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The Wilde Wedding
Director/screenwriter Damien Harris attempts an homage to Woody Allen with 2017's The Wilde Wedding, a handsomely mounted comedy about a show business family that has a serious shot of star power going for it, but an overstuffed screenplay with way too many characters working against it.

The film stars Glenn Close as Eve Wilde, a retired movie star preparing for her fourth wedding at her glamorous country estate. In addition to Harold, the groom to be (Patrick Stewart, almost unrecognizable with a full head of hair), the guest list also includes Eve's first husband, Laurence (John Malkovich), a Tony Award winning stage actor, Eve's drug addicted rock star daughter, Priscilla (Minnie Driver), and Laurence's three sons (Noah Emmerich, Jack Davenport, Peter Facinelli), and our hostess for the festivities, Eve's granddaughter, Mackenzie (Grace Van Patten), who has a secret crush on her cousin.

Harris' screenplay seems to be delving into Hannah and her Sisters territory with a story centered around a show business family that divides into several mini-dramas as the story unfolds; unfortunately, he has populated the story with so many children, grandchildren, boyfriends, hetero girlfriends, and lesbian girlfriends that it is virtually impossible to keep up with everything that happens in the course of the story.

What does work here is the story of the characters at the center of the story and the actors that portray them. It was a joy watching Close and Malkovich working together for the first time since Dangerous Liaisons playing characters nothing like the ones they played in that film. One touch I loved that Harris did with their characters was making Eve a movie star and making Laurence a stage actor and the differences between the kind of actors they are is made perfectly clear. There's a cute moment right before the rehearsal dinner where Laurence's sons bet on how long it will take their father to mention his Tony Award at the rehearsal dinner. Minnie Driver also does some flashy work, which includes an impressive cover of Billy Idol's "White Wedding".

Harris' mounting of the story includes some first rate production values, especially the cinematography. The movie gets an "A" for effort, but truthfully, whenever Close, Malkovich, Stewart, and Driver aren't onscreen, the film screeches to a halt. These talented movie veterans do make this one worth a look.



Broadway Melody of 1936
Eleanor Powell was one of the first big talents to come out of MGM studios and it is her dancing that is the primary attraction of a lavish production called Broadway Melody of 1936 that has a few other things going for it as well.

The 1935 musical stars Robert Taylor as Bob Gordon, a Broadway producer who is looking for financing and a leading lady for his hew show. A stuck-up diva named Lillian Brent agrees to finance the show if she can have the part. A dancer from Gordon's hometown named Irene Foster (Powell) shows up in New York thinking her past with Gordon will guarantee her the lead. Things are further complicated by a newspaper reporter named Bert Keeler (Jack Benny) who plants a story that a famous French actress, who doesn't really exist, is also interested in the part.

Jack McGowan and Sid Silvers (who also appears in the film as Keeler's buddy, Scoop) have constructed a fun backstage story that provides the perfect escapist entertainment that 1930's movie audiences were looking for. Of course, there are some things that happen that are a little hard to swallow in 2021, like when Irene decides to pretend to be the French actress and all she does is put on a blonde wig and completely fool Gordon.

It's the musical numbers that make this one worth the price of admission. Frances Langford impresses with her interpretations of "You are My Lucky Star" and "Broadway Rhythm". Decades before becoming Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies, lanky Buddy Ebsen scores in a couple of numbers with his real life sister, Vilma. Buddy and Vilma play a brother/sister act onscreen as well, who befriend Powell's character. It's Powell's amazing dancing that is the standout element of the movie though. Trained in ballet and tap, Powell is allowed to display both skills here with an elaborate dream ballet and the energetic finale where Powell gets to display her unparalleled skill with pique and chaine turns. Dave Gould's choreography has a real Busby Berkeley influence.

Robert Taylor brings a nice breeziness to the Robert Gordon character and Benny is surprisingly funny as Keeler. Can't leave here without mentioning a totally scene-stealing turn from Una Merkel as Gordon's secretary. Elaborate sets and costumes are the final touches on this slightly dated, but still entertaining musical romp.



A Thousand Acres
Some powerhouse performances from an amazing ensemble cast are the primary reason to check out a 1997 drama called A Thousand Acres, a Shakespearean-styled drama of family dysfunction from the writer of Oscar and Lucina and the director of Muriel's Wedding.

The setting is an Iowa farm community where we meet Larry Cook (Jason Robards), the most respected farmer in town who is tired of farming and wants to give his farm to his daughters Ginny (Jessica Lange), Rose (Michelle Pfeiffer), and Caroline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), but Caroline wants nothing to do with the farm, which is the impetus for a whole lot of family secrets to come bubbling to the surface that have been buried for years.

Laura Jones' screenplay, based on a novel by Jane Smiley is, interesting at its core. The story seems to be a modern re-thinking of King Lear that degenerates into a talky and predictable story that comes off as a combination of bad Tennessee Williams and bad daytime television. Once Caroline separates from the rest of the family, the family secrets come spilling out at a dizzying rate that is pretty much impossible to keep track of. Not to mention a pretentious narration by the Ginny character that added nothing to the story.

Jocelyn Moorhouse's direction is overly detailed and panders too much to a very talky screenplay that is not nearly as compelling as it intends to be. The talk comes in the forms of family secrets that are supposed to shock and titillate, but there's so many secrets that the shock factor begins to wear off pretty quickly.

The film is beautiful to look at, including some Oscar worthy cinematography by Tak Fujimoto, but what really works here and held this viewer's attention were some spectacular performances by a once in a lifetime cast, led by Oscar winners Jessica Lange and Jason Robards as the oldest daughter struggling to hold her family together and the bitter angry patriarch tearing his family apart. Pfeiffer and the always watchable Leigh bring a richness to their roles that isn't in the screenplay. Keith Carradine and Kevin Anderson are solid as Ginny and Rose's husbands and Colin Firth is sex on legs as the man who comes between Rose and Ginny. There are other strong contributions by Pat Hingle, John Carroll Lynch, Bob Gunton, and if you look closely, you might recognize a very young Michelle Williams and Elisabeth Moss playing Pfeiffer's daughters. The story tries to cover too much, but the incredible performances do make it worth a look.



Nomadland
Two-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand should be in serious consideration for a third Best Actress statuette as the centerpiece of an achingly real, harrowing, and squirm-worthy drama called Nomadland that takes an up close, often too up close, look at a forgotten aspect of American society that this reviewer doesn't recall ever being addressed onscreen before.

The 2020 film opens by informing us that, in 2011, a factory in Empire, Nevada went out of business and crippled the town to the point that their zip code was eliminated. We are then introduced to a widow named Fern, played by McDormand, an assembly line worker for Amazon whose life was so severely damaged by the death of her husband and the closing of the factory, that she is now reduced to living in her van, becoming what is known as a nomad, a person who doesn't have a permanent residence and is forced to live in her vehicle.

Director, screenwriter, and film editor Chloe Zhao has crafted an intimate and deeply personal look at a lifestyle that most of us have not really seen before. The plight of the homeless has been addressed in film, both in comedic and dramatic veins, but this is a different kind of homelessness that has its own set of challenges, in addition to what the homeless on the street go through. Yes, they have shelter but their shelter is on wheels and it's often a problem to find a place to park a van for any serious length of time without being bothered. There's a frighteningly realistic moment in the film where Fern is sitting in her van parked near a gas station, enjoying a piece of fried chicken, like it's a seven course meal and someone bangs on her window, telling her she can't park there. The look on Fern's face is sheer terror as she would prefer to die than to actually communicate with the person banging on her window.

Zhao's screenplay eventually finds its way to a theory that the nomad lifestyle has its basis in different forms of grief and loss where often the only solace is isolation. We get brief glimpses into Fern's backstory that come full circle when Fern makes contact with her sister, whose offer to let Fern move in with her is politely refused. There's a great moment of outrage from Fern when her brother-in-law refers to here lifestyle as "chucking it all and hitting the road." Serious drama is also provided when Fern discovers her van is breaking down, which we forget as normal homeowners, would be comparable to our house burning down.

We get other serious doses of reality when we see Fern having to find a place to urinate or when she has to battle with a fellow nomad over a can opener, which we learn is life's blood for a nomad. There's a beautifully edited scene where Fern disappears from a tour because she has to go to the bathroom and gets caught before she does. The moment when she has to admit to an auto mechanic that she lives in her van, the only time she says it out loud during the running time, is heartbreaking.

This surprising look at a subculture we know so little about is gorgeously photographed, featuring Oscar-worthy cinematography and a lovely, but minimalistic music score that fills moments that need to be filled and disappears when not needed. Frances McDormand's beautifully understated performance in the title role could well earn a third Oscar and Zhao really scores by having several real-life nomads inhabit the story, making the film experience even richer. A simultaneously harrowing and hopeful motion picture experience that haunts long after the credits.



Dames
Though we have to wait for it a little longer than usual, the magic of mad genius Busby Berkley does finally take center stage in a bubbly musical comedy called Dames that does provide a surprisingly solid backstage story leading up to the movie dancing magic that is pure Busby Berkley.

The 1934 musical is about a prissy bank president named Ezra Ounce (Hugh Herbert), who is repulsed by anything to do with Broadway. who travels to the home of his cousin, Horace Hemingway (Guy Kibbee) and offers him $10 million dollars if he will help him start a foundation whose primary mission would be to destroy Broadway. A charming songwriter named Jimmy Higgens (Dick Powell) is looking for backing for a new musical he's written for himself to star in with his tap-dancing girlfriend, Barbara (Ruby Keeler), who happens to be Horace's daughter. Throw in a smart dancer named Mabel (Joan Blondell) who uses a brief encounter with Horace to blackmail him out of $25000 to back Jimmy's show.

We have to wait until the final third of the film, but in two musical numbers, we get the complete essence of what Busby Berkley was all about. While Florenz Ziegfeld was doing it on stage, Berkley was doing it in the movies...the glorification of woman and nobody did it like he did. I loved the way Berkley's numbers were always supposed to be part of a Broadway show, but Berkley always threw out any conception of reality and the confines of a proscenium stage and just presented the biggest most elaborate musical numbers, utilizing as many pretty female dancers he could cram on a stage, including his patented kaleidoscope photography from above the stage. The "I Only Have Eyes For You" actually moves from the from the front of a theater, to the stage, to a subway, to a dream sequence and even a train station! This number completely defies description, you just have to experience it. Only in the musical.

Hugh Hubert and Guy Kibbee garner major laughs as Ezra and Horace as does Zasu Pitts as Horace's wife and Johnny Arthur as Ezra's secretary. This film established such a firm blueprint for 1930's musicals, that in 1966, an off-Broadway musical was written called Dames at Sea where the three principal characters were named Dick, Ruby, and Joan that introduced an unknown singer named Bernadette Peters to New York theater audiences as Ruby.



One Night in Miami
Oscar winner Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk) makes a solid feature-length directorial debut with her 2020 film version of a play called One Night in Miami, a fictional story fashioned around four real life icons in black history that suffers a bit due to a talky script and an air of pretension that seems to taint the director's vision.

Based on a play by Kemp Powers, it's Miami in the 1960's where legendary civil rights leader Malcolm X is anxiously awaiting three guests in a motel room: R&B singer Sam Cooke, heavyweight boxing champion Cassius Clay, and NFL legend Jim Brown. The three men seem to be just as anxious to meet with Malcolm X as he is to meet with them. Unfortunately, what begins as an evening of mutual admiration turns tense and ugly as the legendary civil rights leader begins berating these other three men for selling out for the sake of their own careers and not stepping up as they should in the war for civil rights.

The play upon which this film is based first opened at the Donmar Playhouse in England, which should be a bit of a red flag. This story feels like experimental theater and it's no surprise that it never made it across the pond to Broadway. There's a real danger of alienating an audience when real life historical figures are placed together in a fictional situation...characterizations are muddy and it's often difficult to accept real life people in certain situations. Even though this story is fictional. I do get the impression that, at some point, Malcolm X met with all three of these guys and Powers decided to compile these three separate meetings that Malcolm X had with these three men into a single story.

It's no coincidence that we meet Cooke, Brown, and Clay at major turning points in their lives and careers...Cooke is trying to accept the pandering he has to do with white show business to remain viable; Brown has just left the Cleveland Browns and is getting ready to make his first movie, and Clay has been secretly meeting with X in order to join the nation of Islam. We then witness these three clearly conflicted men actually get browbeaten by Malcolm X for caring more about themselves than the civil rights movement. It seems we're supposed to give X a pass because he's at the point in his work where he is angering a lot of people and requires bodyguards in front of his motel room.

This starts off as a really interesting idea and King's attention to production values and to casting is on the money, but Powers' adaptation of his own play is talky and pretentious, making all four of these guys seem very full of themselves and diluting the message that King and Powers are trying to send. Malcolm X comes off as an arrogant prick who has no right to tell these men about their responsibilities where the civil rights movement is concerned and the character's appeal went completely out the window when Malcolm told Sam Cooke that Bob Dylan's "Blowin in the Wind" was a better song than anything Cooke ever recorded.

King's directorial hand is sensitive and the performances she gets from her hand-picked cast are just sensational, with standout work from Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X, Leslie Odom Jr., whose Sam Cooke earned him a Golden Globe nomination, and especially Eli Goree, who lights up the screen as Cassius Clay AKA Muhammed Ali. Not the full film experience it should have been, but still well worth seeing.



The Trial of the Chicago 7
A decade after winning his first Oscar for writing The Social Network, Aaron Sorkin is likely to come home with at least one more Oscar for directing and writing 2020's The Trial of the Chicago 7, a ferocious and unapologetic look at one of the most ugly and often unbelievable events in American history that completely mesmerized this reviewer, taking me through a myriad of emotions, and convincing me that this is the frontrunner for the Oscar for Best Picture of 2020.

I was only ten years old when the events of this film occurred but really didn't understand a lot of what happened and even after viewing this film, there is a lot I still don't understand, but what I did learn here incited a lot of anger and shame inside me. For those who weren't around, riots and demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic Convention, primarily serving as a protest to the Vietnam War. There was massive destruction of property, injuries, deaths, and, if memory serves, CBS correspondent Mike Wallace was seriously injured during the mayhem. Five months after the convention, eight men were brought to trial for inciting the conspiracy that led to this devastating series of events and it is this trial that serves as a blueprint for this film, which provides a look at exactly what happened in Chicago as well as a lot of the fallout.

For my money, Aaron Sorkin is a lock for the Original Screenplay Oscar for his meticulous crafting of a turbulent time in history, made only richer with the release of this film coming during this country's current political climate. The story begins as we meet Tom Hayden, Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, John Froines, Lee Weiner, and Bobby Seale planning their individual pilgrimages to Chicago, as well as their varied intentions for doing so and then skipping straight to the trial, where these events find these virtual strangers at the same defense table as co-conspirators, despite the fact that some of them had never met and some weren't even present at the riots.

This film chronicles allegiances that are sharply divided on both sides of this monumental legal case. We learn that prosecuting attorney Richard Schulze was pretty much shoved into this and that the judge presiding over the case, Julius Hoffman, at least according to this screenplay, was dealing with some form of senility or dementia that made his handling of the trial a mockery and Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman's mockery of the process, that just enflamed the judge. Above all this was the absurdity was the fact that Bobby Seale went into this trial with no legal representation and the judge didn't seem to care, despite reluctant assistance from counselor William Kunstler, who tried to have Seale's back without actually representing him, which I didn't understand at all.

Sorkin's directorial skills make their mark here too, with an effective blending of archival footage of the events along with his own recreation of the events, which are in-your-face disturbing and hard to discount, where Sorkin gets a strong Oscar-worthy assist from film editor Alan Baumgarten. Sorkin's skill of blending archival footage with the event of the film recalled Oliver Stone's JFK.

Sorkin's attention to serving this ugly story is greatly aided by some terrific casting that greatly added to the emotional impact of this story. Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne is the moral heart of the story as Tom Hayden with a solid assist from Oscar winner Mark Rylance as William Kunstler. There is also solid work from Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale, Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin, a stylish and theatrical turn from Frank Langella as Judge Hoffman, and especially a show stopping performance from Sasha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman that should earn him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. This film was a blazing experience that was a triumph for Aaron Sorkin that left me spent and wiping tears from my eyes.



Belushi
John Belushi was a one-of-a-kind talent who has finally been afforded a tribute to him by SHOWTIME that is worthy of him. The 2020 documentary Belushi scores not because of a lot of new information provided regarding the star's life but the imagination employed in the way the information is presented.

Prior to this film, the only tribute to Belushi we had really had was a dreadful 1989 biopic called Wired starring Michael Chiklis, that was done on the cheap and provided little insight into Belishi, so this documentary was long overdue, but the pleasant surprise was some heretofore unfamiliar methods of looking at the star's too short life and career.

The blueprint for this documentary is a large series of audio tapes of interviews with people who were important to Belushi that were recorded shortly after his death. None of these people are seen onscreen. Instead we hear them talking to video of John's life, whether it be archival TV or movie footage, childhood photographs, or best of all, some crisp animated recreations of certain interviews with John and other major events.

Among the people contributing to the audio are Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Lorne Michaels, Jane Curtin, Harold Ramis, Candice Bergen, Matty Simmons, Annie Beatts, Penny Marshall, Jim Belushi, and John's wife, Judy.

Written correspondence between John and Judy is lovingly recreated for us and we are given some insight into who the star a man who spent a lot of his career trying to forget his ethnicity of which he was truly ashamed, that he didn't think women were funny, that he was extremely jealous when Chevy Chase became the first breakout star from SNL, and that the one time in his life where he seemed content and happy was during the filming of National Lampoon's Animal House. I also loved learning that Belushi thought his career was set for life when he learned he had been signed for the lead in the Steven Spielberg comedy 1941.

Director RJ Cutler is to be applauded for the style and imagination he employed in bringing this very special star's story to the screen. He does so with respect and a dash of hero worship which comes through in every frame.



The French Connection
1971's The French Connection was a gritty yet meticulously crafted fact-based action adventure that helped usher in a new era of realistic filmmaking that earmarked a lot of the films made in the 1970's. Its connections with audiences and critics made it a box office smash and won the film five Oscars, including Best Picture of the Year.

The film follows a hard-nosed narcotics cop named Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle and his partner, Buddy Russo who, after years of moderate success chasing small time drug dealers, get a chance to stop a huge shipment of heroine on its way to Manhattan from Marseilles, coordinated by international drug dealer named Alain Charnier and a French television star named Henri Devereaux.

Ernest Tidyman's Oscar winning adaptation of a book by Robin Moore is actually a somewhat fictionalized story centered around a pair of real life cops named Eddie Egan and Sonny Russo (who has a small part in the film) and how their work on this case actually ended up terminating their jobs on narcotics. The screenplay is carefully constructed with an uncanny attention to exposition, setting up exactly what is going to happen, beginning in Marseilles, and providing just enough backstory on all of the characters involved to help the viewer understand the players. It was especially impressive the way the opening scenes found time to provide a sympathetic side to Charnier showing him bidding farewell to his young bride before leaving for America.

There were a couple of things that really impressed me about this film. There were some things that happen in the beginning of the film that initially made no sense, but by the time the credits rolled, the importance of everything we had seen at the beginning of the film came into focus. Also loved the establishment of this central character, Popeye Doyle, who lived his job, and just seemed to ignore his superiors when during the second act was taken off the case.

There's one memorable scene after another here. Loved Doyle pretending to shake down an entire bar in order to speak privately to his CI and that memorable little game of cat and mouse between Doyle and Charnier on the subway. And that nail-biting chase between automobile and subway was unlike anything I've ever seen.

The film features some dazzling camerawork that actually made this reviewer dizzy during some moments with a grand assist from the Oscar-winning film editing by Gerald Greenberg. In addition to Best Picture, after two previous supporting nominations, Gene Hackman won his first Oscar for Outstanding Lead actor for his explosive work as Doyle and the late Roy Scheider received a supporting nomination for Buddy Russo. Fernando Rey made an imposing Charnier, a performance that was more attitude than dialogue, which gave the character an imposing chill. A must-see for action fans that was followed by a sequel.



Down Argentine Way
Classic Hollywood's million dollar legs crosses a romantic path with classic Hollywood's toothiest smile in a rather slight musical confection called Down Argentine Way, which was one of 20th Century Fox's biggest hit musicals, though I'm not sure why, except for a couple of memorable appearances by some specialty performers who were allowed to make their first serious impressions onscreen here.

Betty Grable plays Glenda Crawford, a bubbly American heiress who is vacationing in Argentina with her Aunt Binnie (Charlotte Greenwood) who falls in love with the charming son of a racehorse owner named Ricardo Quintana (Don Ameche), who feels the same way about Glenda until he learns that her father is a sworn enemy of his father.

The stars do their best to make something out of this paper-thin screenplay that would make a rather fun hour-long film, but director Irving Cummings managed to stretch the running time out to 90 minutes by inserting several musical numbers along the way that really have nothing to do with the story at hand, but do introduce a couple of future popular musical acts who would eventually earn their places in Hollywood musical history: This 1940 film marked the American film debut of Carmen Miranda, known for her outrageous head gear and her fractured English, who is given three musical numbers here, including one that opens the entire film. This film also marked an early film appearance for the legendary Nicholas Brothers. Harold and Fayard Nicholas actually stop the show with an incredible tap number done to the title tune, which, alone, is worth the price of admission.

In addition to Miranda's three numbers, other musical highlights include a duet for Grable and Ameche called "Two Dreams Met" and a rowdy production number led by the long-legged Greenwood called "Sing For Your Senorita."

I must admit another disappointment here because for years I had heard about the incredible legs of Betty Grable, which, according to Hollywood legend, were once insured for a million dollars by Lloyds of London, but had to wait until almost halfway through the film to get a glance of Grable's legs. Ameche's 127 teeth were on display for the entire running time.

Fox must be applauded for taking the time and expense to actually film some of the movie in South America. There were so many musicals made during this period that were set in foreign countries but it was obvious that the entire movie was done on Hollywood sound stages. Grable and Ameche make an engaging screen team and Greenwood is a real scene-stealer, but truthfully the five minutes that the Nicholas Brothers are onscreen are the best thing in the film.



Promising Young Woman
A bone-chilling and Oscar-worthy performance by Carey Mulligan in the starring role makes 2020's Promising Young Woman worth investing in despite some confusing plot elements.

Mulligan plays Cassandra, a 30-year old med school dropout who now works as a barista and still lives with her parents. It is revealed that Cassandra was so traumatized by a tragic event in her past that was some kind of sexual assault. We know this because every weekend Cassandra goes out to bars and pretends to be drunk and let men take her home, then shocking them when she reveals that she's sober and puts the men trying to take advantage of her in their place. Cassandra's bar adventures actually turn out to be just part of an elaborate plan of revenge for that tragic event that actually didn't happen to her.

Director and screenwriter Emerald Fennell has come up with a story that is relevant in this "Me too" era, but gets away from her a bit as this event that triggers this snap in Cassandra not only finds her seeking revenge on the people who were directly involved but also finds her taking out her suffering on bystanders who were aware of what happened and chose to remain silent. What I do like about the screenplay is the way Fennell constructs Casandra's plan so that with each confrontation she has with someone involved, a piece of the puzzle regarding this assault falls in place, but it's not spelled out for the viewer. The viewer is able to piece together what happened, though another layer of viewer confusion is added as it's revealed that Cassandra was not the victim of the original assault. Early on after each trip to the bar, Cassandra is observed making hash tags in a notebook, but the purpose of this notebook is never really made clear,

Director Fennell effectively creates a contemporary and believable canvas for this story to unfold with a genuine sociopath right at the center of it. The creep factor of this Cassandra character is high voltage, bringing to mind movie characters like Jennifer Jason Leigh's character in Single White Female, Kathy Bates' character in Misery, with just a dash of Margaret White in Carrie. This Cassandra character rivets the viewer to the screen because her mental issues are as prevalent as the character's rampant unpredictability.

Fennell has a terrific eye with the camera that create some memorable images for the viewer. That scene where she smashes the headlights of a stranger in a truck and she's standing in the middle of the street was chilling, as was her preparation for the final showdown at a bachelor party. The problems with the story fade to the background thanks to the deliciously unhinged performance by Carey Mulligan as Cassandra, that should earn Mulligan her second Oscar nomination. Solid support is provided by Bo Burnham as a young doctor, Allison Brie as a former schoolmate, and Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge as Cassandra's parents. An impressive debut for a practically unknown filmmaker and a brilliant showcase for one of our industry's most underrated actors.



Director and screenwriter Emerald Fennell has come up with a story that is relevant in this "Me too" area, but gets away from her a bit as this event that triggers this snap in Cassandra not only finds her seeking revenge on the people who were directly involved but also finds her taking out her suffering on bystanders who were aware of what happened and chose to remain silent about.
I didn't find that at all incongruous as a comment about the era or that kind of trauma. What she puts the Alison Brie and Connie Britton characters through is an appropriate extension of her rage and disappointment in not just the perpetrators but the system that allows it to continue to flourish. I thought the Dean's punishment and forced realization was wonderfully done and one of the highlights.

Early on after each trip to the bar, Cassandra is observed making hash tags in a notebook, but the purpose of this notebook is never really made clear.
Initially you are supposed to think she is killing each conquest, but it is later revealed that she "just" humiliates them and forces them to see themselves as predators rather than "nice guys". These were practice runs for the finale, but even that we can wonder if she actually would have gone through with it or if once again the torture of their helplessness and confrontation about the past would have been enough and her actual goal? Of course for the ending to pay off she certainly did not underestimate what they are capable of.

...the deliciously unhinged performance by Carey Mulligan as Cassandra, that should earn Mulligan her second Oscar nomination. Solid support is provided by Bo Burnham as a young doctor, Allison Brie as a former schoolmate, and Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge as Cassandra's parents. An impressive debut for a practically unknown filmmaker and a brilliant showcase for one of our industry's most underrated actors.
Really well done movie. I especially liked the casting. A deliberate effort was made to choose actors who have "kind" screen personas and are not known for playing creeps and heavies. Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Adam Brody, Bo Burnham, Sam Richardson, and Max Greenfield are all known for playing charming characters in light comedies, underlining the film's point that "nice guys" are capable of some dark sheeeee-it.
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"Film is a disease. When it infects your bloodstream it takes over as the number one hormone. It bosses the enzymes, directs the pineal gland, plays Iago to your psyche. As with heroin, the antidote to Film is more Film." - Frank Capra



Invitation to the Dance
After the unparalleled success of An American in Paris and Singin in the Rain, Gene Kelly had the juice with MGM to get his own passion project on the screen. The uneven result was the 1956 film Invitation to the Dance where Kelly tries to tell three different stories through the art of dance without any dialogue.

The film gives us three different stories: "The Circus" is a romantic triangle between a circus clown, a beautiful trapeze artist, and a daring tightrope walker. "Ring Around the Rosy" is a sophisticated look at an unfaithful wife and a magic bracelet. "Sinbad the Sailor" is a variation on the Aladdin legend where Kelly performs with animated characters.

I completely understand Kelly's desire to bring his passion for the art of dance to the screen and tell a story while doing it, but if the truth be told, I would have preferred to have seen a little more dance, and not so much story. Kelly takes a little too much time setting up the stories, especially "Ring Around the Rosy", where we are introduced to all of the characters involved before the ballet even begins. Honestly I didn't understand "Ring Around the Rosy" at all, though I loved sections of the ballet, especially Tommy Rall's number at the stage door backed by a male chorus and Kelly's steamy pas de deux with Tamara Toumanova, an elegant Russian ballerina who is given the provocative character name "The Girl on the Stairs."

Truthfully, the third story, which blends live dancing and animation, made the rest of the film worth sitting through. Kelly plays a sailor who finds a lantern, lets the genie out, and turns the genie into a little boy (David Kasday). Kelly's sailor finds himself doing a soft shoe with a pair of animated guards which for me, was the film's strongest moment. The sailor's pas de deux with Scheherazade was almost identical to the end of Kelly's Broadway Ballet in Singin in the Rain, including Charisse dancing with a gigantic scarf around her neck just like the animated princess does here.

Clearly, MGM afforded Kelly a huge budget to make his dream a reality. Production values are first rate with standout art direction/set direction, sound, and orchestrations. It's lovely what Kelly tried to do here, but it was just a little dry and overly sophisticated for 1956 movie audiences who made the film one of the year's biggest box office bombs, but for Kelly fans, definitely worth a look.



Palmer
Sensitive direction and an intense performance from the star make a manipulative and sometimes challenging drama called Palmer well worth investing in despite some cliched plotting.

The 2021 Apple original release features Justin Timberlake in the title role, an ex-convict who returns to his hometown after 12 years and finds himself developing a relationship with the young son of drug addict named Sam, who wears makeup, plays with dolls, and more than anything wants to be a princess.

Screenwriter Cheryl Guerriero has penned what initially appears to be a story we've seen a million times...the ex-con trying to start his life over and cleverly blends it with a story of tolerance and bigotry which will make some viewers uncomfortable because the victim of the bigotry is a little boy and it's understandable to a point. There's something extremely squirm-worthy about watching a little boy struggling with his sexual identity. The situation is further saddened by the fact that young Sam doesn't know he's struggling.

Director Fisher Stevens offers a sensitive and sometimes intrusive eye into the lives of Palmer and Sam. An ex-con starting over is nothing new the screen and a large portion of Palmer's rehabilitation and its roadblocks are pretty predictable. It's the combination of watching a man trying to start over with a troubled child who doesn't know he's troubled is what gives the story its dash of originality. The first scene where Palmer sees Sam playing with dolls is so unsettling that we are actually surprised when these two eventually bond. Palmer's acceptance of something he really doesn't understand is a joy to watch.

Stevens employed first rate production values to this unusual story and a cast that serves the story. Timberlake proves to be a actor of substance in the complex title role...I especially love the beginning of Palmer's relationship with Sam where Palmer is truly embarrassed by the kid. Young Ryder Allen lights up the screen as Sam and there's a flashy performance by Juno Temple as Sam's messed up mom. A somewhat familiar story is provided some meat we really don't see coming.



Give a Girl a Break
Despite some silly and cliched plot elements, the 1953 MGM musical Give a Girl a Break is still worth watching because it showcases three of the best dancers from the MGM stable of stars.

As the film opens a snooty Broadway diva named Janet Hallston has just quit a Broadway show three weeks before it's scheduled to open. The scramble for a new leading lady reveals that the director and star of the show (Gower Champion) wants his ex-co-star and girlfriend, Madeline (Marge Champion) to take the part. The show's composer (Kurt Kazner) wants a self-absorbed ballerina (Helen Wood) to take the part and the dance director (Bob Fosse) wants an experienced cutie fresh off the bus from Missouri named Suzy (Debbie Reynolds) for the lead.

It turns out that the ballerina is married and her husband has been offered a job at a college outside of New York; Madeline has been away from the stage for a couple of years and she has a new boyfriend who hates Broadway as well, and poor Suzy, as talented as she might be, just doesn't have the experience.

From the casting alone, we can pretty much tell how this is going to end, but there are some really silly roadblocks to the requisite happy ending. First of all, we hear the composer complain that he's going to have to re-write the whole show because Janet has quit, which would never happen three weeks before opening. And there's no way would the final casting decision come down to putting the three girls' names in a hat and picking one, but it's MGM in the 1950's, so we go with it.

What makes this film worth watching is the magic of Marge and Gower Champion, an amazing pair of dancers, who unfortunately, never became the stars they could have been because they were terrible actors but they really get to shine here. Their jazzy pas de deux on the rooftop and their dance during the final fantasy ballet. Of course, Gower would later become a Tony award winning director and choreographer who directed the original Broadway shows Hello Dolly and Bye Bye Birdie. We also get to watch the iconic Bob Fosse, also a terrible actor, but one of the finest dances ever to grace a stage or screen, who, 19 years after this film was made, would blindside Francis Ford Copolla and win the Oscar for Best Director for his film version of Cabaret. He really gets to shine with Reynolds during the In Our United States number. Champion choregraphed most of the musical numbers, but those familiar with his style will be able to tell that Fosse choregraphed his own.

The film features some fantastic set direction and costumes and Lurene Tuttle was adorable as Reynolds' mother. It's no Singin in the Rain, but the Champions and Fosse make it worth the time for true fans of movie dancing.



Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
His powerhouse performance in The Trial of the Chicago 7 could win him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, but it doesn't change the fact that Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Sasha Baron Cohen's sequel to his surprise 2006 hit, is the most crude, tasteless, offensive, repellent, unfunny, illogical, and just plain stupid film that I've seen in about 20 years and makes the first film look like Citizen Kane.

In this 2020 sequel, we learn that the report Borat submitted to his native land of Kazakhstan as a result of his trip to America in the first film has disgraced him upon his return home and has had him threatened with execution. Borat decides the only way to avoid execution is to return to the United States and offer his daughter, Tutar, as a sexual gift to former Vice President Mike Pence.

There is no denying that Sasha Baron Cohen is a talented writer and actor with a strong political conscience but he really missed the boat here. It's mind-blowing that 10 other writers contributed to this outrageous screenplay that doesn't seem to be rooted in anything but Baron's obvious political conscience and what seems to be an inexplicable desire to disgust movie audiences.

My primary problem with this film is that a lot of what happens with Borat and his daughter in this movie is kept a complete mystery to the viewer because the characters are speaking in what research revealed to be Bulgarian for a lot of the story. It's understandable that foreign characters are going to be speaking a foreign language, but there are just too many crucial moments in the story where it would have been nice to know exactly what Borat and Tutar are saying and we don't. Cohen and director Jason Woliner attempt to provide understanding with the camerawork but that only works in small doses. There were just too many scenes where the camerawork implied that what was being said between the characters was important, but this reviewer just felt shut out and in the dark.

There are countless moments of crude and tasteless humor throughout, including a scene at a debutante ball that literally had me turning my head from the screen. Cohen's treatment of the Republican party is merciless and I'm shocked that Mike Pence and Donald Trump, aren't suing Cohen and I can't believe Rudy Guiliani agreed to appear in this mess. An attempt to make up for the insanity seems to be attempted as Cohen implies that Borat may have been responsible for the Pandemic, but it's way too little, way too late.

If I had to say something positive about the film, there's no denying that Maria Bakalova gives a fearless performance as Borat's daughter. but I'm not sure if it's enough to recommend this film. This film has unbelievably been nominated for the Golden Globe for Outstanding Film, Comedy or Musical and all I can say about that is there must of only been five or six comedy or musical films made in 2020. Or maybe the Hollywood Foreign Press were just drunk when they saw this.



For Me and My Gal
The film features one of Judy Garland's richest performances, but the 1942 MGM musical For Me and My Gal is best known as the film debut of a charismatic young hoofer named Gene Kelly...and deservedly so.

It's the golden age of vaudeville and singer Jo Hayden (Garland) decides to leave her partner Jimmy Metcalfe (George Murphy) when she meets a cocky young performer named Harry Palmer (Kelly). Jo and Harry achieve a modicum of success and fall in love in the process, but they find their careers and their relationship disripted by the outbreak of WWI.

Hollywood was a big supporter of the war effort during the 1940's and a lot of films made during this period were in big support of the war and this musical was no exception, though Richard Sherman's screenplay takes its time getting from a backstage musical to a commercial for the war, but the transition is smooth and believable.

Director Busby Berkley does a superb job of showcasing his stars instead of cramming three hundred pretty girls on a stage and photographing them from the ceiling. He also gives his stars a chance to prove their versatility. Though she was always known for her incredible pipes. Garland really gets a chance to show off her dancing skills and Kelly's vocal abilities get a real showcase, doing lovely two-part harmony with Garland for several numbers.

Musical highlights include Kelly and Garland's "Ballin the Jack", Garland's powerhouse belting of "After You've Gone", and the title tune which also features a delightful soft shoe for the stars.

The musical seems to have been afforded a big budget despite the black and white filming and the cast is terrific. Garland and Kelly get strong support from Murphy, future director Richard Quine as Garland's brother, and a small role for Keenan Wynn as Kelly's agent. A solid effort from MGM and a stellar debut by Kelly.



Willy's Wonderland
There are plot holes that a truck could drive through, but 2021's Willy's Wonderland is an unapologetically bloody action thriller that's from the "put your brain in check and enjoy" school of filmmaking that actually riveted this reviewer to the screen.

In order to get his car repaired, a quiet drifter, played by Oscar winner Nicolas Cage, agrees to clean and restore a condemned children's restaurant/arcade, something akin to the Chuck E. Cheese franchise, called Willy's Wonderland, which is full of some creepy animatronic robots that come to life and try to murder our hero. Meanwhile, there are a group of teenagers who approach the wonderland with the intention of burning it to the ground, but they end up inside and in just as much, if not more danger than our hero, simply billed as "The Janitor".

G O Parsons' debut as a screenwriter has concocted a story that seems to be Westworld meets Friday the 13th with just a dash of Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones where we find alleged machines coming alive and wreaking havoc, promiscuous teenagers being punished for their behavior and backstory that features human sacrifice and group suicide, but the viewer is still left in the dark about a lot of things. We are surprised when the robots begin attacking the janitor, he makes no attempt to escape and takes on every challenge from these mechanical monsters. When he is offered help from the teenagers to get away, he is not interested and when the kids are in trouble, he doesn't lift a finger to help them either. There's also a lot of screentime devoted to the janitor's consumption of what appears to be some sort of energy drink and we think it's going to figure in the story somewhere, but it never really does. Even the allegedly dimwitted Sheriff that is usually part of thrillers like this isn't what she initially appears to be either.

We soon find these story inconsistencies moved to the backburner thanks to the imaginative direction that provides some serious "boos" and some unrelentingly bloody battles between the janitor and the robots and Lewis doesn't rush into it either...I love the first shot of the animatronic robots where the janitor has his back turned to them and we're waiting for an actual attack, and all we get is one robot briefly lifting his wings and putting them right back in place...one of the great movie false starts I've seen in movie thrillers. The robots are actually so terrifying that it's actually hard to believe that they were designed for a children's themed restaurant, but it seems like they really weren't. I also loved the unexpected storytelling gimmick employed where Cage's character doesn't speak a word for the entire running time.

Lewis' camerawork is endlessly imaginative and gets a strong assist from film editor Ryan Liebert. The pacing of what happens here is so electric and distracting enough to make us forget about the plot holes. Cage brings a real Rambo quality to the Janitor and in an offbeat but effective bit of casting, LOVED veteran Beth Grant as the Sheriff. So put your brain in check and enjoy this bloody bumpy ride.



The Elephant Man
David Lynch, the director of Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet, created his masterpiece with 1980's The Elephant Man, his exquisitely mounted, fact-based tale of friendship, bigotry, and tolerance that is so riveting and heartbreaking that this reviewer spent the entire running time with his stomach in knots and fighting tears , eventually losing said fight to this movie powerhouse that received eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.

The setting is 1860's Victorian London where an important surgeon named Frederick Treves (Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins) meets a hideously deformed man named John Merrick (the late John Hurt) who is resigned himself to his life as a carnival sideshow freak owned by a Mr. Bytes. We watch Treves try to help Merrick retrieve his dignity as a human being even if he can't fix what's wrong with him physically.

Lynch applies loving care to a beautifully crafted screenplay that tells a detailed and believable story rich with three dimensional characters rich with believable emotions. The characters involved in this story are surprisingly painted in realistic shades of gray that I really didn't see coming. Even the evil Mr. Bytes, who uses Merrick for economic purposes, is provided a moment near the film's opening where a speck of genuine affection is displayed for John. The reactions to people's first sight of Merrick are all believable and the transition that some characters make to respecting who John is completely enchants the viewer, and in another realistic turn that we don't see coming, John's journey to acceptance takes a dark and heartbreaking turn during the third act that absolutely destroyed me.

One of my favorite parts of the story is the instant and believable acceptance that John receives from an acclaimed actress (Anne Bancroft), who treats John like the sensitive and intelligent person he is revealed to be. Bancroft sparkles in this scene and watching the two characters reciting Romeo and Juliet was a joy. Also loved the scene where John learns the 23rd Psalm. Loved when John asked Treves if he could cure him and Treves gave him an honest answer without any hesitation

The film deserved every Oscar nomination it received (and a couple it didn't), though it didn't win a single award, falling under the crush of Raging Bull and Ordinary People. Filmed in stunning black and white, the film features brilliant performances from Hopkins, Hurt (unrecognizable under an Oscar-worthy makeup job a year before the Academy invented the category), John Gielgud as the hospital administrator, Wendy Hiller as the head nurse, and Freddie Jones as Bytes. In a word, a breathtaking film experience.