Gideon58's Reviews

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Here Today
After 46 years in the business, Billy Crystal still displays filmmaking skills as the director, co-screenwriter, and star of a quirky and sentimental comedy-drama called Here Today, where just about everything works...except the leading lady.

The 2021 film stars Crystal as Charlie Burnz, a former screenwriter and playwright whose best days are behind him and is now working as the senior writer on an SNL-type comedy show where he is pretty much ignored. As Charlie struggles with maintaining relevance in the business, he is also struggling with dementia that is terrifying him. Charlie begins to take one step out of the past when he meets a loud-mouthed black street singer named Emma (Tiffany Haddish) who he forms an unusual bond with that cannot really be classified.

Crystal and co-screenwriter Alan Zweibel (who also appears in the film as a writer on the comedy show) really score in the creation of this central character. Establishing the character as show biz legend on the cusp of being a has been is a bit cliched (Charlie refuses to use a computer and still writes on a beat up typewriter), but we empathize with the character without pitying him. The other refreshing aspect of Charlie is that even though he is frightened about what dementia is doing to him, he is not in denial about it. He has bulletin board in his house with his children's picture and their names on post-its next to their pictures. I also liked the fact that even though he is pretty much just a figure head at his job, he's grateful to still be working and not into rocking the boat.

What just doesn't work for me is this relationship he develops with this woman Emma. The woman swears like a sailor, is half his age, knows nothing about him or his career, and for most of the running time, insists on referring to him as "Old Man" and it never occurs to her how insensitive that moniker might be, though he says nothing. I've seen relationships between characters in movies that didn't make sense before, but I just couldn't get on board with these two people finding common ground. I actually shuddered during the scene where Charlie asks Emma to be his date for his granddaughter's bat mitzvah, because I knew it had disaster written all over it...and the way she took over at the event was silly and unbelievable.

Crystal could have removed the Emma character from the story completely and spent more screentime with two really charming subplots: There's one writer on the staff named Darrell who worships Charlie and listens when Charlie suggests there is a comedy character in Darrell's personal life. There's also an actor on the show who when he pronounces words, always puts the accent on the wrong words or syllables, which makes Charlie and insane and leads to the film's funniest scene.

Crystal's performance is funny and heartbreaking...the brief scene where he gets detoured on his morning walk is so sad. Also loved Tony winner Laura Benanti as his tightly wound daughter and Anna Deveare Smith as his therapist, but every moment Haddish has onscreen takes me out of a really lovely story.



The Chase (1966)
The crime drama and the melodrama are blended to remarkable effect in a minor classic from 1966 called The Chase that is a little longer than it needs to be, but remains completely watchable due to the professionalism in front of and behind the camera.

The film, based on a novel by Horton Foote, follows what happens when a convict named Bubber Reeves (Robert Redford), escapes from jail after serving 2 years of a 3 year sentence and the powerful reverberations that news of his escape has on his small southern hometown. Among those most seriously affected, are Bubber's wife, Anna (Jane Fonda), who since Bubber's arrest has been having an affair with Bubber's childhood BFF, Jake (James Fox), who is the son of the bank president and town's wealthiest citizen, Val Rogers (EG Marshall), who the townspeople think controls the actions of Sheriff Calder (Marlon Brando), who wants to bring Bubber in alive, even though he is believed to have committed a murder during the escape, which makes the rest of the town want him dead.

The film benefits from a rich screenplay by the legendary Lillian Hellman (The Little Foxes) that brilliantly lays out how an entire town is affected by one man's escape from prison while simultaneously providing backstory for Bubber. As each character in the story is revealed, we get a little more insight into who Bubber is and how he might not be the dangerous criminal he appears to be on the surface. An interesting layer is added to the story when the local teenagers start treating Bubber as some kind of folk hero, adding fuel to an already dangerous fire leading to an unapologetic finale that we don't see coming.

Director Arthur Penn, who would follow this film with his masterpiece Bonnie and Clyde takes the time to let the story unfold in front of us slowly enough for us to get acquainted with the dozens off characters that become part of this complex canvas. Penn oversees some solid camerawork here resulting in some gorgeous cinematic photographs. There's a shot of Bubba crossing a swamp with the sun setting in the background that is nothing short of breathtaking.

Penn also gets solid performances from his impressive all-star cast. The IMDB reveals that Brando didn't like the Calder character, but it doesn't make his performance any less compelling and Redford impresses in the physically demanding role of Bubber that frames the story. Fonda's role as his wife is thankless, but she makes the most of it (Fonda and Redford also appeared together the same year, in very different role, in Barefoot in the Park). There is some flashy supporting work provided by Janice Rule, Robert Duvall, Angie Dickinson, Miriam Hopkins, and if you don't blink you'll catch a glimpse of future Oscar and Grammy winning singer and composer Paul Williams as one of the troublesome teens. Fans of films like The Long Hot Summer will have a head start here.



The God Committee
The 2021 drama The God Committee is a compelling story centered around an emotionally charged subject; unfortunately budget limitations really keep this film from being the truly important cinematic experience it should have been.

A teenager is hit by a car and dies. He's revealed to be an organ donor and we see his heart being transported to a large metropolitan hospital but the intended recipient of the heart dies before the heart arrives, leaving the heart available for three other possible recipients. The decision of which recipient should get the heart falls on the hospital's transplant committee. It's revealed that one of the possible recipients is not really interested in a new heart. The other two are an overweight man who should have lost weight, making the transplant a risk and the other is a drug addict with a pregnant girlfriend who he has been abusing. Normally, anyone use drugs is instantly ineligible for a transplant, but the father of this addict is a billionaire who has offered the hospital $25 million dollars if his son receives the heart.

Director and screenwriter Austin Stark has created a squirm-worthy story, based on a play by Mark St German, which I suspect stretches the story beyond the limits of a proscenium stage by having the story move back and forth through time, including showing us the first day that some of the committee members joined this important part of medical administration. Further layers are added to the story with the reveal that one member of the committee has a personal agenda regarding the recipient and that he also has a personal relationship with another member of the committee. The story even leaps into the future long after the decision is made, revealing the consequences of the committee's decision.

This film reminded me a lot of a Woody Harrelson film called The Messenger, which had nothing to do with medicine, but conveyed the same kind of sacred and life-altering duty it is serving on this committee, the same way it was a sacred duty in The Messenger to inform loved ones when the soldier in their lives had passed away. This is the primary reason this film actually had this reviewer talking back at the screen due to the possibility of this sacred duty being desecrated by the power of the almighty dollar.

Unfortunately, this indie project's low budget really dilutes the power of the piece because throughout the entire running time, all I kept thinking was how amazing this film would have been with actors like Cate Blanchett, Christoph Waltz, and Don Cheadle playing the roles played here by Janeane Garafolo, Kelsey Grammer (in a bad hair piece), and Colman Domingo. These actors work very hard to be convincing in their roles, but this story is just a little above their pay grade. It would have been nice to see this film made with A list actors, but as is, still worth a look for the fascinating subject matter.



Scott Pilgrim vs the World
Take the teen romantic comedies of the 1980's, shake them up, and put them inside a video game and what you get is a cinematic assault on the senses called Scott Pilgrim vs the World, an endlessly imaginative piece of movie entertainment from the creative forces behind Shaun of the Dead.

The title character in this 2010 comedy is a 22 year old bass player in a garage band who loves garlic bread and sleeps in the same bed with his gay roommate. As the story opens. we find Scott being barraged with praise and advice regarding his new relationship with a 17 year old high school student named Knives. Before his relationship with Knives really begins, Scott finds himself obsessed with a girl named Ramona Flowers. However, before he can be with Ramona, he must do battle with her seven ex-boyfriends.

Director and co-screenwriter Edgar Wright has fashioned this bizarre story from a graphic novel where the story becomes so not what the film is about. The story is presented in the form of a life-sized video game where the central character has to progress from one level to another in order to win the girl of his dreams. The canvas of this cinematic video game provides detailed descriptions of the characters, often accompanied by backstories and video documentation of what most of the central characters are feeling or acting upon. The accustomed fourth wall of film becomes the rules that Scott must follow in order to get what he wants.

Dialogue is often duplicated on the screen, providing instructions for the viewer and for Scott. Instructions that move at a lightning speed and don't allow the viewer anytime to figure out exactly what they are experiencing. What we end up experiencing is an explosively imaginative visualization of Scott's battle for the lady he loves in the form of individual plateaus our hero must battle and each battle with each ex is presented in a different way. One of Ramona's ex is the romantic lead in a Bollywood musical and another is a sexy action movie star who, instead of battling Scott himself, sends in his stunt doubles to do the work for him.

Wright refuses to go by the rules here and gets away with it because he keeps things moving at such a lightning pace that I didn't even feel the film's almost two-hour running time. The film is a technical wonder, featuring dazzling art direction, cinematography, visual effects, and editing, that will have even the most proficient techno-geek scratching his head in wonder. We even have the fight audio bubbles, similar to what happened during the fight scenes on the old Batman TV series.

The film is rich with once and future stars, headed by Michael Cera, who lights up the screen in the title role. Mary Elizabeth Winstead impresses with her icy Ramona Flowers and Kieran Culkin steals every scene he's in as Scott's gay roommate. Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Evans, Jason Schwartzmann, and Allison Pill make the most of their roles, but it is the demented imagination of Edgar Wright that is the real star here.



Friends: The Reunion
Fans have been clamoring for it the entire 17 years since the show went off the air, but they finally get some closure with 2021's Friends: The Reunion, a thorough and inventive look back at the iconic NBC sitcom that ran for 1994 to 2004.

The movie's slightly cute opening shows the six stars of the show walking into the studio and wandering around the set, looking at it like they had never seen it before. They try their best to make it look spontaneous, but that was kind of hard to buy since most of their body mikes were visible to the camera. It was here we learned that Courtney Cox used to write her lines on the kitchen table and before one taping, Matt LeBlanc erased them just to piss her off.

The documentary then moves into a live audience reunion, hosted by James Corden, with Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer seated on that famous sofa in front of the famous fountain from the opening credits. Corden's ass-kissing of the cast was kind of annoying, but surprises appearances from Maggie Wheeler, who played Janice, Elliott Gould and Christina Pickles, who played Ross and Monica's parents, and James Michel Tyler (Gunther) made it a lot more fun. A trivia game played by the stars also prompted a cameo from Tom Selleck, who appeared on the show as Richard, a pre-Chandler love interest of Monica.

My favorite part of the film was when the cast sat around a table and read the scripts of their favorite episodes, spliced together with the actual episodes they were reading, We also got glimpses of the favorite episodes of Reese Witherspoon, David Beckham, and Mindy Kaling. The international appeal of the show was also addressed as several people from all over the world were interviewed about how the show affected their lives. There was also an awesome salute to Phoebe's song "Smelly Cat" that featured a special guest star that stopped the show.

Interviews with the show's creators, Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane revealed a lot of inside dope on the show, including the reveal that two of the six stars were already working on other shows at the time casting for this show began. Of course, the expected outtakes were also provided, including the final take of a scene where Matt LeBlanc actually tripped and dislocated his shoulder.

Full disclosure, I didn't watch this show during its original run on NBC, but did discover it in syndication, and though I wouldn't consider myself a full blown fan, I found this documentary to be joyous and felt a lot of the emotions that were brought up for the stars and creators. For true fans of the show, this is appointment viewing.



Just Tell Me What You Want
An underrated and nearly forgotten gem from the resume of Sidney Lumet, Just Tell Me What You Want is a caustic and sophisticated tale of corporate and sexual politics that is quite watchable, despite a hard to swallow ending, thanks to an absolutely winning cast.

The 1980 comedy-drama stars Alan King as Max Herschel, a ruthless, sexist, powerful, egotistical business tycoon who has his emotionally unstable wife institutionalized and for the last 14 years, has been in a volatile relationship with a smart and sexy woman named Bones Burton (Ali MacGraw), who, thanks to Max, lives a lavish lifestyle, which includes a lucrative career as a television producer. When a chance to get into movies is blocked by Max, Bones retaliates by beginning a relationship with a handsome young playwright (Peter Weller).

Jay Presson Allen, who wrote the screenplay for Cabaret wrote the novel that she adapted into a mean-spirited story of movers and shakers in the corporate and entertainment industries who, sadly, do a lot of their thinking below the waist, leading to often unscrupulous behavior, creating a canvas of not very nice people who do a lot of dirt in the name of self-preservation and have the nerve to be shocked when their ugly behavior motivates responses they don't expect.

The only problem with this story is its underlying air of predictability...Bones has been given a very comfortable lifestyle thanks to Max and seems to have forgotten that without Max, she would have nothing. On the other hand, Max thinks he has purchased Bones lock, stock, and barrel and doesn't expect anything but unconditional obedience from her. Max and Bones have both made their own beds and the story seems to want us to side with one of them, which this reviewer was unable to do, which added to the story's value. Unfortunately, after everything we had witnessed here, it was a hard to buy the somewhat happy ending.

We're able to forgive to a point thanks to the undeniable style of director Sidney Lumet, who dresses up this often ugly story with first rate production values and some really spectacular performances. Though his career as an actor was sparse, Alan King knocks it out of the park here with his kinetic and explosive performance as Max. Lumet also manages to get the closest thing to an actual performance out of Ali MacGraw that I've ever seen as Bones. Keenan Wynn, Tony Roberts, and Judy Kaye score in supporting roles, as does the legendary Myrna Loy, in her final theatrical film appearance, as Max's devoted personal assistant. A slick and smart film that provides solid entertainment most of the way.



Joe Bell
Though based on a real life tragedy, the 2021 film Joe Bell is a preachy and pretentious melodrama attempting to deliver an important message that gets buried by overheated direction and the absence of a critical plot point that buried the film's wonderful intentions and made the entire film ring hollow.

Star and executive producer Mark Wahlberg does put some thought into this cinematic rendering of the true events leading up to the father of a teenage boy's decision to travel on foot from his home in Oregon to New York City, as a protest over the bullying of his gay son, making periodic stops and giving speeches at high schools and town hall meetings regarding the dangers of intolerance.

The final project of legendary novelist and screenwriter Larry McMurtry, along with Diana Ossana, focuses on a true tragedy and have recreated a lot of the events that destroyed young Jadin Bell. The tragedy that unfolds has a definite air of predictability that is evident from the beginning of the film where we witness Jadin come out to his father and this is where the primary problem with the film lies for me. It almost seems to place the blame on Jadin's shoulders as Jadin picks a really inappropriate time and place to come out to his father, whose mind is on a football game the conversation is keeping him from. Joe feigns acceptance, but there is never a moment in the film where we actually see Joe accept who Jadin was, making his cross country journey pointless. The first speech we see him make in a high school auditorium seems to go right over their heads and we really don't blame the kids, because Joe is trying to protest something he really doesn't understand.

The presentation of the Jadin character is a little on the cliched side too. It was offensive to see Reid Miller, the actor playing Jadin, made up with way too much rouge on his cheeks and bright red lipstick. Jadin is part of a portion of the screenplay that does work for me...his attempt at romance with a closeted gay athlete at his school, the only part of the movie that really worked for me,

Wahlberg never completely convinces as the title character and director Reinaldo Marcus Green has to take partial blame for that, though Miller is terrific as Jadin. Gary Sinise also makes the most of his cameo as a sympathetic sheriff whose role in the story comes off as way too convenient. Good intentions notwithstanding, this film falters under a preachy screenplay delivered with a sledgehammer.



The Perfect Furlough
Breezy direction from a comedy veteran and rock solid chemistry between the stars (who were married IRL at the time) make a 1958 romantic comedy called The Perfect Furlough worth a look despite rampant predictability.

There are 104 sex-starved soldiers on a special assignment in the arctic who desperately need some R&R and the Army can't release them all, so an Army psychologist named Lieutenant Vicki Loren (Janet Leigh) decides to pull a Bye Bye Birdie and choose one soldier out of the 104 to go on the "perfect" furlough, which they've decided is three weeks in Paris with an Argentine movie star named Sandra Roca (Linda Cristal). Unfortunately, the soldier who wins the furlough, Paul Hodges (Tony Curtis) has a well-documented history with the ladies that forces Lt. Loren to accompany Hodes and Sandra to Paris.

The fluffy screenplay is provided by Stanley Shapiro, who won an Oscar the following year for writing Pillow Talk. The story is paper thin and doesn't bear a lot of scrutiny. It's not really clear how sending one guy to Paris for three weeks was supposed to help the other 103 guys up north, but the story moves quickly enough so that you don't have time to ponder this.

The initial scenes of Curtis and Cristal in Paris being kept apart by the army and Sandra's publicist (Elaine Stritch) are quite funny. We begin to wonder how Paul and Vicki are going to be brought together, since their relationship starts out pretty much like Hawkeye and Hot Lips on MASH. It's funny watching Vicki's icy exterior eventually thaw to the point where the girl almost forgets she's a military officer.

The budget here must have been somewhat limited because even though most of the film is set in Paris, it's clear that this film never left the Universal sound stages. Blake Edward's proven tough at light comedy helps as does the off-the-charts chemistry between Curtis and Leigh, who would make four more films together before they divorced in 1962. Nothing new here, but fans of the stars (especially Curtis who has rarely been sexier onscreen), will enjoy themselves.



Tom and Jerry: The Movie
Despite a huge budget and some first rate production values, 2021's Tom and Jerry: The Movie is a confusing and exhausting return to the big screen the classic cartoon characters originally introduced to movie audiences by MGM in the 1940's. Unfortunately, this reincarnation of the characters suffers from a seriously complex screenplay that tries way too hard and makes the movie seem three hours long.

After a tumultuous meeting in Central Park, Tom the Cat and Jerry Mouse both attempt to take refuge at luxurious Royal Gate Hotel (which looks a lot like The Plaza). Meanwhile, a streetwise young woman named Kayla (Chloe Grace Moretz) cons her way into a job at the hotel just in time to assist in the planning of an elaborate wedding to take place there. Kayla learns that Jerry is residing in the hotel and hires Tom, who she ran into (literally) in Central Park, to get rid of Jerry before the wedding. Kayla also finds herself trying to keep the prospective bride and groom happy, especially the groom , who is trying to turn this wedding into a gargantuan production from hell.

Kevin Costello, who wrote a 2017 film I really liked called Brigsby Bear, really lets this endlessly confusing story get away from him to the point that this reviewer seriously thought about checking out halfway through. First of all, Costello and director Tim Story (Barbershop)) have decided to just discard the rich history of the title characters, created by Hanna and Barbera some 70 years ago and have them meet for the first time in this story, which combines live action and animation ala Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, but it's hard to distinguish what we're supposed to accept as real and what is supposed to be movie magic.

More importantly, the story abandons the relationship established by Tom and Jerry creators back in the 40's. When they were originally created, Tom and Jerry were sworn enemies and about halfway through this film, the cat and mouse find themselves working together to save this wedding. Even Spike the Dog, who protected Jerry in the original cartoons, is brought in here as the loyal pet of the groom. Spike is even given a voice here, while Tom and Jerry remain unable to speak, as they were originally.

It's fun seeing Tom and Jerry onscreen but the story of Kayla and this elaborate wedding never connect properly with Tom and Jerry and produce a lot of dangling plot lines...at one point, we learn the bride's engagement ring is missing and Jerry has it, but I totally didn't catch how it happened.

There are occasional giggles, but this movie mainly had me checking my watch. There are a couple of terrific performances by Michael Pena as the hotel's events manager and SNL's Colin Jost as the empty-headed groom. Liked Jordan Bolger as the bartender and Bobby Cannavale as the voice of Spike, but Ken Jeong annoys, as always, as the hotel chef. Oh, and that's Lil Rel Howery as the voice of the angel and devil on Tom's shoulders.
The hip hop influenced song score doesn't match the story at all. A lot of work went into this, but it's basically a waste of a lot of money.



I've never been a big fan of Tom and Jerry, but I like the movies where they put them into a classic movie, like Tom and Jerry and The Wizard of Oz and Tom and Jerry: Robin Hood and His Merry Mouse. I haven't seen Tom and Jerry: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing it eventually.
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If I answer a game thread correctly, just skip my turn and continue with the game.
OPEN FLOOR.



Obsessed (2009)
Only hardcore Idris Elba fans will be able to tolerate 2009's Obsession a glossy but over heated and rampantly predictable erotic thriller that worked much better when it was called Fatal Attraction.

Elba plays Derek Charles, a high-powered business executive who has just moved into a new house with his wife, Sharon (Beyonce Knowles) and their infant son. A sexy blonde temp named Lisa (Ali Larter) starts work at Derek's office and almost immediately begins stalking the guy.

Screenwriter David Loughery must be obsessed with the movie Fatal Attraction as Lisa is with Derek in this movie. Eleven years later, he wrote another Fatal Attraction rip-off called Fatale that is even worse than this. Loughery must think audiences aren't bright enough to notice that the only difference between these films and the 1987 Best Picture nominee is that the principal characters are interracial.

There are lame attempts by Loughery to give the film some degree of originality, but we never buy any of it. Loughery spoon-feeds us every single element of the well-worn story and even adds layers that aren't even necessary. The movie takes way too long to get moving because Loughery and director Steve Shill spend way too much time showing us how happy Derek and Sharon are. Another unnecessary element added to the story is making the Sharon character a neurotic and insecure woman so worried about her husband cheating on her that she has ordered him to never have a female secretary.

Of course, we try to empathize with Derek's situation, but it's hard to because his brain is removed for the majority of the running time. After watching him tell anyone who will listen to him how happily married he is, he finds himself caught in a men's room stall with crazy Lisa. It also doesn't help that everything Lisa does to get Derek is the exact same schemes that Alex Forrest used against Dan Gallagher. And the final showdown between the ladies just produces unintentional giggles.

Elba's smoking hot presence is the only thing that really keeps the viewer invested in this mess. Beyonce continues to prove that the camera loves her, but she can't act. Larter works hard at playing crazy, but we never really buy her attraction to Elba. First rate production values do nothing to disguise the fact that this is a blatant ripoff of another much better movie.



All My Life
As a movie genre, the romance drama is pretty much on life support, but an authentic attempt to revive the genre is made with 2020's All My Life, a fact-based romantic drama that's sometimes aggravating story is almost forgiven thanks to the chemistry of the stars.

Solomon "Sol" Chau and Jennifer Carter are upwardly mobiles who meet, begin seeing each other, fall in love and eventually become engaged. Unfortunately, their wedding plans begin to derail when Sol is diagnosed with liver cancer.

Screenwriter Todd Rosenberg's crafting of this real life love story for the screen is smart and contemporary, even though it might unfold a little too slowly. We're almost forty-five minutes into this movie before what's going on is really revealed. Rosenberg gives us the relationship between Sol and Jenn in intimate detail and has no qualms about the time he takes to do so. The story makes sure that the viewer is is in love with Sol and Jenn as they are with each other.

Unfortunately, it is at this point where the movie moves into some hard-to-swallow developments as well into a mawkish melodrama that is completely absent from the first half of the film. It's odd the way once the news of Sol's illness is revealed to the couple's small circle of friends take it upon themselves to raise the money they need for the wedding like something out of a Mickey Rooney Judy Garland musical. It was odd watching their friends deciding how Sol and Jenn should handle this, not to mention Sol's back and forth feelings about it. Despite his mature handling of the revelation of what's happening, one scene he wants to go full steam ahead with the wedding and the next he just wants to pack a suitcase of medication and go away to die alone. And on top of all that, the control freak in Jenn refuses to accept any of this is happening and has decided that Sol is not allowed to die because she says so.

Even though we know where the story is going, it is handled with discretion and taste and I LOVED the videotape farewell Sol left for Jenn. Marc Meyers provides sensitive direction to this sometimes troubling romance that helps the viewer stay invested. Harry Shum Jr., who spent six years dancing in the background on the FOX series Glee gives a star-making performance as Sol, a man who faces his illness with dignity for the most part. Jessica Rothe is lovely and funny as Jenn, creating a solid chemistry with Harry Shum Jr. Former SNL regulars Jay Pharoah and Jon Rudnitsky have supporting roles and there's also a terrific cameo by Keala Seattle, who stole The Greatest Showman from Hugh Jackman as the Bearded Lady, who is even allowed to sing. It's a little on the sudsy side, but watchable.



Flamingo Road
Cinematic soap opera in its purest form, the 1949 melodrama Flamingo Road is an old fashioned tale of ambition, corruption, politics, and redemption that reunites the stars and director of Mildred Pierce.

Joan Crawford stars as Lane Bellamy, a former carnival dancer who finds herself drawn into a romance with Fielding Carlisle (Zachary Scott), a weak-willed deputy sheriff with political ambitions whose career is under the thumb of the corrupt sheriff Titus Semple (Sydney Greenstreet). Titus thinks Lane is a cog in his own political agenda and manages to get her out of Fielding's life. Lane eventually finds a way out of her past into the good life when she meets another politician named Dan Reynolds (David Brian), but their happiness is short-lived as Lane's past begins to catch up with her in more ways than one.

Michael Curtiz, who directed Crawford to her only Oscar in Mildred Pierce has mounted an expensive and glamorous look at a woman trying to claw her way to social acceptance but finding a quest for wealth and power (symbolized by moving into a fancy house on Flamingo Road) impeded by one guy with all the wealth and power. The power that this Titus Semple character wields over the other characters in this film is quite impressive and he barely breaks a sweat doing it. Right before the climax of the film, we see Semple calmly playing solitaire and drinking milk...for some reason at this point of the film, I expected to see him sitting in on of those large straw chairs stroking a white cat with one hand and twirling his mustache with the other.

Crawford seemed to have a lot of input into her character for this film, because she looks absolutely incredible in this film and though there are other characters involved in this story of corruption of an entire town, the story always very conveniently circles back to Lane and her part in other characters' downfall. When we meet Lane, she's sleeping in an abandoned tent and before the film ends, she is observed as a waitress, a hostess in a road house, a convicted inmate, and the mistress of a huge mansion with maids in every room. The role is an actress' dream.

Crawford is given one of the flashiest roles of her career and she runs with it. Zachary Scott, who starred with Crawford in Mildred Pierce makes the most out of the thankless role of Fielding Carlisle and for once, David Brian gets to play a character where he actually does get the girl. Gladys George is a lot of fun as the owner of the road house and there's an appearance by Fred Clark as a reporter, in his 8th film appearance. The film was even re-imagined as a prime time TV soap opera in 1980 with Mark Harmon as Fielding, Cristina Raines as Lane, and Howard Duff as Titus. Crawford fans will eat it up.



Nowhere Special
A fact based production from Ireland, Britain, Italy, and Romania, the 2020 drama Nowhere Special is a tragic and bittersweet family drama that ran roughshod over my emotions, on the same level as Parasite and Minari. This film was either robbed of a Foreign Film Oscar nomination last year, or is the first serious contender for a nomination this year.

John is a professional window washer who has been raising his three year old son, Michael, since his mother walked out on them shortly after his birth. John is already wracked with guilt over the fact that his son is growing up without a mother but is further agonized when he learns he has a terminal illness and has to decide on a foster family to take Michael in when he dies.

This film is a triumph for producer, director, and screenwriter Uberto Pasolini, who produced the 1998 Best Picture nominee The Full Monty, wearing all the hats here, crafting an emotionally charged tale of a father, truly stepping up, similar to the way Ted Kramer did in Kramer VS Kramer. As a matter of fact there's a scene in this film involving a bowl of cereal that reminded me of the ice cream scene in the Robert Benton classic, but this movie takes what happens to Ted and Billy to several different levels. Imagine, the 1979 Best Picture winner if Joanna Kramer had never returned for her son and Ted found out he wasn't going to be available to care for Billy either.

This story is so sad because John is determined to do the right thing for his son, as the story blends scenes of his life with Michael seamlessly with John's interviews with possible foster parents for Michael. John complicates things because he doesn't want Michael to know that he's sick, yet brings Michael along on these interviews, which just confuses and bewilders the boy because he's content with things just the way they are.

I loved that the possible foster candidates were all very different, especially a couple where the wife wants to do this, but her husband really doesn't. Pasolini is also meticulous in documenting the progress of John's sickness...my heart stopped during a scene where John was atop a ladder washing a window and a stabbing pain coursed through him. Admittedly, the film requires complete attention due to thick Irish brogues from most of the actors. Fortunately, it's not an issue with Michael, whose huge expressive eyes convey every emotion they're supposed to.

Pasolini paid a lot of attention to production values, including the gorgeous Irish scenery that made this location look like the best place to live on earth. James Norton, who appeared in Greta Gerwig's Little Women gives an Oscar-calibre performance as the sensitive single dad and Daniel Lamont is seriously adorable as Michael, creating the most compelling father/son relationship I've seen in a long time. A very special motion picture experience that left me emotionally spent.



City Slickers
After his smash hit When Harry Met Sally, Billy Crystal teamed with the writers of Splash and the director of White Men Can't Jump for 1991's City Slickers, a rowdy tale of friendship set against a western canvas that provides solid entertainment courtesy some clever writing and colorful characters.

Crystal, Daniel Stern, and Bruno Kirby play three buddies on the cusp of middle age, who decide to participate in an actual cattle drive for two weeks, traveling from New Mexico to Colorado, along with father and son dentists, a pair of ice cream manufacturers, and a romantically challenged young woman. After learning the rigors of horseback riding and cattle roping, the group find themselves intimidated by the creepy trail boss named Curley (Jack Palance) who scares the hell out of the timid guests.

The screenplay is credited to Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel; however, as always with Crystal, I'm sure he had a hand in this carefully crafted story that deserves credit for establishing the fact that the three leads are three very different kind of people: Crystal's character is happily married but is feeling the beginning mid-life; Stern's character is trapped in a marriage to an emasculating shrew who's now divorcing him because he got a girl pregnant; Kirby's character is a commitment phobe who loves women half his age and even though he's married to an underwear model, still isn't ready to settle down. Somehow, the kind of people they are gets challenged during down moments on the cattle drive. The exposition is well done, though it might go on a tad too long.

Director Underwood, accustomed to directing sports-oriented comedies, proved to be the perfect choice to direct this comedy which involved a lot of complicated physical comedy and the mammoth task of mounting an actual cattle drive, something we weren't used to in the 1990's. Even with all the wild physical comedy, there are scenes of quiet and warmth that are quite moving...love when Crystal helps a cow deliver a calf and the scene where the three leads talk about the best and worst days of their lives.

Crystal lights up the screen, as always, but almost has his thunder stolen by Stern, in the performance of his career as the seriously whipped husband. Jack Palance's charismatic turn as Curley actually won him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, though I think the award was more sentiment than based on the performance itself. Loved David Paymer and Josh Mostel as the ice cream makers and if you look real close, that little boy in the opening scenes playing Crystal's son, is Jake Gyllenhaal, in his film debut. Dean Semier's cinematography and Marc Shaiman's music are the finishing touches on this contemporary comedy with a classic cinema sensibility.



Annette
The movie musical genre gets mangled beyond recognition with 2021's Annette, a dark and disturbing musical fantasy that makes no attempt at any semblance of realism , but held this reviewer's attention thanks to its unconventional musical score and an extraordinary performance from the leading man.

The bizarre story introduces the viewer to Henry, an angry and self-destructive stand up comedian (Adam Driver), who performs onstage in a bathrobe. Henry has a whirlwind romance and marries a beautiful opera singer named Ann (Oscar winner Marion Cotillard). They have a baby girl together that they name Annette, who is immediately tagged by her parents and by the media as a "miracle baby". The attention that Annette receives prompts a very dangerous agenda by her father.

Like one of the musicals this film reminded me of, Jesus Christ Superstar, the screenplay and score for this film is actually based on a record album by a pop duo called The Sparks, who provided the undeniably unique musical score for this film which brought all kinds of musical influences to mind as the musical numbers were performed...Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Sondheim, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Pete Townsend were among the composers whose style could be felt in this one-of-a-kind song score that is more successful at advancing the story than it is in providing memorable music.

There's particular plot points that aren't addressed efficiently or not at all. First of all, the presentation of the title character, when we first meet her she doesn't look human, more like a doll or a marionette, but we don't know why because she is treated as human throughout most of the running time. There's also a point in the story where Henry is accused of sexually harassing six women in a bizarre musical number and then is never mentioned again, adding to the film's severe overlength,

Most of the musical numbers are imaginatively staged...Henry's stage performances where he interacts with the audience are often unsettling. Henry and Ann even perform one number while they are naked and having sex, something I don't recall seeing in a musical before. The music has a dark and operatic feel and is often purposely unnerving. Musical highlights included "So May We Start", "She's Out of this World, "True Love Will A Way", and "I Will Haunt You Henry".

Director Leos Carax has provided this disturbing story with spectacular production values, with special nods to art direction and editing. He also gets a blistering performance from Adam Driver as Henry, a frighteningly unhinged performance that galvanizes the screen and helps the viewer forget how little of what we're watching makes sense. Carax loses focus at times making the film a lot longer than it needs to be, but I never took my eyes off the screen. Not for all tastes, but fans of Hamilton and Tommy will have a head start.



Wonder Man
Despite an energetic performance from Danny Kaye in a dual role, the 1945 comedy Wonder Man suffers from an overly complicated screenplay that often substitutes cheap laughs for logic and continuity.

Kaye plays a nightclub comic named Buster, who is about to testify in a trial regarding a murder he witnessed but before he can, he is murdered by gangsters. Before anyone realizes what happened to Buster, he manages to contact his nerdy, egghead twin brother, Edwin, begging him to help get the guys who murdered him. Of course, this causes endless problems for Edwin's relationship with a pretty librarian named Ellen and Buster's engagement to a pretty dancer named Midge.

The basic idea of this film is a good one, but perhaps too many cooks in the pot (six people are credited with the crafting of this story) might have been a contributing factor to some real gaps in logic that nagged at me throughout. Buster tells Edwin in the way too long scene where they come face to face, that he can enter Edwin's body anytime he needs to, but for some reason, every time Edwin gets in a real tight spot, Buster is nowhere to be found. Buster also tells Edwin in that same scene, that Edwin is the only one who can see or hear him. Later in the film, we see a drunk Buster trying to get a bartender to serve him a bromo. Not to mention, how would Edwin getting drunk get Buster drunk. There is also no explanation as to why Edwin's mission to help his brother gets interrupted when the words "potato salad" pop into his head, causing him to rush back to Ellen.

In addition to the six writers credited to the script, there seems to be a lot of stuff here that Kaye himself contributed and couldn't have possibly been scripted and director Bruce Humberstone just let Kaye go. Sadly, a lot of this stuff, like impersonating a Russian baritone or a lot of what goes on in the operatic finale, just isn't that funny. It reminded me a lot of Jerry Lewis' more annoying work after he split with Dean Martin.

On the positive side, with a ghost as a principal character, we are get some effective visual effects for the 1940's that help us forget some of the illogical stuff going on. We also are treated to the film debut of the leggy Vera-Ellen as Midge, who gets two spectacular production numbers that show her off to maximum capacity and a pair of funny performances by Allen Jenkins and Edward Brophy as the thugs who wipe out Buster and don't understand Edwin's appearance. SZ "Cuddles" Sakall also has a cute cameo as a deli owner, but somehow a movie that runs a little over ninety minutes manages to feel three hours long.



Lorelei
Despite solid performances from the stars, a 2020 melodrama called Lorelei never completely engages the viewer due to an unfocused screenplay from an inexperienced filmmaker that borrows from a lot other movies, that seems to be going somewhere and never really gets there.

Wayland is a former biker and petty criminal who has just been released from jail after 15 years, who is reunited with his high school sweetheart, Delores. Wayland is a little thrown by the fact that Delores is now a single mother of three, the eldest being an angry 15 year old whose father was black.

This independent production was written and directed by a rookie filmmaker named Sabrina Doyle, but what initially attracted me to this film was the casting of Pablo Schreiber as Wayland. The younger brother of Liev Schreiber did some Emmy-worthy work on the NBC series Law and Order: SVU playing a serial rapist named William Lewis. I've been waiting for his film career to kick in, because he has proven that he has the chops to carry a feature film. He does carry this film for the most part, I just wish the vehicle had been worthy of his talent.

Doyle's screenplay just doesn't employ anything we haven't seen before, moving at a snail's pace and keeping the viewer wondering where the story is going. We get a couple of red herring fantasy scenes involving Dolores in the water and Wayland being unable to get to her that don't really make sense as they're happening. We like Wayland and are behind him, but the story just never gives the guy a break.

The credible parts of the story are sadly predictable...we know from the beginning that Wayland trying to start life after a prison and becoming an instant stepfather is never going to work and we shouldn't have to wade through almost two hours of Wayland's struggle that we've seen in so many other movies, that finally arrives at a contrived conclusion that provides some closure, but is a little hard to swallow after everything we had to slog through to get to it. Schreiber's performance is strong and commanding and is well-matched by grown up child star Jena Malone as Delores, but getting through this one is still a bit of a chore.



All Night Long (1981)
One of Gene Hackman's richest performances makes a 1981 black comedy called All Night Long worth a look.

Hackman plays George Dupler, high-powered business executive who has a meltdown where he physically attacks his boss and throws an office chair out of a window. Unable to fire him because of seniority, Dupler gets demoted to a position as the night manager of a 24-hour grocery store. George learns that his son is having an affair with a married neighbor named Cheryl (Barbra Streisand) and when he tries to break up the affair, he ends up involved with the woman himself.

WD Richter's screenplay has a little more meat than what initially appears on the surface as a standard romantic comedy. This movie is not so much about George's romance with Cheryl as it is about George's midlife crisis. Solid entertainment is provided as we watch George's demotion triggers an awakening inside George where he realizes how trapped he has felt in his life up this point and decides that he doesn't want to play by the rules anymore and this part of the movie really works.

It's the alleged romance with the Cheryl character that is the troublesome part of the story. George's intentions of keeping his son from getting hurt by this married woman seem completely honorable, but before he knows it, the woman is pursuing him with no abandon and no thought of her husband. And with little explanation, George forsakes everything in his life for Cheryl, while she does a similar 180 and starts pushing George away because she's all of a sudden afraid of her sexist abusive husband.

Director Jean Claude Tramont, whose career consisted of four theatrical films, keeps things controlled, save one slapsticky robbery scene in the store, and gets some terrific performances from his cast. Hackman is warm and deliciously human, as always and gets terrific support from Diane Ladd as his wife, Dennis Quaid as his empty-headed son, William Daniels as his wife's lawyer, and Kevin Dobson as Cheryl's husband. Streisand's Cheryl didn't really work for me...Streisand is too intelligent a screen presence for this ditzy character. It felt like this role was meant for someone else who was unavailable and Streisand stepped in at the last minute. Her funniest moment in the film is during a scene where she's trying to write a song and pretending to be unable to sing. The story makes a lot of strange twists and turns, but Hackman's performance keeps the viewer invested.



Respect
The highly anticipated cinematic salute to the late Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin appropriately titled Respect doesn't live up to the hype because, despite the powerhouse pipes of Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson fueling the starring role, the movie comes off as just another showbiz biopic.

Aretha's life is documented from her performances fronting the church choir for her stern preacher father, to a sexual assault as a child which she refused to talk about to her first signing and Columbia Records and her relationship and eventual marriage to agent/manager Ted Smith.

On paper, Jennifer Hudson and Aretha Franklin seems like the perfect marriage of actress and character but they are hampered by a screenplay that is structured like a hundred other showbiz biopics, featuring every scene you've ever seen in other movies...the rebellion from parents scene, to the "this is the way I want my music done" scene, the "you may be my manager but you don't control me" scene, the success has gone to her head scene, to the going onstage under the influence scene and passing out during a live performance. We've seen it all in other movies and seen it done a lot better than it's done here. We even got a scene of how the title song came to be, just like the scene of how the title song came to be in Bohemian Rhapsody, but there was no way they were going to top that scene, though Jennifer's delivery of the final product was flawless.

It was hard to get on board with the way Aretha is portrayed here and Hudson doesn't deserve all the blame for this. Director Leisl Tommy and screenwriter Tracy Scott Wilson present Aretha as this painfully shy wallflower afraid to speak up for herself and tell people what she really wants and I just have a hard time believing that Aretha Franklin was ever anything resembling a wallflower.

And it goes without saying that the relationship between Aretha and Ted White bore more than a passing resemblance to Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne in What's Love Got to Do With It?, though I have to admit the eye-opening performance by Marlon Wayans as Ted White was unlike anything I've ever seen him do, easily the strongest performance of his career.

Hudson works very hard to be convincing in her non-musical scenes, but the stronger Aretha became, the less effective Hudson became, except when she opened her mouth to sing which was always a pleasure, just like it was in Dreamgirls. Her final rendition of "Amazing Grace" brings the house down. Forrest Whitaker was a little hard to stomach as Aretha's father, but there were a couple of impressive cameos near the opening of the film by Audra McDonald as Aretha's mother and Mary J Blige as Dinah Washington. With a little more imagination paid to the story structure, this could have been something really incredible.