes down to it, it is the 100 megawatt performance by Lucille Ball that keeps this movie on boil. After watching her less than impressive performance in DuBarry was a Lady recently, I was a little hesitant about spending more time at the movies with Ball, but she more than makes up for it here. Watch that audition scene near the beginning where she is auditioning for a hula show...brassy and sexy to the nth degree. We even get a glimpse of the Lucy Ricardo character we would come to love eleven years later during a number called "My Mother Told Me" where Lucy has to battle a wind machine.

Despite being filmed in black and white, RKO definitely poured some money into this movie, evidenced in art direction/set direction and costumes. Maureen O'Hara starts off a little one note but grows into the role of Judy, though her big speech at the climax might be a bit much, and Bellamy's role is basically thankless, but if the truth be told, Lucille Ball's fabulous performance as Bubbles makes this film worth the price of admission.



George Lopez: We'll Do it For Half
Netflix was on hand when comedian George Lopez picked up the standup mike for a 2020 concert entitled George Lopez: We'll Do it for Half and something tells me they might be wishing they had utilized their resources elsewhere.

Don't get me wrong. At the heart of it, George Lopez is a very funny guy. His years of standup eventually led him to his sitcom on ABC. The last special I saw of his was American's Mexican, which was back in 2007. That special provided a lot of laughs, but its appeal was severely limited because Lopez spoke a lot of Spanish and we get even more of it here, to the point where if the viewer doesn't understand Spanish, they just want to turn it off.

Live from San Francisco, Lopez spends the opening moments reaching out to the audience in Spanish before launching into a myriad of topics that are not foreign territory to comedians but becomes foreign territory when he stops speaking English. Lopez' pride regarding his race is to be admired, but he works so hard at connecting with his Latino fans that he pretty quickly alienates everyone else. His abrupt transitions through topics like immigration, aging, and children respecting their elders begin with general thoughts that always get a cheer from his audience and the build up to the punchline is usually pretty funny, but then the punchline is in Spanish and the non-Latino viewers are left in the cold.

There were a few funny bits here and there. He did a very funny bit about those Life Alert "I've fallen and I can't get up" necklaces and being pulled over for drunk driving, and an impression of a white person ordering food in a Mexican restaurant, but these bits only took about 5 minutes out of a 51 minute concert.

Lopez' limiting of his appeal can also be evidenced in the size of the audience. There are a couple of shots of the balcony during the concert and most of it was empty. There were empty seats observed downstairs as well. Unless he makes a concerted effort to broaden his appeal beyond the Latino community, his career is going to come to a stand still. Loved the stage dressing. A huge disappointment.



Ballet 422
Fans of the ballet should be enchanted by a 2014 documentary called Ballet 422, an intimate and beautifully detailed look at the mounting of an original ballet from choreographic concepts to opening night.

This film centers around a dancer with the New York City Ballet named Justin Peck, a 25 year old member of the corps de ballet, which is the equivalent of being a chorus dancer in a Broadway musical, who has been pegged to mount a brand new ballet and only has two months to do it. It is the 422nd original piece mounted by the legendary ballet company.

Needless to say, this film will have limited appeal. If the arts of dance, choreography, and theater hold no interest for you, give this film a pass. As a college musical theater major, I found this film fascinating from start to finish, in its eloquent presentation of ballet as a collaborative effort that involves a lot more than watching snooty, long-legged dancers competing for center stage. The film begins with Justin sketching out his ideas for the ballet on paper and then taping basic movements on his phone right up to opening night, and everything in between.

Director Jody Lee Lipes, who was the cinematographer for 2016 Oscar nominee Manchester by the Sea, has chosen to mount this story as simply as possible...there is no narration and the camera seems to be invisible as it follows the choreographer and the dancers around, without any acknowledgment of the camera's presence. Lipes doesn't feel the need to explain anything as we watch dancers working together, Justin meeting with the wardrobe department, lighting technicians, and thanking the orchestra for their hard work.

Enjoyed the fact that Lipes chose not to explain a lot of terminology that might be unfamiliar to those not familiar with the ballet. There's one moment during a rehearsal of the finale where Justin tells the company that the movements aren't "crispy" enough. We don't know what that means but the dancers do and that's what matters. This documentary doesn't pander to non-fans of the ballet and doesn't apologize for it. This film lays out bare what a completely collaborative effort the ballet is and how it's not for the lazy or uninspired. Lipes utilizes first rate production values here, with a special nod to sound...love the sound of a group of female dancers moving across a floor on pointe shoes. As a lover of the arts, this was a joy from start to finish.