Gideon58's Reviews

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Hardcore
A powerhouse performance from Oscar winner George C. Scott anchors a gritty and uncompromising drama from 1979 called Hardcore that pulls back the curtains on a world we would like to not think exists and strips its bare without ever letting its sympathetic central character lose his place as the heart of this ugly story.

Scott plays Jake VanDorn, a God fearing wealthy businessman from Grand Rapids, Michigan who panics when his teenage daughter disappears during a church trip to California. He hires a two bit detective to find his daughter who pretty quickly finds a porno film featuring Jake's daughter. Finding the detective unreliable, Jake fires him and boards a plane to California, determined to find his daughter.

Director and screenwriter Paul Schrader, who wrote films like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Blue Collar, has once again created an often shocking but never unrealistic look at an often sleazy and ugly industry that, on the surface, should provide a titillation factor with the canvas of the story being the world of pornography, an industry that is pretty much obsolete in 2021, but it remains a viable setting if not the center of the story because of this father whose mission is to find a daughter. This story is not about pornography, it's about a father trying to find his daughter.

What I found so believable about this story is that as determined as this father was, he really had no clue as to go about what he was doing. It's a little funny and a little pathetic watching him try to question people directly about where his daughter is and confronting a literal wall, like the wall that the police and the military have where there is an unspoken code of allegiance that a stranger cannot penetrate, so he has try different angles and eventually ends up pinning his hopes on a pathetic porn star and prostitute, effectively played Season Hubley.

This story rivets the viewer and as it progresses and we learn by the final act that Jake's daughter has been missing for five months, a fear begins to surface for him and the viewer that by the time he finds her, his daughter may be in so deep that she won't want to come back.

Schrader has to be credited for the casting of the always watchable George C. Scott in the starring role. It's possible that this film wouldn't have been anywhere near as gripping an experience with another actor in the role. Peter Boyle makes the most of his screen time as the sleazy private dick, and if you don't blink, you'll catch familiar faces in small roles like Dick Sargent, Bibi Besch, Hal Williams, and Ed Begley Jr. Jack Nitzche's creepy music score is the icing on this cinematic cake that, above everything else, showcases the talent of Paul Schrader and the amazing George C. Scott.



French Exit
A glorious performance from its leading lady is the best thing about a 2020's French Exit a labored and pretentious comedy where impeccable attention to production values doesn't disguise leaden direction and a meandering and often confusing screenplay.

Three-time Oscar nominee Michelle Pfeiffer knocks it out of the park as Frances Price, an eccentric and glamorously aging Manhattan socialite who is going through the last of her inheritance and has decided the solution to her problems is to move to Paris with her son, Malcolm (Lucas Hedges) and their cat.

Screenwriter Patrick Dewitt actually could have used some assistance adapting his own novel to the screen because despite a relatively solid premise and interesting lead characters, this film has no discernible plot, just a series of vignettes with bizarre characters that, for reasons that aren't really explained, all end up together in Frances and Malcolm's apartment seeking comfort, confronting demons, and forcing relationships that just aren't meant to be. This oddly disparate group of characters who cross Frances and Malcolm's path includes a detective Frances hires to find the cat when he runs away, a bitchy overweight medium who Malcom meets on the cruise to Paris, and Malcolm's fiancee (Imogen Poots), who Malcolm walked out on to go to Paris, but she shows up there anyway with her new boyfriend.

The confusing screenplay is impossible to keep up with and parts are just hard to swallow, thanks to an absurdist theater sensibility to the proceedings. Frances has supposedly moved to Paris because she's broke, but upon her arrival, starts giving what little money she has left away. It's also revealed that she is either suicidal or dying, but it's never made clear which. She and her son are polar opposites...Frances speaks and acts without filter and Malcom keeps everything he's feeling bottled up until the end of the second act. The final straw in terms of credibility came for this reviewer when it's revealed that Frances' husband and Malcolm's father are supposedly inside the cat and then his voice is heard coming out of a candle during a seance.

Director Azazel Jacobs provides interesting camera work and makes Paris look like the most beautiful city in the world, which sometimes distracts from the confusing story. Michelle Pfeiffer's deliciously unhinged performance as Frances is riveting and earned her a Golden Globe nomination, but it's not enough to make this film the rich experience it was meant to be.



The Night They Raided Minsky's
1968's The Night They Raided Minsky's is a madcap and sweetly nostalgic musical comedy that looks at a forgotten era of show business, that has become a minor classic due to surprisingly detailed direction, a period appropriate story, and an incredible cast of professionals working at the top of their game.

It's New York in the roaring 20's where a young Amish girl named Rachel is observed fresh off the bus from Pennsylvania arriving in the Big Apple wanting to be a dancer. She finds herself at the stage door of the legendary burlesque house, Minsky's, which is going through its own myriad crises at the time, including a threatened raid by the police, the father and son owners of the theater trying to save the theater from closing and financial reunion, and Raymond and Chick, the baggy-pants comic headliners who find their friendship and careers threatened when they both for Rachel.

Future television legend Norman Lear was one of the screenwriters for this nearly brilliant look at the genesis of show business that ends up going through an important transition that we really don't see coming. My only quibble with the story would be that it seemed a little unbelievable that an Amish girl would be so quickly seduced into this show business madness, even if she is offered a chance to save the theater in an eye-opening finale that anyone who has seen the musical Gypsy will recognize.\

Director William Friedkin, with a solid assist from his editing team, puts loving care in bringing the roaring 20's to life, even with an overabundance of archival footage from the 20's, that really wasn't necessary. Friedkin's interpretation of concepts like vaudeville, burlesque, and farce is on the money here, perfectly combined with larger than life characters that are still human and flawed. I even loved the difference between the movie makeup and the stage makeup applied here...whenever the actors were onstage, the had enough rouge and eye liner on to choke a horse.

The film features a handful of cute songs by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse, who wrote the score for Bye Bye Birdie, that fit the setting for the story perfectly.

The incredible cast is headlined by Jason Robards, doing another slick turn as Raymond, Norman Wisdom, who brings a Charlie Chaplin quality to Chick, and the appropriately wide-eyed Britt Ekland as Rachel. A deliciously entertaining classic that has never gotten the attention it deserved.



Bliss (2021)
Mike Cahill, the creative force behind a film I really liked called Another Earth is much less successful with 2021's Bliss, a confusing and convoluted romantic fantasy that works so difficult at being quirky and offbeat, that the journey the viewer is taken on is so exhausting that we give up well before the conclusion.

The film stars Owen Wilson as Greg Wittle, a divorced dad and business executive who is obsessed with a drawing he's made of a fantasy world that occupies his head. Greg is called to his boss' office, where he is promptly fired and then accidently kills the man. Greg hides the body and sneaks out of the office to a bar across the street where he meets Isabel (Salma Hayek) a mysterious woman who lives on the streets and is somehow aware of exactly what has just happened with Greg. She takes him to her homeless camp where she offers him refuge from the police until his boss' death is declared an accident. She then displays what can only be explained as magical powers. that she is able to pass on to Greg. This leads to a series of bizarre misadventures which eventually lead to Greg and Isabel being transported to the world from Greg's drawing.

The world of Greg's drawing reveals that Isabel is actually a research scientist who has created a world that Isabel the homeless person believed was just a computer simulation, which is why Greg believes he has gotten away with murdering his boss. The story is further complicated by Greg's daughter, Emily, who is somehow a part of both worlds, determined to get her father back, despite the fact that the father in his fantasy world doesn't know who she is.

Cahill definitely scores points in terms of imagination and originality, taking a tragic and believable accident into an elaborate fantasy for which there can be no logical explanation. Greg and Isabel's connection in the computer simulated world of homelessness and accidental murder is sad and funny and engages the viewer, but the alleged love story that develops between them in the fantasy world, which includes magic crystals and a cursed amulet, works against the relationship between Greg and Isabel and makes Emily a hapless victim, not deserving the pain she is put through. We do finally get a variation on the "And then I woke up" scene that sort of explains the madness we've witnessed, but by this point. it's too late for the audience to really care.

Cahill's direction and attention to production values are a little stronger than his screenplay, but it's often hard to tell. Owen Wilson really steps out of his comfort zone as an actor here, working very hard to stretch himself as an actor, but Salma Hayek really seems out of her element as the ethereal Isabel, whose believability as a character is instrumental in making the audience accept what happens here. A bold and angry cinematic statement that either I didn't understand or didn't work.



What's the Matter with Helen?
Fans of the Bette Davis Joan Crawford classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane will have a head start with the similarly titled and themed What's the Matter with Helen, a campy and nostalgic thriller from 1971 that is no Baby Jane, but is well worth investing in thanks to the eye-opening performances from the stars.

It's 1940's Hollywood where we meet Adele Bruckner (Debbie Reynolds) and Helen Hill (Shelley Winters), lifelong friends who try to escape a troubling past by moving to Hollywood and opening a dance school for children. It's not long before the ladies realize that not only might the past be catching up to them, but it might also be repeating itself.

Screenwriter Henry Farrell takes a little too much time establishing the period, but he does effectively sketch out the characters of Adele and Helen and their relationship. Adele is a self-absorbed diva trying to forget the past, which seems to include a failed show business career that she's in denial about. Helen is clearly still stuck in the past, wracked with guilt about it, and not happy that Adele doesn't feel the guilt she does

Director Curtis Harrington, whose career was steeped in low budget horror, was really in his element here. Love the creepy diction teacher who keeps sneaking up on Helen and acting like he didn't know he was startling her. Also loved Helen trying to confess to a phony evangelist (a glorious cameo by Agnes Moorhead).

Harrington shows a real skill for the immediate "Boo" and gets great performances from his cast, especially the stars. Debbie Reynolds is nothing short of superb as the flighty Adele and few actresses play unhinged better than Shelley Winters, who Carrington also directed in Who Slew Auntie Roo. Winters' Helen reminded me of the alcoholic doormats that Winters played in the 50's. The Baby Jane influence cannot be ignored, but Reynolds and Winters definitely make it worth your time.



Cruella
Disney knocks it out of the park with 2021's Cruella, a handsomely mounted, live-action re-imagining of one of its most famous animated characters, that rivets from start to finish thanks to spectacular production values, meticulously detailed direction, and a pair of dazzling performances from two Oscar winning actresses named Emma.

The villainess from the classic Disney animated feature 101 Dalmatians is given a three dimensional re-imaging that follows a young girl named Estella from her troubled childhood to a period of petty thievery that eventually leads to a a job working for a legendary fashion designer named The Baroness with whom a connection to the past and a present rivalry are established

First of all, it's not necessary to have seen any of the Dalmatians movies to appreciate what is happening here. In the style of Joaquin Phoneix's Joker, the character has been given a new backstory through a complex and sophisticated screenplay that immediately establishes sympathy for a character traditionally revered as a villainess and does it with such style and wit that we can't help but love her. Pitting the character against an antagonist who is a lot like herself fascinates throughout. Both Estella and the Baroness are given ultra clever dialogue that provides insight into them. I loved when the Baroness says "I'm intrigued...that never happens." The relationship between Estella and the Baroness initially resembles the relationship between Andy and Miranda Priestley in The Devil Wears Prada, but morphs into something so richer. I also loved that Estella and Cruella thinks of herself as two different people.

Director Craig Gillepsie (I, Tonya) takes his time, perhaps just a tad too much time, allowing the story to unfold and probably could have been a little more economic in the mounting of exposition, giving the film a slow start, but once Estella meets the Baroness, the
story fires on all cylinders, thanks to Oscar-worthy camerawork, editing, costumes, and allowing the camera to often telegraph character emotion and development.

Emma Stone gives the performance of her career as Cruella, easily trumping her Oscar-winning performance in La La Land and Emma Thompson is a crisp and caustic Baroness, a performance that should earn her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Also have to give shout outs to Walter Paul Hauser (Richard Jewell), Joel Fry, and Mark Strong in supporting roles and a music/song score that defies description. Intoxicating entertainment that I wasn't expecting. Bouquets all around.



The Trouble with Harry
Long before he established himself as the king of cinematic suspense, Alfred Hitchcock scored with a practically forgotten black comedy/murder mystery from 1955 called The Trouble with Harry, that provided delicious entertainment, even though today it is best known for being the film debut of a future movie legend, though it has so much more to offer.

The setting of this little gem is a small mountain town in Vermont where we meet a retired tugboat captain named Wiles, who is out hunting and thinks he has accidentally shot a man named Harry. Wiles wants to dispose of the body, but before he can, the body is discovered by a lonely spinster named Miss Gravely, who has been harboring a crush on Wiles, a young widow named Jennifer and her son, a bum who steals Harry's shoes, a nearsighted doctor who trips over the body without realizing what it is, and a handsome artist named Sam, none of whom seem terribly upset about the man's death or about reporting it to the authorities.

Hitchcock is given a quietly brilliant screenplay to work with provided by longtime collaborator John Michael Hayes, who wrote the screenplays for Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Marnie, that brings a quiet lyric quality in its establishing of small town atmosphere, while at the same time, providing a perverse indifference to the death of a man who may or may not deserve it. The viewer is simultaneously confused and amused as not only a connection to Harry is revealed through the characters we meet, but an unseemly obsession to keeping Harry's death a secret, which actually finds the folks involved having to bury, dig up, and re-bury the body more than once. Just as the viewer has settled into these people's indifference toward poor Harry, it's implied that Harry's spirit might not be happy about the way his body is being treated.

The story implies that Harry may have gotten what's coming to him, but never completely commits to it while the concept of murder is seemingly whitewashed, the same way it was in a previous Hitchcock classic called Rope, that also takes the concept of getting away with murder and almost legitimizes it, but the screenplay provides just enough contrivances and Hitchcock provides just enough of his uncanny storytelling skill that the viewer almost forgets that the murder of a human being is being covered up here.

Hitchcock covers the almost indecency of what is going on here with handsome production values, including gorgeous color photography, that only enhances the perversity of what's going on here. Hitchcock also seems to have assembled a perfect ensemble cast to pull off this story with standout work from Oscar winner Edmund Gwenn as the befuddled Captain Wiles, John Forsythe as the young artist, Mildred Natwick as the lonely spinster, and making an appealing film debut as the widow Jennifer, future Oscar winner Shirley MacLaine. And if the young boy playing her son looks familiar, that's because it's the future Beaver Cleaver, young Jerry Mathers. Another underrated gem from Alfred Hitchcock that never got the attention it deserved.



Spiral
Chris Rock continues to try and revive his career as the star and executive producer of 2021's Spiral, a confusing and relentlessly bloody combination of police drama and horror based on the original Saw franchise. This review is coming from someone who only saw snippets of the first Saw film and none of the sequels.

Rock plays Detective Ezekiel Banks, a hardened veteran police detective whose career and relationships with his fellow cops went south many years ago when he fingered a dirty cop, finds himself thrust in the middle of a bizarre investigation where several of his colleagues, who have all been accused of being dirty cops at some point, start dying grisly deaths at the hand of the infamous Jigsaw Killer, who apparently was the villain in the Saw movies.

Having not seen any of the Saw movies, it's difficult to tell whether this film is a re-thinking of the franchise or a continuation of the last film in the series because the screenwriters and director Darren Lynn Bousman, who directed all of the Saw films but the first one, seem to assume here that the viewer has seen the previous films and have placed the Jigsaw Killer in the middle of a by-the-numbers police drama that picks kind of an obvious target for its unrelenting gore...dirty cops. Unfortunately, the punishment seems to vastly outweigh the crimes.

The overly complex screenplay starts off with a conventional veteran cop breaking in a new partner story, but then not only begins to mercilessly wipe out half the cast, but also flashes back to the events that turned Banks' career into the living hell, further complicated by his being caught in the shadow of his father (Samuel L. Jackson). Eventually the story pares down to the undeniably grisly murders of dirty cops that do display a degree of originality in terms of cinematic violence, as we witness one cop's tongue ripped out while being run down by a subway, another one have his fingers ripped off, and one involving a man in a bottle factory that literally had this viewer turning his head away from the screen.

Bousman applies a lot of skill with the camera and a solid assist from film editor Dev Singh, but the unrelenting gore on display here didn't have the effect for this reviewer that it should have, but I'm not sure if it's because of my unfamiliarity with franchise or just messy filmmaking. The overripe performances from Rock and Jackson don't help sustain interest either. Maybe fans of the original Saw franchise will find entertainment here, but nothing here motivated me to go back to the original movie and figure out what I didn't understand.



Unfaithfully Yours (1984)
The screenplay doesn't have the sophistication or caustic bite of the 1948 Preston Sturges original, but the 1984 remake of Unfaithfully Yours remains watchable thanks to a terrific cast, led by the late Dudley Moore, in one of his most inspired comic turns.

Moore steps into Rex Harrison's shoes playing Claude Eastman, a symphony conductor who is fueled with enough circumstantial evidence to suspect that his beautiful wife (Natassja Kinski), who is half his age, is having an affair with a sexy violinist (Armand Assante).

Preston Sturges' original screenplay had a lot more subtlety in bringing this story of a man's obsession with his wife's alleged infidelity to the 1980's. The main character is also more complex than he is here. Harrison's Alfred DeCarter was a sexist jerk whose paranoia regarding his wife is revealed almost immediately, before any evidence even appears that might make her an adulterer. In this version, the sexist aspect of the character is gone and he is blissfully happy with his wife until a private eye reveals what he learned (a private eye Claude didn't even hire) about the alleged adulteress. The fantasies of the conductor go from three in the original film to just one here.

The direction by Howard Zeiff (Private Benjamin) and Moore's affinity for physical comedy help the story avoid a saccharine quality that the script provides, a lot safer than Sturges' brilliant original, which left more to the audience imagination, especially whether or not the young wife is really cheating.

Similar to Rex Harrison's brilliance in the original film, Moore is the best thing about this remake, providing a rich performance that reminded me a lot of Moore's George Webber in 10, another Moore character who allows obsession to cloud logic and trust and almost destroy his marriage. Another thing that really worked for me with the Moore casting is the fact that Moore was an accomplished musician in real life and it gave a real authenticity to his conducting and piano scenes. The dueling violinists scene in the Hungarian restaurant was hysterical.

Zeiff and Moore work well with a terrific cast. Kinski is breathtakingly beautiful as Daniella, but why make the character Italian when the actress is Russian? Why not just make her Russian? Albert Brooks, Richard B. Schull, and especially Richard Libertini also make the most of their screentime. Moore is terrific and the laughs are there, but it definitely pales next to the 1948 classic, primarily because of a screenplay that's a little too safe.



Georgetown
Two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz made his feature debut as a director with 2019's Georgetown, a slightly tongue in cheek look at a real-life murder case that director Waltz almost seems to be making light of, but still makes it worth a look because of his breathtaking performance in the starring role.

Waltz plays Ulrich Mott, an ambitious social climber and con man in his 50's who has been arrested for the murder of his 90 year old wife, a wealthy Georgetown socialite named Elsa Breht (Oscar winner Vanessa Redgrave). The story then returns to the beginning of his relationship with Elsa, which her daughter, Amanda (Annette Bening) was wary of from the beginning, but her warnings to her mother seem to fall on deaf ears.

Screenwriter David Auburn (Proof) has constructed an elaborate murder mystery based on real events that is centered around a fascinating and repulsive central character that demands viewer attention. This Mott is a greedy, opportunistic, and repugnant human being who is using his wife's wealth and position to elevate himself among Washington DC's movers and shakers and abusing his elderly wife in the process. The man's mental faculties also come into the story as Mott claims to be a Brigadier General in Iraq responsible for many of the military strategies forged by that country. We are a little taken back (but not too much) when we learn during the trial that the certificate documenting his military title was printed from a website called Quality Certificates.com.

Waltz' direction is overly-stylized with often dizzying camerawork and probably had some input on Auburn's screenplay as well, because this film is extremely protective of Mott, even though it really shouldn't be. There is no doubt that Mott is guilty from the minute he returns to the house after the body is discovered. Waltz also allows the Elsa Breht character to look pretty foolish, manipulated and lied to over and over again, but for some reason, she keeps taking him back into her life. Unfortunately, a return to the night of the murder during the final act doesn't deliver what it should.

Despite the problems with the story and the way it is told, Christoph Waltz' performance is endlessly fascinating and reminds us why the actor won two Oscars in three years. Redgrave is appropriately frail and heartbreaking as Elsa, and Bening offers one of her iciest turns as Elsa's daughters. The presentation of a real life tragedy like this one should have been a little more straight-faced, but Waltz' powerhouse performance still makes it worth a look.



Long Day's Journey into Night (1962)
The often lyrical writing of Pulitzer and Nobel prize winning playwright Eugene O'Neill and the powerhouse performance of the legendary Katharine Hepburn are the primary selling points of the 1962 film version of O'Neill's most famous work Long Day's Journey Into Night, a talky and tragic cinematic rendering of a story that was really meant to remain onstage, following one family's tale of addiction and dysfunction that loses focus at times, but remains watchable due to the deeply personal feel of O'Neill's writing and a splendid ensemble cast committed to O'Neill's tragic vision.

It's the summer of 1912 when the audience is brought to the summer coastal home of the Tyrone family. James (Ralph Richardson) is a retired actor, heavy drinker, and renowned tightwad married to Mary (Hepburn), a morphine addict. James and Mary have two sons: Jamie (Jason Robards) is a former actor who destroyed his career with alcohol and younger son, Edmund (Dean Stockwell) is the pampered family pet who is dying of a lung disease called consumption.

O'Neill's play premiered on Broadway in 1957 and ran for over a year, with Robards being the only cast member being allowed to reprise his role in this movie. It's important to know that this story originated onstage because O'Neill always wrote for the sage and this piece is no exception and as powerful as this film version is, I can imagine that it pales next to seeing it onstage. I've mentioned in a lot of reviews how pieces that began onstage never lose their stage origins when being transferred to film and this is a prime example, but it works in this case for the most part.

The story of the Tyrone family is one of the most delicately-crafted looks at addiction I have seen. The panic in the men's eyes whenever they learn Mary has gone upstairs by herself. It doesn't take long for the viewer to figure out what's going on with Mary, especially due to the way the story also nails another aspect of addiction called enabling. As panicked and terrified of what is happening to Mary, Mary is rarely directly confronted about what's happening to her, is in complete denial about it, and the family seems to to have settled into complete powerlessness.

The screenplay could have been trimmed a bit because I think the film is a longer than it need be. Around the halfway point, the characters begin doing a lot of pontificating about the past that seemed more like exposition that should have come at the beginning of the film. Research revealed that O'Neill fought having the play published for a long time and I have a feeling this was because of the Mary Tyrone character, whom I suspect is based on O'Neill's own mother, the only viable explanation for the overwhelming protection the character is provided. I was unable to confirm that O'Neill actually adapted the play for the screen, which I found baffling.

Hepburn gives, arguably the finest performance of her career as the drug-addicted Mary Tyrone, earning Hepburn her 9th Best Actress nomination, the only nomination the film received. Director Sidney Lumet also pulled a strong performance from Jason Robards as Jamie and the performance of his career as Edmund from Dean Stockwell. Exquisite black and white photography and a gorgeous but minimal piano score are the finishing touches of this loving adaption of a stage classic, that has been remade several times, but I seriously doubt if they touch this one.



Welcome Matt
Despite a star-making performance from the leading man playing a likable character, the 2021 black comedy Welcome Matt frustrates and aggravates the viewer for the majority of the running time due to an all over the place screenplay that takes way too long to reveal a major plot point and when said reveal finally comes, it doesn't really make sense.

This is the story of Matt, a young filmmaker who has written and directed a movie called LIFE'S A BEACH that is a huge success. The story flashes forward almost two years where it's revealed that Matt has become an agoraphobic whose inability to leave the house after a trauma has caused his girlfriend to dump him, come close to being evicted from his home, and can't get anyone aboard with his idea to make a movie without leaving the house. Things start to look up for Matt when major buzz starts about him making LIFE'S A BEACH 2 and a pretty therapist is hired by his mom to help him with his condition that he's completely in denial about.

I'm not sure exactly sure where producer, director, and writer Leon Pierce Jr went here, but the basic premise was troubling for me. The last movie I saw about an agoraphobe was 1995's Copycat, which found Sigourney Weaver as the agoraphobe and this is a sad and frightening condition that I found to be a troubling canvas for a black comedy. I don't think there's anything funny about the inability to leave the house and had a difficult time getting behind a film trying to make light of the situation, no matter how far Pierce has his tongue tucked in his cheek.

Even though I originally described this film as a black comedy, the film seems to make jarring changes from comedy to drama that are often unmotivated and difficult for the viewer to keep up with. Characters like a psycho actor who wants to murder Matt and a pot smoking ex-stand up played by Deon Cole (Black-ish) just seem to pad the running time. The most aggravating part of the story is when Matt's trauma is finally revealed, we learn that the trauma occurred during his graduation instead of after making LIFE'S A BEACH, which didn't make sense to me.

Former child star Tahj Mowry, who began his career on TV series like Sister, Sister (which starred his real life twin sisters) and Smart Guy is quite charming as Matt but the story is so nonsensical the film is really hard to latch onto.



Alexander's Ragtime Band
Twentieth Century Fox gave MGM a run for their money with a lavish and entertaining musical from 1938 called Alexander's Ragtime Band, another cinematic salute to the music of Irving Berlin that is a seamless combination of a show business story and star-crossed romance that was just the kind of escapist entertainment moviegoers were looking for in the 30's.

The film opens in 1915 San Francisco where we meet Roger Grant (Tyrone Power), a classically trained violinist who impulsively decides to quit classical music, change his name to Alexander and form his own ragtime band. It's not long before Alexander falls for the band's lead singer, Stella (Alice Faye), who has also caught the eye of the band's keyboard player, Charlie (Don Ameche). The trio becomes separated when Stella is offered the lead in a Broadway show and Alexander enlists in the army.

This surprisingly entertaining musical works thanks to a predictable but still engaging story where we see where it's going about 15 minutes in, but the characters are so colorful and the musical numbers are so much fun, that we don't care that the requisite happy ending is not realized until the final scene.

This film was my first exposure to the first of the "Fox Blondes", Alice Faye, the platinum blonde with those big soulful eyes and the throaty voice who the camera absolutely adores. She made the perfect apex of the romantic triangle, made even more appealing by the character's honesty about her having feelings for both men. An added pleasure was the appearance of future Broadway icon Ethel Merman playing the new lead singer of Alexander's band, who gets to shine as the ultimate interpreter of Irving Berlin.

The film is jam-packed with classic and lesser known Berlin songs like "He's a Rag Picker", "Now It Can Be Told", "In My Harem" and "When the Midnight Choo Choo Leaves for Alabam". Ameche's version of "Easter Parade" was a charmer and loved Merman's take on "Blue Skies", "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody", and "Pack Up Your Sins". Also loved Jack Haley's take on "Oh How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning". Haley would make cinema history the following year when he would replace Buddy Ebsen as the Tin Woodsman in The Wizard of Oz.

Henry King's direction shows great attention to production values and knows what a musical looks like, further documented 18 years later when he directed the film version of Carousel. Tyrone Power was a little stiff as Alexander, but Don Ameche and his 145 teeth were utterly charming as Charlie and had wonderful chemistry with Faye. Loved Charlie's breakup scene with Stella, one of my favorite scenes in the film. Musical lovers will find a lot to like here.



Idiocracy
Mike Judge, the creative force behind the cult classic Office Space is not nearly as successful with a silly 2006 comedy called Idiocracy, a big budget time travel comedy that starts off promisingly but just gets dumber and dumber as the film progresses.

The film opens in the year 2005 where it's revealed that the US military is working on a hibernation project where they plan to freeze someone from the present and send them to the future where they will thaw and learn about the future. An army private (Luke Wilson) and a hooker (Maya Rudolph) are chosen to participate in the project and find themselves transported to the year 2505, where people have lost all intelligence and Wilson's Joe now finds himself the smartest person on the planet, which ends up getting him jailed almost immediately but finding possible redemption with his wild theory that water will make plants grow.

As the film opens, memories of a classic Woody Allen comedy called Sleeper came to mind which found Woody's character being transformed to the year 2173 and getting in lots of trouble because of earth's advances in science, the arts, and the economy. The premise here is basically the same, but the advances are losses here, as mankind has appeared to lost all forms of intelligence and research for a better planet. In this film, we are introduced to an America that has taken "United States" out of their title, where a latte at Starbucks means a lot more than coffee, and the only use for water is in toilets. These Americans still love money though.

It's an interesting variation of Woody's concept here, but it seems to me to be true to the concept, upon his arrival in 2505, if Joe is the smartest person on the planet, shouldn't he be almost immediately running the country? Instead he's treated like a Joan of Arc heretic who these futuristic Americans feel has been sent here to destroy them. On the other hand, the hooker resumes the same life she was living in 2005 and finds a better life than she ever had in 2005. Huh?

The movie had me on board until we learned that the year's most popular movie in 2505 was called "Ass" and that it won eight Oscars. From there, the movie begins to make less sense leading to an explosive finale in a demolition derby setting that made little or no sense. The ending does get where it should have been at the beginning but it takes way too long to get there. Luke Wilson's sincere performance in the title role is a charmer though and also liked Dax Shepherd as Frito and Terry Crews as the POTUS, but the laughs don't last for the entire economic running time.



10 years of excellence in denim
Cruella
Disney knocks it out of the park with 2021's Cruella, a handsomely mounted, live-action re-imagining of one of its most famous animated characters, that rivets from start to finish thanks to spectacular production values, meticulously detailed direction, and a pair of dazzling performances from two Oscar winning actresses named Emma.

The villainess from the classic Disney animated feature 101 Dalmatians is given a three dimensional re-imaging that follows a young girl named Estella from her troubled childhood to a period of petty thievery that eventually leads to a a job working for a legendary fashion designer named The Baroness with whom a connection to the past and a present rivalry are established

First of all, it's not necessary to have seen any of the Dalmatians movies to appreciate what is happening here. In the style of Joaquin Phoneix's Joker, the character has been given a new backstory through a complex and sophisticated screenplay that immediately establishes sympathy for a character traditionally revered as a villainess and does it with such style and wit that we can't help but love her. Pitting the character against an antagonist who is a lot like herself fascinates throughout. Both Estella and the Baroness are given ultra clever dialogue that provides insight into them. I loved when the Baroness says "I'm intrigued...that never happens." The relationship between Estella and the Baroness initially resembles the relationship between Andy and Miranda Priestley in The Devil Wears Prada, but morphs into something so richer. I also loved that Estella and Cruella thinks of herself as two different people.

Director Craig Gillepsie (I, Tonya) takes his time, perhaps just a tad too much time, allowing the story to unfold and probably could have been a little more economic in the mounting of exposition, giving the film a slow start, but once Estella meets the Baroness, the
story fires on all cylinders, thanks to Oscar-worthy camerawork, editing, costumes, and allowing the camera to often telegraph character emotion and development.

Emma Stone gives the performance of her career as Cruella, easily trumping her Oscar-winning performance in La La Land and Emma Thompson is a crisp and caustic Baroness, a performance that should earn her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Also have to give shout outs to Walter Paul Hauser (Richard Jewell), Joel Fry, and Mark Strong in supporting roles and a music/song score that defies description. Intoxicating entertainment that I wasn't expecting. Bouquets all around.
Glad to hear someone so enthusiastic about this one! We thought that Paul Walter Hauser and Wink were the best part and I donít know how I really feel about Emma Stoneís performance. Like I said in my blurb, this movie wasnít made for me, so I canít be too harsh.



The Bobby Brown Story
2018's The Bobby Brown Story is a lavishly produced TV movie, originally broadcast on BET in two parts, that chronicles the infamous R&B singer's life from his troubled childhood through his stormy marriage to Whitney Houston, and the tragic death of his daughter Bobbi Kristina. The film suffers from a one-sided, slightly melodramatic screenplay, but there are some terrific performances and on a purely entertainment level, it totally works.

It's so hard to be objective about this film because most of us saw Bobby's life through the media which has allowed most people to form strong opinions about the man which, for the most part, are the polar opposite of the Bobby Brown presented in this film, making this film look kike a sanitized version of Brown's life.

The Bobby we are all familiar with first appears right after his breakup with New Edition, followed by his initial flashy success as a solo performer, while juggling relationships with two other women, with which he had children. But it's his relationship with Whitney Houston, which began at an awards show, that began the downward spiral of Bobby's career and life and this is where the movie becomes troubling for me.

Just like the 2015 TV movie Whitney, this movie presents Bobby as this victim who was corrupted and manipulated by the evil Whitney Houston and I just don't believe this is the way things happened. According to this film, the first time Bobby saw Whitney do cocaine was on their wedding. After spending a couple of years in jail, Whitney picks him up in her limo and immediately offers him cocaine. Not to mention the fact that Whitney still marries the man when he gets another woman pregnant the same time he gets her pregnant.
Seriously?

The odd thing was that while watching this film, I kept thinking that if this had been a fictional story about a fictional entertainer, it was grandly entertaining and riveting from start to finish. Director Kiel Adrien Scott displays a real flair for high octane show business drama, but as hard as I tried, I just couldn't reconcile this portrait of Bobby Brown as a tortured victim.

The film does feature some terrific performances though, led by Woody McClain, who commands the screen in the title role and Gabrielle Dennis, offering a flashy turn as Whitney Houston. The actors don't physically resemble their real life counterparts but they understood Bobby and Whitney and completed committed to these roles. They get impressive support from Mekhi Phifer as Bobby's brother and manager, Alyssa Goss as Bobby's pre and post Whitney girlfriend Alicia, and Sandi McGee as Bobby's mother. I didn't believe everything that I was seeing, but I was thoroughly entertained and couldn't take my eyes off the screen.



The Woman in the Window (2021)
The direction is slick and inventive and it's extremely well acted, but it's the swiss cheese screenplay for 2021's The Woman in the Window that keeps the psychological thriller from being the completely satisfying film experience it should have been.

The film stars Amy Adams as Anna Fox, a child psychologist and agoraphobe who is separated from her family and living alone in a Manhattan brownstone with a downstairs tenant named David. One night while watching the brownstone across the street, she observes a woman she met a few days ago (Oscar winner Julianne Moore) being murdered and when she reports what she saw, the police and the woman's husband (Oscar winner Gary Oldman) inform her that another woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is the woman who Anna thought she saw murdered.

This film starts off interestingly enough, sort of contemporary updating of Hitchcock's Rear Window, but Tracy Letts' screenplay splits off in so many different directions that we're really never sure exactly what we've seen. Characters are murdered without motive or explanation like a nightmare and eventually leads to a bloody finale where the culprit is the last person we expect. It would have made more sense for the story to lead to an "And then I woke up" scene to explain all the bizarre directions the story goes.

Director Joe Wright, who directed Goldman to an Oscar in The Darkest Hour, brings a slickness and inventiveness to his direction that almost makes the viewer forget how the story makes little or no sense. His photography is head-spinning and his presentation of the supporting characters set up what eventually turn out to be nonsensical red herrings that just make the screenplay make sense. As confusing as the story is, the film is a visual feast, which can only be credited to Wright.

Wright gets solid performances from a really interesting cast too. Adams is splendid, as usual, and Oldman has a couple of bone-chilling moments that make his thankless role seem not so much. Must also give a shout out to Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn's son, Wyatt Russell, who lights up the screen as Anna's tenant David. Wright and his cast work very hard at making this work, but the screenplay eventually defeats them.



Class (1983)
One of the earliest entries of the teen comedies that dominated 1980's cinema was a breezy campus comedy called Class that doesn't have a lot of re-watch appeal due to its predictability but does have a little more substance than a lot of the teen comedies of the period.

This is the story of Jonathan (Andrew McCarthy, in his film debut), a high school freshman who has just been accepted into a fictional prep school outside Chicago called Vernon Academy where, after a shaky start, develops a solid relationship with his roommate, Skip (Rob Lowe), the big stud on campus. When Jonathan is banned from a school dance, Skip sends Jonathan to a bar in downtown Chicago where Jonathan meets a beautiful older woman named Ellen (Jacqueline Bisset). A one night stand between the two in an elevator leads to a brief affair that comes to an abrupt end when it's revealed exactly who Ellen is.

The screenplay by Jim Kouf and David Greenwalt is crafted more carefully than the average teen comedy because it takes its time establishing the relationship between Jonathan and Skip, making the reveal of exactly who Ellen is much richer. Unfortunately, said reveal is the basis of the film's appeal, which isn't nearly as effective in re-watch mode. Kouf and Greenwalt also set up a subplot in an early scene with Skip and Jonathan that seems to be superfluous at the time it happens but it is addressed during the final act. I was also impressed with the fact that the Ellen character was not just an aging tramp, but is revealed to have some serious emotional issues that the viewer doesn't see coming.

The casting of the lead roles has a dash of originality to it. Rob Lowe was one of the biggest sex symbols of the 80's whose career in the 1980's was comparable to Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling today. Instead of playing on Lowe's sex appeal, the role of Skip relies a lot on Lowe's comic timing, starting the character off as the wisecracking best friend and it had to be as refreshing for Lowe as it is for the viewer.

Director Lewis John Carlino (The Great Santini) allows the story to unfold methodically without making the film three hours long. McCarthy makes an impressive film debut as young Jonathan and the chemistry he creates with the breathtaking Bisset is surprising. A few familiar faces show up along the way in small roles like John Cusack, Alan Ruck, Virginia Madsen, Casey Siemaszko, Anna Marie Horsford, Stuart Margolin and Oscar winner Cliff Robertson as Skip's dad. The film works a lot better if you've never seen it, but there is re-watch appeal for fans of McCarthy, Bisset, and Lowe.



In the Heights
After the unprecedented success of Hamilton, it should come as no surprise that
Lin-Manuel Miranda's previous Broadway triumph should make it to the big screen. In the Heights is the exuberant and explosive musical celebration of dreams set on a sanitized canvas based on one of New York City' most turbulent neighborhoods. If you're not a fan of musicals or if you're looking for a realistic vision of Washington Heights, you might as well stop reading now.

This 2021 musical extravaganza is a rowdy and rhythmic examination of the subject of dreams...dreams realized, dreams sacrificed, dreams adjusted, and dreams lost. The musical centers on the dreams of a tightly knit group of characters for whom Washington Heights has been their entire life. Usnavy is the young owner of a bodega who wants to buy a bar in the Dominican Republic; Nina has returned to the Heights after dropping out of Stanford because her father, the owner of a car rental business, can no longer afford the tuition or to pay her boyfriend Benny; Vanessa works in a beauty parlor but really wants to be a fashion designer and Sonny, Usnavy's cousin, wants to get from under the thumb of his drunken father, Gapo.

It should be stated that this musical makes no bones about the fact that it is a musical and Miranda and his co-screenwriters have made little or no effort to bring any semblance of realism to these joyous proceedings. The infectious title song, which opens the film, is sung directly to the camera for the most part and the streets are filled with dancers, not cars or street vendors or police or drug dealers. Anyone familiar with Washington Heights knows that it's one of New York's most dangerous and crime-infested neighborhoods but you'll see none of that here. It's a musical.

As with Hamilton, the score is an intricate blend of brassy Latino rhythms and contemporary hip-hop that Miranda has made his own personal form of musical expression and it works more effectively here than it did with Hamilton because the style of the music is a much more natural fit to the story and period here than it was with Hamilton. It's difficult to sit still for the pulsating rhythms of Miranda's score, greatly motivated by Christopher Scott's dazzling choreography, which is pure and unadulterated 2021. The other thing I loved about the dancing in this film is that not all of the dancers looked like starved ballerinas...the dancers in this movie were all shapes and sizes and not ashamed of it either.

In addition to the title tune, the standout musical highlights include Usnavy and Vanessa's "It Won't be Long Now", "You Don't Say", the production number in the beauty parlor; "96000", a huge production number in a swimming pool centered on a lottery ticket, and "Piragua", performed by the snow cone vendor, played by Miranda himself. And just when we think we've seen it all, Benny and Nina perform "When You're Home", which becomes a lovely pas de deux on the side of an apartment building (yes you read that correctly).

Director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) keeps this spectacle moving nicely, with a strong Oscar-worthy assist from film editor Myron Kerstien (not to mention, Miranda, who I'm sure had Chu's ear throughout production). Victor Ramos, who was in Hamilton and played Lady GaGa's gay BFF in A Star is Born, lights up the screen in a sexy and charismatic performance as Usnavy and Corey Hawkins, who played Dr. Dre in Straight Outta Compton is a real charmer as Benny, creating real chemistry with Leslie Grace as Nina. Jimmy Smits plays Nina's father (and even gets to sing), and Daphne Rubin Vega, who created the role of Mimi in the original production of Rent makes the most of her thankless role as the beauty shop owner. For true movie musical lovers and for fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda, an unqualified home run and for my money, the Best Film of 2021 so far.



The trick is not minding
Yes! I was waiting to see what you would think of it, and I found it just as enjoyable as you did.
Great film, great musical, and definitely the best film in the first 6 months so far.
It will definitely make its way to my end of year top films.