Gideon58's Reviews

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Vacation Friends
2021's Vacation Friends is a silly and improbable big budget comedy that gets sillier and more improbable as it progresses, and suffers from some questionable casting, but remains watchable thanks to a terrific performance from one of the leading men and some clever plot twists.

Marcus and Emily (Lil Rel Howery, Yvonne Orji) are a recently engaged couple who spend a week in Mexico vacationing with Ron and Kyla (Jon Cena, Meredith Hagner), an outrageous pair of hard core partiers who try to teach Marcus and Emily how to live on the edge, starting by rimming their margaritas with cocaine. Marcus and Emily say a hasty goodbye to Ron and Kyla as they leave Mexico, hoping to forget them and everything that happened there. Of course, five months later, Ron and Kyla show up at Marcus and Emily's weekend wedding celebration in Atlanta, expecting to be the best man and maid of honor.

Director and co-screenwriter Clay Tarver, the creative force behind the TV series Silicone Valley, has mounted an over the top comedy that walks the tightrope of good taste throughout most of the running time, connecting two couples who normally would never have become friends. What he does here that works is making Marcus and Emily black and Ron and Kyla white. If their races had been switched, this film would have been completely offensive. It's the world we live in.

The scenes in Mexico are actually the funniest...they establish the bond that the couples create, or at least the bond Ron and Kyla think they are creating, allowing us to understand why they would track Marcus and Emily down. Once the action shifts to Atlanta, it just gets sillier and sillier including an Auntie Mame fox hunt, and a golf match where the stakes are $100 a hole.

The one thing that completely works in this movie is the energetic and charismatic performance by Jon Cena as Ron. With the right role, this guy could become another Dwayne Johnson, but he just hasn't found the right role yet. Lil Rel Howery works very hard as Marcus, but this role should have been played by Kevin Hart. Robert Wisdom is terrific as Emily's dad and Anthony Bachelor is very funny as her brother. First rate production values help, but it never really comes together and the story definitely could have used some tightening.



The Morning After (1986)
Despite one of my favorite directors behind the camera, 1986's The Morning After is a convoluted and illogical murder mystery that, despite an impressive cast, fails to engage due to a story that makes one silly move after another, bombarding the reviewer with red herrings, finally leading to a finale that was a bit of a cop out.

Oscar winner Jane Fonda stars as Viveca Van Loren, an alcoholic former actress who wakes up on Thanksgiving morning 1986 next to a body with a knife in his chest. of course, Viveca doesn't remember what happened. Viveca is advised to call the police and then an attorney, advice she ignores sending her on a way out of this situation, finding an unexpected ally in a hunky ex-cop named Turner Kendall (Jeff Bridges).

Sidney Lumet is one of my favorite directors, but he can't be blamed for what went wrong here....his stylish directorial touch is all over this, but he's got a really dumb story here, centered on a heroine who makes one dumb move after another. First Viveca decides the only way out is to leave town, but for some unfathomable reason, she decides to go back to the scene of the crime and clean up and it's not long before she confesses everything to Turner. Then the script has us thinking Turner might be behind this. And needless to say, the cops are four steps behind the whole time. I did love the fact that the murder victim is being interviewed on television as the film opens

James Cresson's screenplay does a good job of crafting backstory for Viveca, but the meet cute between Viveca and Turner takes too long and their somewhat flippant attitude about what they've gotten themselves into didn't work this reviewer either. Why an ex-cop would think becoming a possible accomplice in a murder is a good idea. Almost ten minutes of screen time is devoted to Viveca and Turner bonding over Nancy Drew books...seriously?

On the plus side, Lumet works wonders with this cast, despite the precious little they have to work with. Fonda's overripe performance incredibly earned her an Oscar nomination. It's not an uninteresting performance, but Oscar-worthy? Jeff Bridges offers his accustomed charismatic star turn and loved Raul Julia as Viveca's husband. Don't blink and you'll catch cameos from Anne Bancroft, Kathy Bates, Frances Bergen, and Rick Rossovich. Lumet's directorial gloss makes this piece seem a little better than it is, but not much.



Cinderella (2021)
The 2021 version of Cinderella is a lavishly produced, contemporary re-imagining of a classic fairy tale that deserves an "A" for effort, but ultimately misses because it re-imagines a story that doesn't really require re-imagining.

The story of Cinderella has had at least half a dozen screen versions not to mention dozens of imitations and rip-offs, so in 2021, an attempt to bring something new and inventive and entertaining to this story has to be spectacular, but director and screenwriter Kay Cannon, who directed Blockers and produced Pitch Perfect really misses the boat here.

The idea of mounting the story as a musical is nothing new, but, in the tradition of films like Moulin Rouge, Cannon has decided to utilize classic pop songs for the majority of the score instead of an original score and only a handful of them really work. Tony winner Idina Menzel's take on "Material Girl" as the Evil Stepmother was on the money, Salt and Peppa's "What a Man" worked at the ball and Emmy winner Billy Porter dazzled as the Fabulous Godmother with his rendition of "Shining Star", but the rest of the songs just seemed like they were in the wrong movie (including the ones that leading lady (Camila Cabello) wrote.

The softening of the Evil Stepmother character really bothered me and way too much time was spent with minor characters like the mice turned into footmen the ball and the troubled marriage of the King and Queen, superbly played by Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver. The addition of a sister for the Prince didn't really work either.

Most troubling though was the attempt to make Ella a more contemporary heroine, by having her life's desire to be a fashion designer and when she finally does meet the Prince, she is flattered by his proposal and the offer to sit on her throne all day and be queen, she wants to have a career as a fashion designer first...seriously? I understand it's the "Me too" generation and all and women can be whatever they want to be, but this is Cinderella. We don't want to see her in board meetings or schmoozing at fashion week in Milan. We want her on her throne, as the new Queen living happily ever after.

Cannon is to be applauded for the attention she put into production values, with special nods to editing, art direction, and some stunning costumes. Camila Cabello is a wonderful singer and songwriter, but seemed a little over her head in the title role, though Nicholas Galitzine showed solid leading man potential as Prince Robert. Loved the choreography too, but this re-thinking of a classic story was a definite example of "If it Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It."



The Hot Rock
From the director of Bullitt and the screenwriter of All The President's Men comes a slick little heist drama from 1972 called The Hot Rock that doesn't go anywhere we expect it to, demanding viewer attention through its execution and providing surprises for the majority of its running time.

An African doctor hires career criminals Dortmunder (Robert Redford) and Kelp (the late George Segal) to steal a rare diamond from a museum. Dortmunder and Kelp hire Greenburg (Paul Sand), an explosives expert and Murch (the late Ron Leibman), a transportation expert to assist them in the heist. Unfortunately, things don't go off as planned as one member of the team gets pinched and the diamond becomes a bouncing ball that our gang has to steal more than once.

Two time Oscar winning screenwriter William Goldman provides us with what appears to be a simple heist story on the surface, but we just don't see the bouncing booty that our heroes keep losing track of. The running joke of the African doctor who keeps a close eye on the expenses involved, which he doesn't want to pay remains fresh throughout. Some of the gang's requests are as perplexing to the viewer as they are to the doctor until we see how they are utilized and they all make sense, even though the guys still can't hold onto the diamond.

Initially, I was expecting something along the lines of the Ocean's Eleven franchise where the majority of the running time is devoted to assembling the team and the planning of the crime. Imagine my surprise when the actual heist happened less than thirty minutes into the running time. We then watch circumstances, interlopers, betrayal, and greed provide more than the expected interference to the prize. And this is where director Peter Yates' eye for stylish action sequences come in...the chase between our guys and the security guards at the museum is brilliantly staged and shot, as is an actual break-in to a maximum security prison, which should have been impossible. And even with all this, Yates and Goldman keep us waiting until the final five minutes of the film for some kind of resolution.

Yates utilizes Manahattan effectively as the tale's canvas and has assembled a solid cast of pros to pull of this story, headed by Redford, who almost brings a Steve McQueen-cool to Dortmunder, well-matched by Seagl's breezy Kelp and Leibman's in your face Murch. Mention should also be made of Moses Gunn channeling James Earl Jones as the African doctor and a fantastic supporting turn from the legendary Zero Mostel as Greenberg's fathe, who both make the most of their screentime. It could have wrapped a little quicker than it did, but this was one was a lot of fun.



Val
A one of a kind Hollywood icon who has been dealt more than his share of hard knocks over the years gets a bold, laid bare, and lovingly respectful tribute in 2021's Val, a documentary about the life and career of Val Kilmer that is funny, heartbreaking, brave, unapologetic, and joyous that had this reviewer riveted to the screen and fighting tears.

Kilmer is currently in remission from throat cancer, but the disease has done irreparable damage to this throat and vocal chords. This is why we are immediately informed that the narration for the majority of the film is written by Kilmer, but actually done by his son, Jack, who sounds frighteningly like his dad. Kilmer is observed throughout the film speaking through the apparatus on his throat which is operated by him pushing a button, but it is very difficult to understand him. This does not stop Kilmer from appearing in this vulnerable state throughout the film and, honestly, often it's very difficult to watch.

For this reviewer, the number one objective of a celebrity documentary is that learn things about the subject that I never knew and I got that in abundance here. The brief look at his childhood revealed that Kilmer lost a brother who drowned at the age of 15 and a troubled relationship with his father, that involved a lot of shady business deals that ended up amassing huge debts for the actor that he is still trying to take care of to this day.

Kilmer's tenure at Julliard was also news to me and revealed his first serious passion for the craft for which he would become famous. It was during his time at Julliard where it's revealed the first role he ever had a true passion for but never got to play was Hamlet, lovingly documented here. The only other role where he seemed to feel a similar connection was Jim Morrison in The Doors .

Some fun behind the scenes stuff was revealed liked the nightmares that came from making Batman Forever and The Island of Dr Moreau. It's also revealed that whenever Val there was a role he really wanted, he would make an audition film playing one or more of the characters in the movie and send it to the director. There is a clip of Val playing Henry Hill in Goodfellas and a tape to Stanley Kubrick to play any role in Full Metal Jacket. We also get a shot of Val in his first New York play backstage with Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon, who moon the camera.

The two most powerful sequences for this reviewer revolved around the actor getting sick during an autograph session at Comic-Con and some home movies of his wife Joanne Whalley on the video while the audio was a nasty argument with the couple regarding custody of their children, Jack and Mercedes. This is not an easy watch and the best thing of all, the film reveals that Val is still working. He's actually in the process of bringing a one man show he wrote about Mark Twain to the screen. This revelation alone earned the rating half a point. Appointment viewing for Kilmer fans.



Still Crazy
Fans of This is Spinal Tap might have a head start with 1998's Still Crazy, a raunchy and bittersweet look at an aging rock band that will initially prompt images of the Rob Reiner classic, but this story is told with a much straighter face.

Strange Fruit was a British rock and roll band who ruled in the 1970's but at some point completely self-destructed for a plethora of reasons, including the death of a couple of band members. Twenty years later, Tony, the band's keyboard player, takers it upon himself to reunite the band with Karen, their original manager, and embark on a European tour that defines Murphy's Law.

Screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian Le Fernais, who wrote a similar film seven years earlier called The Commitments, have crafted a story similar to their 1991 surprise smash that takes a similar look at a foreign rock band from the other side of the cinematic spectrum. This film showcases a group where all the members of the group are working regular jobs and have completely given up their rock and roll days and don't really seem to miss them. On the other hand, there isn't a lot of arm twisting involved in getting these guys to board the tour bus again.

Director Brian Gibson (What's Love Got to Do With It) manages to give this somewhat voyeuristic look at a band past their prime, a serious dose of realism as several mini-dramas weave their way across the screen. These guys are past their prime,,,old, overweight, sick, the lead singer Ray even demands Karen find an AA meeting for him as they arrive for their first gig. It's not long before long buried resentments rise to the surface, particularly an ugly feud between Ray and guitarist Les. Oh and Beano, the drummer, is convinced that the government has someone trailing him for back taxes.

The thunderous score includes "All Over the World", "Black Moon", "Live for Today", "Dangerous Things" and the Golden Globe nominee for Best Original Song, "The Flame Still Burns."

The film features some gorgeous European scenery and Peter Boyle's film editing is first rate. Standout performances are provided by Jimmy Nail (who played Migaldi in the film version of Evita) as Les, Juliet Aubrey as Karen, Billy Connolly as the band's stage manager and film's narrator, Timothy Spall as Beano, and especially Bill Nighby as the semi-tragic Ray. An often lovely, often ugly look at a side of the music business that often stings...the backside.



Don't Breathe
Director and co-screenwriter Fede Alvarez, who helmed the 2013 remake of Evil Dead, knocked it out of the park with his next project. 2016's Don't Breathe is a claustrophobic and often paralyzing crime thriller that borrows elements from classic films but surrounds them with such a twisted story that takes so many twists and turns that we're left spent and expecting more.

This story starts off so simple that it's just mind-bending the journey the viewer is taken on here. Rocky, Alex, and Money are a trio of petty thieves who work with electronic precision and have been tipped off about an old war veteran who lives by himself and supposedly has $300,000 stashed in his house somewhere. While casing the joint, the trio learn that the man is blind, putting their minds even more at ease about the job. However, this old blind man turns out to be anything but a helpless victim.

Alvarez has constructed an intricate and extremely deft screenplay that establishes the black hats and white hats of the story and then continually whitewashes his original concept to the point that all of the hats involved being gray. We see at the beginning of the film how well these three work together and then we see this old blind man, and we can't help but feel sympathy for him, hoping that these three thieves get what they want without hurting this man who doesn't deserve it.

I was reminded of the classic Wait Until Dark when the old man first realizes there are people in his house. We think he's going to be helpless against an enemy he can't see, but as we know, the other senses of the blind are heightened and that definitely comes into play here, not to mention that the old man has a secret or two of his own that come into play. There's also a very effective nod to Cujo that had my stomach in knots. Our sympathies immediately and confusingly go to these petty thieves, but no one in this story gets off easy.

Alvarez employs some extraordinary camerawork in pulling this story together, including some great tracking shots. He gets first rate assistance from his cinematography, editing, and sound teams. Big kudos to the sound team, who make the silences deafening and the thieves struggle not to breathe when necessary glass-shattering. The severely underrated Stephen Lang, who has toiled in supporting roles for years in movies and on television, gets his first real opportunity center stage in a feature and turns in an absolutely bone-chilling performance as the old blind man. Jane Levy (Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist) is solid as Rocky, as are Dylan Minnette as Alex and Daniel Zovatto as Money. Chilling and twisted entertainment that kept me on the edge of my chair just in time for the sequel that was released this year.



Dear Evan Hansen
2021's Dear Evan Hansen is a long and lumbering film version of the Tony-winning Broadway musical that, despite a glorious musical score by the composers of the score for La La Land, falls flat due to some really squirm-worthy subject matter for a musical that doesn't fit the score and probably should have stayed on the stage where it belongs.

Ben Platt is allowed to reprise his Tony-winning Broadway role in the title role, a painfully introverted high school senior who actual suffers from a condition called Social Anxiety Disorder, that has him in therapy. Evan is assigned by a therapist to write a letter to himself, which ends up in the hands another troubled student named Connor Murphy. The following day, Connor commits suicide and as Conner's family and others come to Evan for answers, Evan attempts to create answers that don't really exist and sending Evan on his own journey of self-discovery.

The Broadway musical this film was based on opened in 2016 and at the time Covid-19 shut down Broadway, had run over 1300 performances. There clearly is entertainment value in this story, but the abstract style of the story is more suited for the stage than the screen. It doesn't help that the story is also centered around the suicide of a teenage boy, which this reviewer found troubling, as it's just not a favorite subject of this reviewer. Justin Paul and Steven Levenson's screenplay confuses from the beginning because the entire concept of the story is that Evan and Connor are supposed to be strangers, but the first fifteen minutes of the film shows Connor trying to reach out to Evan in different ways, though we really don't know why, prompting Evan to create a relationship between him and Connor that didn't exist.

On the plus side, the story has a very 2021 element that seems to make it more accessible to audiences of today. This is the first film I've seen really that addresses the effects of the internet and social media on current society. It was squirm-worthy watching the virtual unknown Connor become a social media darling whose deep unhappiness actually brings millions of people together and initiates a fund raising project to get an apple orchard named after him. We also see the other end of the spectrum as the truth comes out about Connor and turns his family into social pariahs.

What really kept this reviewer invested in these unpleasant goings-on was the absolutely gorgeous musical score by Justin Paul and Benj Pasek that tries to, but never quite connects to this downer of a story. Especially loved Evan's vocally demanding opening number "Waving through a Window", his duet with Connor's sister, "If I Could Tell Her", the touching "Requiem" performed by Connor's family, Evan's mom's apologetic "So Big/So Small" and especially a fantasy duet between Evan and Conner called "You Will Be Found."

Director Thomas Chbosy (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) lets things get a little too maudlin, but his camerawork is strong. Platt has an engaging screen presence and a gorgeous voice and I look forward to his role in the film version of the Stephen Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along. Six-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams is lovely as Connor's mother and Kaitlyn Dever, who played Tim Allen's daughter, Eve, on Last Man Standing, shines as Connor's sister, Zoe. Oscar winner Julianne Moore also makes the most of her role as Evan's guilt-ridden mom. This was an ambitious undertaking, but was just too much of a downer that probably worked better onstage.



Sorry Wrong Number (1948)
A flashy performance by Barbara Stanwyck in the starring role anchors an intense 1948 melodrama called Sorry Wrong Number, that was, honestly, nothing like I expected, but provided solid entertainment with more than a couple of surprises along the way.

Stanwyck plays Leona Stevenson, a sickly woman who is trying to reach her husband Henry (Burt Lancaster) to find out when he's coming home. The operator misdials the number and Leona finds herself connected to a phone conversation between two people who are planning a murder and though it takes awhile, Leona comes to believe that these two men are planning to murder her.

The screenplay is by Lucille Fletcher, adapted from her own radio play, which apparently allowed Fletcher to flash out the story for the movie screen. From what I've heard about this movie, I expected Stanwyck's character to be the only one onscreen, unable to walk, and spending ninety minutes trying to get someone on the phone to believe that someone is breaking into her house and that she can't walk. For this film, a lot of this turns out not to be the case. Once Leona is unable to reach her husband, the film flashes back to the beginning of their relationship in order to give the viewer insight into the Stevenson marriage and why Leona might be in danger.

This flashback is nicely detailed and unrolls methodically, showing us that the Stevenson marriage is not the bed of roses Leona would like us and everyone around her to believe. A couple of unexpected plot twists reveal themselves along the way that we don't see coming that make it clear that this marriage is seriously damaged and both the husband and wife have done their part in its implosion.

There is the funniest screen introduction talking about the power of the telephone. but the story pretty quickly loses its humor. Barbara Stanwyck delivers a highly theatrical performance of such intensity that it earned the film it's only Oscar nomination (losing to Jane Wyman for Jonny Belinda). Burt Lancaster is slick and sexy as her husband, Henry and I also liked Ed Begley as her dad. There's also a very early film appearance from William Conrad (Cannon) as a bad guy. Yeah, it's a little dated, but Stanwyck and Lancaster keep this one on sizzle.



Kate
2021 bring us yet in another badass female assassin in the tradition of Jolt and Gunpowder Milkshake. Kate is another relentlessly bloody action epic that provides plenty of what action fans are looking for as long as they don't think about it too much.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as the title character, a female contract killer who we first meet in Osaka, Japan taking out a member of the Yakuza. Kate is guilt ridden because she killed the guy in front of his teenage daughter and swears after her next assignment, that she wants out. She travels to Tokyo for her next assignment, which goes terribly wrong in the form of Kate actually getting poisoned. Despite the fact that she's been told that she only has about 24 hours to live, she decides she is going to murder the guy that did this to her and it just happens that her main ally in helping her find this guy is the teenage girl in Osaka.

This is only the second feature length assignment for director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, who does do an effective job of giving this tale a spooky feel and a very futuristic feel, completely reinventing the Japanese canvas that we've met in films like Lost in Translation. What we get here is the Japan that we were introduced to in the Michael Douglas film Black Rain...dark and dangerous thanks to the frighteningly endless reach of the Yakuza, who appear to be a lot more dangerous than anything we've seen in a Coppola or Scorsese epic.

There's no denying that this Kate is a badass and knows what she's doing. We learn that she's been training for this since she was a child, but it's still pretty hard to just accept the way she takes out dozens of these guys at a time. The stunt and fight coordination teams are to be applauded for some spectacular battle scenes, but is it believable? Probably not, but we're so behind our heroine that we don't really care.

One thing I did like about this story that reminded me a little bit of the John Carpenter classic Escape from New York is that Kate's mission had a clock on it. Just like the death warrant attached to Snake Plissken's wrist in that film, Kate is told she is going to die in less than 24 hours and the story actually remembers this commitment to the story made early on, even when it seems like they might forget.

Winstead makes a durable and dangerous action hero and Woody Harrelson makes the most of his role as her sensei, Varrick. The film features first rate production values, including awesome Japanese scenery, art direction, music, and sound. Like most of the action genre brought to us this year, there's entertainment to be found here as long as you don't think about it too much.



Bo Burnham: Inside
My first exposure to him was as Carey Mulligan's love interest in last year's Promising Young Woman, where he proved to be a more than competent actor. But he proves to be a more than competent director, writer, keyboard player, singer, film editor, cameraman, songwriter, guitarist, music director, and lighting technician in his third special entitled Bo Burnham: Inside, which, in terms of entertainment, redefined the adjective "original."

A huge bouquet to Netflix for taking the risk of bringing something like this, that doesn't exactly fit the typical movie or television genre, to the small screen. While quarantined during the year 2020, Burnham locked himself in a room and filmed this comedy special...no, it's not a special...this is a one man show...no, it's not a one man show...this is live theater...on television.

It's hard to write about this, yet it's very easy to avoid spoilers, because explaining what happens here is pretty much impossible. It requires an open mind and undivided attention. This piece is filmed exactly the way it came out of Burnham's brain. He starts material ( or as he refers to it "content") and doesn't finish it, he performs and then critiques himself, he has difficulty expressing certain thoughts to the point of breaking down and crying and has the viewer wondering whether the breakdown is sincere or acting.

Even though Burnham is primarily known as an actor and comedian, it's his talent as a songwriter and musician that really makes this piece soar. Song titles include "Face Time with My Mom", "White Woman's Instagram", "Comedy", "30", "Bezos", :Welcome to the Internet" and what he does with a song called "Unpaid Intern" has to be seen to be believed.

If you're looking for stand-up comedy, you won't find it here. During the 90-minute running time, I think I may have laughed out loud three times. Though laughs were very selected, I found this piece to be nothing short of mesmerizing and could not take my eyes off the screen. This guy is so smart and so good at what he does, I imagine he is probably difficult to work with on a mainstream movie set and probably drove Emerald Fennell insane on the set of Promising Young Woman, but this guy really shouldn't be directed by anyone else...a most singular and unique talent whose work on this piece earned him three Emmys. Not for all tastes, but for those who are game, dazzling entertainment.



Three Daring Daughters
The recent passing of Jane Powell motivated me to try and dig up something of hers that I hadn't already seen. Sadly, 1948's Three Daring Daughters is a formulaic and overlong musical comedy that suffers from leaden direction, too many pointless musical interludes, and a badly miscast leading man.

The legendary Jeanette McDonald stars as Louise Morgan, the divorced working mother of three daughters, who one day passes out at the office and misses the graduation ceremony of eldest daughter, Tess (Powell). Louise's doctor suggests that a long vacation away from work and her daughters is the answer for her and she is sent on a cruise to Mexico. Tess and sisters decide that the answer to their mother's well-being is to reunite her with her ex-husband and their father. The girls approach their father's boss (Edward Arnold) and ask him to locate their father and bring him home. Meanwhile on the cruise, Louise has a whirlwind romance with pianist/conductor Jose Iturbi, which leads to marriage, a marriage that Louise is afraid to tell her daughters about, leading to endless musical comedy complications.

The basic premise of this movie is a pretty good one. This is one of the few times I recall that the leading lady in an MGM musical was a working mother and her work wasn't trying to be a movie star. As a matter of fact, the IMDB revealed that the Catholic Church's National Legion of Decency protested the film's portrayal of Louise as "morally objectionable" because the character was divorced. For me this was one of the most refreshing aspects of the character. She did not go on this cruise looking for romance and keeps Iturbi at arm's length for quite awhile before agreeing to marrying him, which surprised this reviewer. She messes up when she puts her daughters' happiness of her own, coupled with her daughters deciding that they know what's best for their mother.

Unfortunately, the story doesn't work as it should due to the problematic casting of Iturbi as McDonald's leading man. MGM spent a good decade trying to make a star out of Iturbi, usually featuring him in brief guest starring appearances concentrating on his talent as a musician. His lack of talent is evidenced in his resume, where he only appears as himself in the movies he made. Someone had the bright idea to make Iturbi the romantic lead in this film, where it becomes crystal clear that the man can't act. His bland, one-note performance really weighs this film down.

On the plus side, this film was my first introduction to Jeanette McDonald, who is absolutely enchanting as Louise. I've never seen any of her operatic musicals with Nelson Eddy, but I may have to re-think that. Her rendition of "Where There's Love" was the musical highlight of the film, with honorable mention to her duet with Powell. "The Dicky Bird Song"

Powell is cute as a button and makes the most of her musical sequences, but she has to play second fiddle to McDonald and Iturbi but the endlessly talented Arnold steals every scene he's in as the gruff boss with the mob sensibility coerced into helping the girls. BTW, the little girl playing youngest sister, Alix, is played by Elinor Donahue, who would get her fifteen minutes playing Betty on Father Knows Best. MGM's attention to production values is solid, but Iturbi's performance and some endless musical numbers by his orchestra make this one hard to invest in.



Worth (2020)
With the recent 20th anniversary of the events of 9/11 (it's mind blowing to me that two decades have passed), it's not surprising that Hollywood has taken another look at the worst day in American history from a slightly different viewpoint in 2020's Worth, a melodramatic look at a mission that was virtually impossible: Determining the worth of a human life.

Shortly after that horrible day, a Washington DC attorney named Kenneth Feinberg puts his firm and his own reputation on the line by organizing The 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, which found Feinberg battling DC bureaucracy in getting the government to compensate families of the victims. His firm then must decide on what is a proper amount of compensation and then must get a certain percentage of claimants to blindly accept whatever is decided.

Director Sara Colangelo and screenwriter Max Borenstein have taken on a mammoth assignment here, trying to provide entertainment value to a story that is still so freshly painful for so many people after all of these years. We are brought back to that day immediately through some archival footage from that day and beautifully directed scene of Feinberg on a train, just a couple of miles away from the carnage and witnessing it close enough to touch it.

Unlike films like Flight 93, where there is no control over what is happening to these victims, we see victims' families not only fighting for compensation, but for respect of their loss. The tension created in that first scene where Feinberg meets with claimants face to face crackles with tension and convinces us that Feinberg is tackling something that absolutely can't be done. Loved the irony of the one person in the crowd willing to listen to him was Feinberg's greatest opposition of what he was doing.

There are no easy answers here and due to the subject matter, the proceedings do get mired in melodrama and make the film a little longer than it needs to be, but the assorted looks at certain families are given enough care in their presentation that we want to see if they get what they deserve. We want to see if anyone will get what their deserve. Michael Keaton's understated performance as Feinberg and the performances of Amy Ryan, Tate Donovan, and especially Stanley Tucci serve the story as they should. It's a worthy movie subject that really couldn't be wrapped up in a two hour movie, but it's a sincere effort.



Psycho Beach Party
A mixed bag to be sure, 2000's Psycho Beach Party is an often dead on blending of the 60's beach party genre with the teen slasher genre, based on a stage play that this reviewer suspects was seriously overhauled in order to get the film greenlighted and because of that, doesn't quite work the way the playwright intended.

Florence aka Chicklet is a virginal teenage outcast who wants more than anything to be one of the cool kids on the beach. As she begins to be accepted by the so-called cool kids, it comes to light that Chicklet suffers from multiple personality disorder and one of these personalities might be a serial killer.

The play upon which this film is based was written by a gay playwright named Charles Busch, who played Chicklet in the original production. By the time the film went into production, Busch felt he was too old for the role and wrote an additional role into the story for himself, Captain Monica Stark, the police officer investigating the murders. For some reason, it felt like if Chicklet was played by a guy in drag, that most of the female roles in the play were played by men as well and therein the real gimmick of this film lies. Unfortunately, I think a lot of the piece's appeal is lost with women playing the female characters.

On the positive side, there are flashes of brilliance in Busch's screenplay. which perfectly brings the 1960's to the screen, complete with dialogue rich with outdated teen speak and not very subtle sexual innuendo. Most of the guys on the beach are portrayed in as homosexuals who aren't aware of it. The guys wrestling on the beach had a homoerotic undertone that was beyond obvious and provided sporadic laughs throughout, but with the female characters played straight, it wasn't as funny as it should have been.

Director Robert Lee King infuses the proceedings with a keen knowledge of the period and dresses it up with some sharp production values. Loved the finale that took place on a movie marquee and the purposely fake looking surfing scenes.. Lauren Ambrose, best known for her role on the HBO series Six Feet Under is terrific as Chicklet, as is Nicholas Brendon as Starcat, Amy Adams as the local beach tramp Marvel Ann, and Beth Broderick as Chicklet's mother. It would be interesting to see this piece onstage as Busch intended.



Dave Chappelle: The Closer
God bless Netflix, as, once again, Dave Chappelle knocks it out of the park with an edgy and dangerous evening of stand up comedy in Dave Chappelle: The Closer, where he crafts an evening of comedy through something stand-ups rarely do but takes it to an entirely different level.

In my review of a George Carlin stand up special several years ago, I mentioned the fact that he referenced a joke from a previous special because he received mail asking for the joke to be explained. In this special filmed live from Detroit, not only does Chappelle reference a previous special (Sticks and Stones, but pretty much crafts this entire concert around it.

In previous Chappelle concerts, he always shares at least one story dealing with an encounter with a homosexual male, whether it is an actual come on or a conversation. He has also made several pointed remarks about transgendered individuals that has that community up in arms. He manages not only to apologize without really apologizing, but break fresh ground with the community and garner some huge laughs while doing it. As always, Chappelle garners said laughs without actually working for them but through the natural humor that evolves from the stories that he tells with such aplomb, it's hard to tell which stories are real.

He actually concludes the concert with a story about a transgendered individual who he asked to open for him during a particular concert and the many places this story went were unadulterated genius. As always, Chappelle gets a few celebrity digs in as well, taking some well-aimed potshots at rapper Da Baby, Kaitlyn Jenner, JK Rowling, and Anderson Cooper. Another roll-on-floor-evening from one of the few geniuses in the business.



The Delicate Delinquent
Jerry Lewis was the producer and star of 1957's The Delicate Delinquent, a silly comic romp that provides sporadic laughs, which, BTW, was the first movie that Lewis made without Dean Martin.

Mike Damon is a bleeding heart police officer who believes that, if provided with more sympathy, and understanding, juvenile delinquency can be eradicated, one teen punk at a time. Sidney Pythias is the klutzy handyman for an apartment building who gets mistakenly arrested during an attempted robbery. Mike befriends Sidney, who eventually asks Sidney to help him get into the police academy.

This film was originally intended to be the next Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis movie, following Hollywood or Bust, but Martin refused to do the film because the role required him to wear a police uniform onscreen, which led to his being recast and the end of his very profitable working relationship with Lewis, leading to Darren McGavin being cast as Mike Damon. Paramount apparently had their issues about greenlighting the project without Martin, evidenced by the obviously limited budget and a B-list screenwriter and director helming the project.

Lewis works very hard to make this film funny, employing a lot of the mugging and physical comedy that we would expect from him, though it provided few laughs for this reviewer. Incredibly, when Lewis pushes the clowning to the side and plays Sidney's character straight, it's actually quite an endearing performance...watch the scene where a pretty young tenant in his building why Sidney always ignores here. The scene is funny because it's completely based in realism, not in acting trickery, a Lewis specialty. And I'm not sure if it was assuage Paramount or to stick it to Dean Martin, but a completely unnecessary musical moment is provided for Lewis singing the class "By Myself", that was nothing special but brought the film to a dead halt, which was another part of the film's problem. There are some real laughs once Sidney enrolls in the police academy. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen until halfway through the film and the movie moves at a snail's pace up until then.

The pressure he felt about his first solo outing is all over Lewis' face throughout the film and Lewis fans won't be disappointed. McGavin is quite charming in an early role, part of a long and distinguished career where he never became a real movie star, but worked steadily, probably best remembered for playing a vampire chaser named Carl Kolchak. Martha Hyer is wasted in another of her thankless ice queen roles and there's also an early film appearance from classic movie bad guy Richard Bakalyan as one of the previously mentioned teen punks. It's no classic, but it was a lot better than I thought it was going to be.



Survive the Game
Despite the presence of Bruce Willis in a pivotal role, 2021's Survive the Game is a convoluted and over the top crime thriller that features overripe direction and performances, not to mention a screenplay with several plot holes you can drive a truck through. This was basically 97 minutes of my life I'll never get back.

As this hot mess of a movie opens, we witness a gun duel between a pair of cops and a pair of criminal lowlifes, who turn out to be part of an elaborate drug cartel, where they are pretty low on the food chain. Somehow this fight leads the two cops and the two drug dealers to a remote farmhouse, occupied by a young farmer who has just lost his wife and child in a car accident

It was really hard sustaining interest in this film because we are given precious little information about these four people who begin the film and then bring a seemingly innocent bystander into their conflict. Ross Peacock's juvenile screenplay consists of enough cliched dialogue to fill a 1950's crime drama. Peacock's journey revealed that this was his first full-length feature screenplay and it's easy to see why as the film progresses. Ten minutes of screentime are devoted to how the farmer's wife and kid died and about thirty minutes later, another ten minutes of screentime are devoted to him explaining what happened to another character.

It becomes apparent pretty quickly that if this cartel is in trouble, it's because most of their employees are blithering idiots. I can't remember the last movie I saw so rich with a bunch of bad guys doing stupid and unbelievable things. When we finally meet the big boss 16 minutes before the end of the film, he turns out to be about 20 years old and wearing too much eyeline...seriously?

As for Willis, his role in the film becomes more and more thankless as the story progresses and we have to wonder why he would even get involved with this mess. I'm guessing he really needed the money. Production values are definitely on the cheap. There are several overhead shots of the farm that are clearly miniatures and most of the fight scenes are so poorly lit, you can't see what's going on. But this is what happens when you have true amateurs behind the camera.



Harriet Craig
One of Joan Crawford's most powerful performances is the eye of a melodramatic hurricane from 1950 called Harriet Craig, that draws the viewer into the world of an extremely unsympathetic character and, in a refreshing change for 50's melodrama, the character gets exactly what she deserves.

Based on a play by George Kelly called Craig's Wife that actually opened on Broadway way back in 1926, this crisp melodrama introduces us to Harriet Craig, a glamorous and domineering socialite who is a complete control freak who demands that her house is kept so, her servants behave just as she wants, and exacts the same kind of control over her sweet-natured second husband, Walter (Wendell Corey). Her duplicitous ways do catch up to her and, in classic melodrama fashion, and we actually revel in watching Harriet's allegedly perfect life implode before her eyes.

James Gunn and Anne Froelich's adaptation of Kelly's play to the screen isn't as worried about making a play look more like a movie than it is about establishing a central character who earns the boos and hisses she deserves. Harriet's character is not only established in her behavior but the way other characters in the story react toward her. There's a great scene where a friend of Walter's wants to play golf with him on Sunday and Walter suggests that they have breakfast with Harriet before golf. Walter's friend, Billy, simply tells Walter when he pulls in the driveway, he will honk the horn.

We see immediately what kind of woman Harriet is from the beginning of the film where we see a frantic young woman named Claire (KT Stevens) running around making final arrangements for a trip she and Harriet are making. Her efficiency at making sure everything is the way Harriet wants it makes us think this woman is her personal secretary. Imagine this reviewer's surprise when it is revealed that Claire is Harriet's cousin.

Crawford chews the scenery with just the right amount of teeth, never going over the top and trying very hard to imbue this character with some sympathy, but the sympathy boat sails about halfway through the film with a beautifully written and acted scene where Harriet visits her husband's boss and talks him out of giving Walter a promotion that will send him out of the country for three months. I've seen a healthy chunk of Crawford's work, and I think this character is the closest thing to what I've always thought was the real Joan Crawford. I haven't seen a lot of Wendell Corey's work, but every time I see a movie of his, I like his performance more than the previous ones and this one was no exception...very underrated actor. This is Crawford's show though and her fans will be in heaven.