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Gideon58's Reviews

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The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Despite the standard biopic execution of the screenplay, 2021's The Eyes of Tammy Faye,a laid-bare look at the rise and fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's PTL ministries, remains watchable thanks to some flashy directorial touches and some near brilliant performances.

The film opens in the late 60's tracing the relationship of Jim and Tammy Faye from their quickie marriage and how their plan to tour the country spreading the word of the Lord questionably ballooned into a multi-millionaire television ministry that had millions of religious devotees mesmerized, but also had the religious factor's eye on them, not to mention the methodical destruction of the Bakker's marriage.

Abe Silva's cliched screenplay is actually based on a documentary made by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato that takes the story of the Bakkers and turns it into the standard biopic, going the same way we've seen a hundred other biopics go, but it also allows to look a little more closely at the Bakkers and their motivations the way a documentary can't, but the whole "rise and fall" style of the screenplay was just so "been there done that."

Silvia and director Michael Showalter do put their own spin on what happens with the Bakkers. I love the early scene shortly after their wedding where Jim shows up at his in-laws house with a new car and never really explains where he got the money to pay for it. This became the recurring theme of what happened to the Bakkers. Jim did a lot of dirt to get what he wanted and left Tammy Faye in the dark about most of it and she apparently liked being in the dark and enjoying the perks of what hubby was doing. There was just enough dirt revealed about their marriage to keep things interesting, including Bakker's alleged affairs with male staffers and male prostitutes, in addition to Jessica Hahn.

It was funny watching Showalter trying to establish Tammy Faye as a victim in a lot of what happened to the Bakkers. More than once, we get a scene of Tammy quietly approaching to hear a private conversation, realize she's hearing something she shouldn't or didn't want to hear, and then pretending she didn't hear anything. Apparently, Tammy Faye loved the bling that the PTL ministry brought to her life, but didn't want to know how it came to be. Whether this is true, who's to say, but that's how Tammy Faye comes off in this movie, making it hard to sympathize with her or her scummy husband.

As unattractive as the subjects might be, I found myself riveted thanks to the dazzling, Oscar-worthy performances of Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield as Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker. These actors completely lose themselves in these roles without trying to garner sympathy for these people who don't deserve it. Cherry Jones and Vincent d'Onofrio also make the most of their roles as Tammy Faye's mother and Jerry Falwell, respectively. Art direction, film editing, and makeup also deserve mention in this look at an ugly real life scandal that could have utilized a little more imagination in execution.

Somebody Killed her Husband
Though the film has been maligned for years as garbage, I still think hardcore Jeff Bridges fans will find entertainment value in 1978's Somebody Killed Her Husband, a silly black comedy whose original purpose was to make a movie star out of the leading lady.

Bridges plays Jerry Green, a Macy's employee who starts an affair with an unhappily married beauty with a child named Jenny Moore (Farrah Fawcett-Majors). One Sunday afternoon at Jenny's apartment, she and Jerry are interrupted by her husband's return home, but as they go downstairs to confront him about their affair, they find him on the kitchen floor with a knife in his back. Jerry decides the only way for them to avoid blame for Mr. Moore's death is to find out who did it.

Reginald Rose, who was nominated for an Oscar for writing 12 Angry Men, is, believe it or not, the screenwriter for this cockeyed murder mystery that seems to make less and less sense as it progresses, because as Jerry and Jenny begin trying to figure out what happened to her husband, more bodies begin to drop. The viewer is confused because as the story progresses, Jerry seems to become more and more panicked and Jenny seems to care less and less, leading the viewer to thinking they know exactly what's going on, but they don't.

This was the first film that Fawcett- Majors (yes, she was still married to Lee at the time). made after leaving the smash hit TV series Charlie's Angels, which made Farrah the biggest star on the planet. Unfortunately, while Farrah was making this movie, she was also in the middle of being sued by ABC for breach of contract, a suit that was settled by Farrah agreeing to make limited appearances as Jill Monroe the next season. Needless, to say, Farrah's head was not completely in this movie and it really shows in her performance. She has moments onscreen where she seems to have no idea what she's supposed to be doing or feeling.

Bridges, on the other hand, is completely invested in this physically demanding role where he seems to be channeling Woody Allen, giving the character an undeniable charm that keeps the viewer curious as to how he's going to get out of this. It's Bridges' endless charm that almost saves this movie. The supporting cast is rich with New York theater actors, including two original cast members of the Broadway musical A Little Night Music, but what you walk away from this movie with is the goofy charm of Jeff Bridges and how it make a meh movie seem much better than it is.

2021's Queenpins is a fact-based black comedy that is often hard to believe as logic and credibility are stretched at every turn, but some clever writing and some on-target performances provide pretty consistent entertainment.

Connie and JoJo are a pair of Phoenix, Arizona housewives who live next door to each other and are obsessed with clipping coupons. One day, Connie writes a letter to General Mills to complain that a box of Wheaties she bought was stale. The company sends her a coupon for a free box and this leads her and JoJo to begin selling fake coupons by traveling to the company in Mexico where the coupons are manufactured and stealing them in bulk, and then selling them. But when the amount of money they make on their website causes the website to freeze, it is the beginning of the end as a Loss Prevention officer from a supermarket chain and a US Postal Inspector are on their trail.

This film is the brainchild of a pair of documentary filmmakers named Aaron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, whose experience with documentaries really shows in the execution of this often unbelievable story. They make sure we know every time the story changes locations, though the modest $7,000,000 budget makes it pretty obvious that the film was made in a studio. There's a lot of detail put into the execution of this elaborate crime, but there's also a lot of attention in the creation of Connie and JoJo so that they we are mad about them early on and almost overlook how ridiculous it is to believe what these two women get away.

Loved some of the details provided about Connie and JoJo during the exposition setting up the story. My curiosity was piqued when it was revealed that Connie is a former Olympian, that her husband is an IRS auditor, and that JoJo is living with her mother now because years ago someone stole her identity. Not your standard introductions to movie characters and we have to wonder how they're going to figure into the story coming our way. Some do and some don't, but the ones that do, are surprisingly well-executed. The relationship between Connie and JoJo is a lovely mirror to the relationship that develops between the Loss Prevention Guy and the Postal Inspector. Of course, the complicated cat and mouse game is intricate and fun, but as usual with stories like this, Connie and JoJo are well-protected and get off a little easier than they probably should have.

Gaudet and Pullapilly make an impressive debut producing film fiction and get a strong assist from film editor Kayla Emter. Kristen Bell offers the strongest performance I've seen from her as Connie and Kirby Howell-Baptiste lights up the screen as JoJo. Vince Vaughn underplays beautifully as the postal inspector and Joel McHale is fun as Connie's tight-assed husband, but it is Paul Walter Hauser (Richard Jewell) who effortlessly steals this movie as the Loss Prevention Officer who finds his life energized by getting to the bottom of what's happening here. Hauser doesn't make a false move in this movie, making me laugh with just about every move he makes and is a big part of why we forgive a lot of the ridiculous that goes on here.

Tom, Dick, and Harry
Another delightful performance from Ginger Rogers is at the heart of a breezy romantic comedy from 1941 film called Tom, Dick, and Harry.

Rogers plays Janie, a small town working girl who has always dreamed of marrying a rich man and if she happens to be in love with him, that would be nice but it's not a deal breaker. In this film, Janie finds herself being pursued by three different guys: Tom (George Murphy) is a stuffy car salesman who has been dating Janie for a long time, but doesn't seem interested in moving their relationship to the next level, any level, but Janie does pressure him into a marriage proposal, even though she's not in love with him.

The day after she becomes engaged, Janie meets a charming but unambitious garage mechanic named Harry (Burgess Meredith), who makes sparks with Janie after they kiss, but Janie writes him off because she learns he's not rich and has no desire to get rich. Through Harry's introduction, Janie then meets Dick (Alan Marshal), a wealthy playboy who talks Janie into flying with him to Chicago. Janie also gets proposals from Dick and Harry and is apparently in no mood to narrow the proposals down to one fiancee.

Rogers was fresh off her surprise Oscar win for Best Actress for Kitty Foyle and chose this witty adult story by Paul Jarrico, which earned him an Oscar nomination. Despite a central character who is sometimes kind of annoying, we want to slap her and tell her to wake up, but we don't because of Rogers' rich performance in the starring role, sporting the same unflattering hair color she did in Kitty Foyle. The initial fun in the story, including the three elaborate fantasy sequences, which are mounted as dreams of Janie picturing life with Tom, Dick, and Harry, is provided a more adult layer when Harry decides to check out Dick and ends up tricking Dick into driving him and Janie on a date.

It's immediately obvious which guy Janie should be with, but the journey to that reveal is a lot more fun than you might think. Rogers is superb, as always, but the unexpected delight here was Burgess Meredith, an actor never known as a romantic leading man, but nailing it, a funny and charming performance that almost has him stealing Rogers' thunder. Aided by first rate production values, Rogers and Meredith make this worth a look. The film was remade in 1957 as the final project of the studio that made this film, RKO. The film was a remade as a musical with Jane Powell in the starring role and was called The girl Most Likely, but I think the original is a little superior thanks to a slightly darker edge to the screenplay.

Love Hard
Despite a somewhat formulaic screenplay, Netflix has brought us a relatively entertaining romantic comedy called Love Hard, which looks at navigating love's choppy waters through social media. It's about as predictable as they come, but the characters are so likable that we want to stick it out and make sure it comes out the way it's supposed to.

This 2021 comedy is centered around Natalie Bauer, a romantically-challenged writer whose disastrous love life has become her bread and butter. Through a dating app, Natalie begins an online romance with a guy named Josh, who lives in Lake Placid, NY. Natalie is so convinced that Josh might be "the one", that she impulsively decides to fly to Lake Placid to meet Josh. Upon her arrival, Natalie learns that she has been catfished as Josh has been sending her pictures of his BFF Tag. Josh feels so guilty that he agrees to get Natalie together with Tag if Natalie will pretend to be his girlfriend for Christmas with his family and stage a breakup after Christmas so she can be with Tag.

The screenplay by Daniel Mackey and Rebecca Ewing is rampantly predictable but does have a certain charm to it, thanks to some very likable characters at the center of the story and we want to see everyone get what they want. But once Natalie meets Tag and Josh's older brother, Owen, we realize there is a light at the end of the cinematic tunnel.

The opening scenes establishing Natalie's love life up to this point are overly cute, but once Natalie gets to Lake Placid, the story definitely perks up. Loved Josh and Natalie's take on "Baby, it's Cold Outside" and the scene at the nursing home where Josh and Natalie have been brought to offer advice about online dating.

Director Hernan Jiminez shows some skill behind the camera and works wonders with a "B" movie cast. Nina Dobrev, an actress known primarily for her work in television, works very hard to make us fall in love with Natalie and she succeeds for the most part. Jimmy O. Lang does a real movie star turn as Josh though, as does Harry Shum Jr as his brother Owen and James Saito as Josh's dad. It's not exactly When Harry Met Sally, but there is some fun to be had here. And I LOVED the terribly predictable climax.

I Love You to Death (1990)
Incredibly, based on a true story, 1990's I Love You to Death is a deliciously over the top black comedy that provides pretty consistent laughs and was also the third of five collaborations between actor Kevin Kline and director Lawrence Kasdan,

Kline plays Joey, the owner of a pizza parlor who runs the business with his wife Rosalie (Tracey Ullmann) and a sensitive young busboy named Devo (the late River Phoenix). Joey loves his wife and two kids, but he is also a serial womanizer who thinks its his privilege as a man to cheat. Rosalie has always been in denial about it, but when she does finally catch him in the act, she won't divorce him because she's catholic, so she sees the only logical solution is Joey's death.

John Kostmayer's screenplay is rich with ethnic atmosphere, but it's also a little simplistic in the mounting of the story. Setting up Joey's character is done to such great effect that once it's revealed who Joey really is, we really like him and really don't want to see harm come to him. On the other hand, it was a little hard to swallow that after everything that happens to Joey in the movie that he's still alive. The story also provides a redemption for Joey's character that seems convenient and comes out of nowhere.

Once again, Kasdan shows his gift for dealing with ensemble casts (The Big Chill, Silverado, Grand Canyon) and gets winning performances from his hand-picked cast. Fresh off his Oscar-winning performance in A Fish Called Wanda, Kevin Kline lights up the screen as Joey, making us like a character who really doesn't deserve it. Tracey Ullman is vividly real as those few moments right after she catches Joey cheating. Also loved Joan Plowright as Rosalie's mother and River Phoenix was all kinds of adorable as Devo. William Hurt and Keanu Reeves also made their screentime count as a pair stoned would-be hitmen. Not Kasdan's strongest work, but maybe his most underrated.

Actress Rebecca Hall makes a competent directorial debut with a 2021 Netflix drama called Passing, a dry and slightly pretentious look at racial tension on a fresh canvas, from an unusual source, but the performances are impeccable.

Hall also wrote the screenplay for this drama that takes place during the roaring 20's, focusing on the reunion between two female, light-skinned black women. Irene is married with two kids and lives in Harlem. Clare lives in Manhattan with her white husband and son. We also learn that not only is Clare married to a white man, but that she is passing...she is pretending to be white, even though her husband is a card-carrying bigot who comes right out and says he hates Negroes (though that's not the word he uses).

Looking at this film as nothing more than a piece of filmmaking, there is a lot to admire here...Hall's cinematic eye is undeniably sharp, creating striking cinematic images that stay with the viewer, made even more impressive by the stunning, Oscar-worthy, black and white cinematography, aiding in the visual feast this film is, but still found myself curiously unmoved by Hall's story, which just might not have been a good fit for her.

Race relations in the roaring 20's were in an odd place...slavery was over, but the "N" word was prominent and black people were still being lynched. To mount a story involving someone passing, might have been something a little above Hall's pay grade. I never bought Clare looking light enough to pass and Irene was not light enough to be mistaken for white, which took all the legitimacy out of the story. The first time Clare's husband meets Irene, I didn't buy that that he didn't know Irene was black and didn't throw her out of his house.
And then we're supposed to buy Clare being attracted to Irene's husband? There's a whole lot of dramatic license required by the viewer to really make this fly.

Hall is to be commended for her ambition here, but it slightly overwhelms her skill in presenting a story that maybe should have been left to another writer/director. She knows how to work with actors though. Tessa Thompson (Creed)is poised and eloquent as Irene and Oscar nominee Ruth Negga (Loving) makes an enchanting and tragic Clare. The ladies receive solid support from Andre Holland, who played adult Kevin in 2016's Best Picture Moonlight as Irene's husband and the always reliable alexander Skarsgaard as Clare's husband. Hall gets an "A" for effort though.

Pee Wee's Big Adventure
Tim Burton makes an impressive feature length directorial debut with the now minor classic Pee Wee's Big Adventure, a splashy, big-budget rendering of a relatively simple story blown up to gigantic proportions with a silly but extremely likable hero at the center of it, who became so popular the actor pretty much created an entire career out of it.

This 1985 comic romp stars Paul Reubens as Pee Wee, a geeky man/child whose prize possession, his big red shiny bike, is stolen by his rich nemesis, Francis, but Francis fools Pee Wee into thinking he had nothing to do with it. After seeking help from police and friends, Pee Wee seeks help from a phony fortune teller, who tells Pee Wee that his bike is in the basement at the Alamo, so Pee Wee is off to Texas to get his bike back.

Reubens, the late Phil Hartman, and Michael Varhol collaborated on this very funny screenplay that actually starts out as almost a character study, a study of what is probably the closest thing I have seen to a live action rendering of a cartoon character, brought vividly to life onto a Disney-type canvas, spending an inordinate amount of time talking to inanimate objects and living in his own world, suddenly forced into the real world by the disappearance of his beloved bike.

Burton, who would go on to rack up an impressive resume including the 1989 Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, and Ed Wood, goes to exhaustive lengths here to make sure he has mounted a story that provides action and laughs and shows no interest in logic or realism. If you're interested in a story that makes sense, you've got the wrong movie. This reviewer was especially entertained by Pee Wee's encounter with an escaped convict named Mickey, his close encounter with a lonely waitress named Simone, and, of course, his classic dance in a biker bar to "Tequila." And just when you think the chase through the Hollywood movie studio is enough, the 4th wall comes completely down and we learn that Pee Wee's story has the caught the eye of a movie producer (Tony Bill) who wants to turn it into a movie.

Reubens created one of cinema's most likable characters here. He became so popular he not only did two more movies, two television series, which earned him three Emmy nominations and a Broadway musical in 2011. Reubens terrific supporting cast includes Judd Omen as Mickey. You might remember Omen as one of the bank robbers who kidnaps Chevy Chase in Seems Like Old Time. Diane Salinger is fun as Simone as is Mark Holton as the obnoxious Francis. A few other familiar faces pop up along the way including Elizabeth Daily as Dottie, Marcia Lewis as the ghost of a cab driver, James Brolin as movie Pee Wee, Morgan Fairchild as movie Dottie, and the late Jan Hooks as a perky Alamo tour guide. Though it's Burton's imaginative mounting of this story and Reuben's creation of this one of a kind movie character that keep the viewer invested and entertained.

Michael Che: Shame the Devil
SNL's Michael Che picks up the mike for the first time in six years with 2021's Michael Che: Shame the Devil, which felt more in touch with the what's going on in the world than his last special, but wasn't nearly as funny.

Che's last special, Michael Che Matters, felt dated because it was filmed before the pandemic, but after watching this special, I realize that wasn't the problem with that special, because this special was done this year, in front of a fully vaccinated and masked audience, but it wasn't nearly funny. Though I have to admit when Che explained why he doesn't trust the effectiveness of the vaccine, I fell off my chair laughing in total agreement and though it was the funniest thing he said in this show.

This special was shot in Oakland, California and Che makes a big point out of letting this audience know that Oakland is one of the most unique cities in the country and that he really wanted to do this special in Oakland for some reason, though that reason is never really brought into light. After admitting to pandering to his audience, he then goes into this diatribe about San Francisco, that I really didn't understand, but this audience found absolutely hysterical.

Even though the material broached here felt more contemporary, Che's heart didn't really seem to be in it. After his cheer-inducing remarks about the vaccine, he did go into a bit about the connection, or lack thereof, between blacks and American patriotism. I cracked up when he said if Black Americans had their own flag, it would only have about 11 stars. His talk about the lack of strong black leadership just felt like more pandering, as did his sharing what it would be like if men had periods instead of women.

One piece that I did find surprisingly refreshing was when he talked about the state of blacks and the area of mental health and how far the race has come being judged fairly regarding mental health. This was one of those topics that until I heard a comic actually verbalize it, that I realized he was absolutely correct and this was easily the strongest part of the concert..."two slaves are standing in the cottonfield and one says to the other 'you look down man'". Che backslides a little in his attempt to become the next Dave Chappelle, but there are laughs to be found here.

Pinocchio (1940)
Disney had one of his biggest hits with the 1940 morality tale Pinocchio, a colorful and splashy animated adventure that actually contains underlying themes like a lot of the early Disney classics, but the intended demographic was oblivious to any of these themes.

Gepetto is a wood carver who lives with a cat and a fish and can make anything out of wood...clocks, dolls, toys, and is presently in the middle of making a marionette called Pinocchio. Gepetto finishes Pinocchio and goes to bed, making a wish that the puppet was a real boy. Right on cue, the Blue Fairy shows up, brings Pinocchio to life, and gives little Jiminy Cricket the job of being Pinocchio's conscience, a job that Jiminy isn't quite up to as Pinocchio finds himself in one jam after another after being brought to life.

As always with the Disney classics, Walt Disney has managed to mount an imaginative fairy tale rich with colorful characters that offers a lot of important messages to children without them realizing it. We are given an important message about the value of education from jump as none of what happens to the title character in this movie would have happened if he had gone straight to school.

Pinocchio's adventures also offers the kids lessons about greed, show business, ego, and best of all, lying. Not only does Pinocchio's nose grow every time he tells the Blue Fairy a lie, but the nose begins growing branches, sprouting blooms, and even a small nest of birds, getting just as elaborate as his lies. The scenes of his attempt at a career on the stage where he is exploited and kept prisoner by Stromboli reminded me of Bytes' exploitation of John Merrick in The Elephant Man.

The movie is colorful and exciting with terrific voice work, especially from Cliff "Ukelele Ike" Edwards, stealing every moment he had onscreen as Jiminy Cricket, especially his rendition of "When You Wish Upon a Star", which won the Oscar for Best Song of 1940. Anyway you slice it, another classic from mad genius Walt Disney. Remade as a live action feature in 2019.

An attempt to offer us something new in the way of holiday movie viewing, we have been rewarded with 2020's Friendsgiving, a pointless and tiresome holiday comedy that apparently is supposed to look at the power of friendship, but essentially offers sporadic laughs regarding California lifestyle and the ever fluid and ever changing rules regarding sexuality.

Malin Ackerman plays Molly, an actress and divorced single mother who has planned to spend a quiet Thanksgiving with her ex-girlfriend Abby (Kat Dennings), but those plans go by the wayside as Molly's guest list expands including her current boyfriend Jeff (Jack Donnelly), her ex-husband, Gunnar (Ryan Hansen), her married gal pal Lauren (Aisha Tyler), her husband (Deon Cole); three possible fix-ups for Abby and Molly's sexually uninhibited mother (Jane Seymour).

This comedy is the brainchild of Nicole Paone, whose experience as a writer is limited to documentary short subjects and this film is her debut as a director. Her inexperience as a director is apparent, but the screenplay is a lot more troubling than the direction. The film starts out pretty promisingly with the story of Molly, her new boyfriend, and her old girlfriend, but once all these other characters get thrown into the mix, interest really starts to wane.

The film has Ackerman and Ben Stiller billed as producers and Stiller seems to have gotten his money by providing a role for is wife, Christine Taylor, as a party guest whose jaw is wired shut and we're never told why. There are some funny pokes at New Millenium eating habits as all of the side dishes come out of the oven and have to be labeled "vegan", "organic", or "delicious" , but Tyler's trip on mushrooms and Kat's mushroom-influenced visit from the "Fairy Gaymothers" was where the film began to lose me.

Paone displays the beginnings of a directorial eye here, but she needs to find better material. An "A" list cast might have helped here as well, but I will say that Dennings and Donnelly steal every scene they're in, though their work isn't even enough to complete engage the viewer in this mess of a movie.

Just sort of ran into it accidentally and I like some of the actors in it, but yeah, it was pretty bad.
Yeah, I do that too, watch movies just because a favorite actor is in it.

Caged (1950)
Warner Brother struck gold with a gritty look inside a women's prison called Caged, which works thanks to intense direction, a clever, fact-based screenplay, and some sizzling performances.

The 1950 film stars Eleanor Parker as Marie Allen, a pregnant, 19-year old widow who has been sentenced to 1-15 years for being an accomplice in an armed robbery. She initially finds sympathy from the prison warden Ruth Benton (Agnes Moorhead), but makes an instant enemy out of Evelyn Harper (Hope Emerson), the vicious and menacing prison matron who really runs the place, thanks to arrangements she's made with inmates and protection she receives from big shots on the outside. Marie manages to survive until her first parole hearing. Her parole is denied and Marie slowly begins morphing into a hardened prisoner who learns how to take care of herself.

The screenplay for this film was co-written by Virginia Kellogg and Bernard C Schoenfield, based on a magazine article Kellogg wrote. In order to research her screenplay, Kellogg actually arranged to be placed in a women's prison for the sake of accuracy of her article. She seems to have gotten what she wanted because the atmosphere established in this film is dark and hopeless, a lot more depressing than a lot of films I've seen that take place in men's prisons. I loved the way the inmates referred to life outside the prison as "the freeside." There was actually a scene here involving a woman who swears she didn't belong here that reminded me a lot of a scene in The Shawshank Redemption where the prisoner pretty much met an identical fate.

The most interesting parts of the story were Marie's transition and the cat and mouse between Ruth and Evelyn. Marie is a frightened teenager at the beginning of the film who is heartbroken at the thought of taking off her wedding ring and at the end of the film when she's released, she's throws the ring in the trash. Her first real defiance of Evelyn over a lost kitten seemed kind of silly though...pick your battles, Marie. And even though Ruth is the warden, it seems that Evelyn is the one with the power. When Ruth threatens to fire her, Evelyn laughs in her face.

It should also be mentioned that Evelyn Harper is one of the movie characters featured in The Celluloid Closet, a character who is probably lesbian but is either in denial about it or the script doesn't come right out and say it. Watch that first scene where Evelyn invites Marie into her quarters and offers her all kinds of perks if she's "cooperative".

Eleanor Parker's rich, full-bodied performance as Marie earned her the first of her three Oscar nominations for lead actress and Emerson's Evelyn earned her a richly deserved supporting actress nomination. Agnes Moorhead, in the most sympathetic role I have ever seen her in, is superb as the warden, a performance just as Oscar-worthy as Parker and Emerson's. A very young Ellen Corby also steals every scene she's in as Emma, an inmate for whom prison is a revolving door. John Cromwell's direction is taut and Max Steiner's music is perfection. An underrated drama from the 50's well worth your time.

Juwanna Man
2002's Juwanna Man is a dumb and unbelievably predictable comedy
that worked much better when it was called Tootsie.

Jamal Jefferies is a cocky professional basketball superstar who gets kicked out of the NBA after his on court antics get out of hand. With no other options, he decides to disguise himself as a woman named Juwana Mann and join a woman's pro basketball team called the Carolina Banshees, which, of course, leads to all kinds of complications, primarily his attraction to Michelle, the captain of the team.

Screenwriter Bradley Allen, who also wrote the dreadful Who's Your Caddy? should have just given the screenwriters of Tootsie some kind off onscreen credit for this story. Other than the fact that this film takes place in the world of professional sports instead of the world of daytime television, t6he stories are pretty much identical. Michelle even has a cheating boyfriend, just like the Dabney Coleman character in Tootsie, who was cheating on Jessica Lange with Geena Davis.

The story stretches credibility to the nth degree as there are too many situations that occur where Jamal should have been caught and the story sheepishly protects the character in order to give us a feature length film. Somehow the guy never has to take a shower with his female teammates and when he has to take physical required by the team, he sneaks out of the office in a giant chicken suit and escapes and it is never addressed. It's just lazy writing, though I did like the scene where Jamal's ruse comes to light, but by then, we've already been through too much stuff that was hard to believe.

The casting of Miguel A Nunez in the title role didn't really help either. This actor has been in the business since the mid 1980's, but mostly as a supporting actor and there's a reason for that, which comes shining through here. Nunez doesn't have the chops to carry a film and, honestly, I suspect the main reason he got this role is because he's tall and looked like a basketball player. Must admit how different this film might have been if somebody like Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, or Chris Tucker had played Jamal.

The supporting cast is nothing special, with the exceptions of Kevin Pollak as Jamal's agent and Tommy Davidson as a rapper named Puff Smokey Smoke who falls hard for Juwanna. In a nutshell, 90 minutes of my life I'll never get back.

Dean Martin: King of Cool
Steve McQueen was always the first star whose image popped into my head when I thought of the Hollywood manifestation of "cool", but I may have to rethink that after watching a funny and compelling documentary called Dean Martin: King of Cool, a riveting look at one of Hollywood's most fascinating and misunderstood icons.

The 2021 documentary lovingly documents Martin's career from his childhood in Steubenville, Ohio, to his tragic death on Christmas day of 1995. As scenes from his life rolled over us, two recurring themes about the man come to the forefront. One, was that this was a guy who no one really knew and that was no accident. We also learn that he was not the party animal many believed he was because of the people he associated with. The director asks half a dozen people a question about Martin that just drew blank expressions from most of them. Only Martin's daughter, Deana, comes up with an answer at the end of the film.

I was delighted when during an early interview, Martin is asked what his biggest show business break was and his reply was Jerry Lewis. We all know the stories, but this documentary reminds us that there was just as many good times as bad, including their 1976 reunion at Jerry's MDA telethon.

Also pleased to learn that a lot of Martin's image as a hard-drinking party animal was just image that was made to look all the more convincing because of his time with the Rat Pack. Sinatra did not lead the guy around by the nose and was often left to party by himself while Dean went home and went to bed. There is a terrific story shared by Bob Newhart, who appeared 24 times on Martin's NBC variety show, about a party at Martin's house where he found Martin in his bedroom watching The Andy Griffith Show.

Commentary is offered along the way by Alec Baldwin, Jon Hamm, Peter Bogdanovich, Carol Burnett, Angie Dickinson, Florence Henderson, Lainie Kazan, Oscar winner Barry Levinson, Emmy winner George Schlatter, Tony winner Tommy Tune, who was the assistant choreographer on Martin's NBC variety show and two rarely scene Hollywood offspring: Todd Fisher, the son of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, and Billy Hinsche, childhood pal of Dino Martin Jr, who was the "Billy" in a short lived musical act called Dino, Desi, and Billy. In terms of presentation, this documentary is definitely "no frills" but the subject is so fascinating you just don't care.

ᗢWanda Maximoff-Scarlet WitchᗢElizabeth Olesnᗢ
Pinocchio (1940)
Disney had one of his biggest hits with the 1940 morality tale Pinocchio, a colorful and splashy animated adventure that actually contains underlying themes like a lot of the early Disney classics, but the intended demographic was oblivious to any of these themes.

Gepetto is a wood carver who lives with a cat and a fish and can make anything out of wood...clocks, dolls, toys, and is presently in the middle of making a marionette called Pinocchio. Gepetto finishes Pinocchio and goes to bed, making a wish that the puppet was a real boy. Right on cue, the Blue Fairy shows up, brings Pinocchio to life, and gives little Jiminy Cricket the job of being Pinocchio's conscience, a job that Jiminy isn't quite up to as Pinocchio finds himself in one jam after another after being brought to life.

As always with the Disney classics, Walt Disney has managed to mount an imaginative fairy tale rich with colorful characters that offers a lot of important messages to children without them realizing it. We are given an important message about the value of education from jump as none of what happens to the title character in this movie would have happened if he had gone straight to school.

Pinocchio's adventures also offers the kids lessons about greed, show business, ego, and best of all, lying. Not only does Pinocchio's nose grow every time he tells the Blue Fairy a lie, but the nose begins growing branches, sprouting blooms, and even a small nest of birds, getting just as elaborate as his lies. The scenes of his attempt at a career on the stage where he is exploited and kept prisoner by Stromboli reminded me of Bytes' exploitation of John Merrick in The Elephant Man.

The movie is colorful and exciting with terrific voice work, especially from Cliff "Ukelele Ike" Edwards, stealing every moment he had onscreen as Jiminy Cricket, especially his rendition of "When You Wish Upon a Star", which won the Oscar for Best Song of 1940. Anyway you slice it, another classic from mad genius Walt Disney. Remade as a live action feature in 2019.
one of the amazing disney classics
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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
The recent passing of legendary Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim motivated my first viewing of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the manic and fast-paced 1966 film version of the Broadway musical that was Sondheim's first work as both composer and lyricist.

Zero Mostel was allowed to recreate his Broadway role as Pseudolus, a lazy, but fast thinking slave in ancient Rome who longs for nothing more than being freed of slavery. His young master, Hero, agrees to grant Pseudolus his freedom if he can procure a young courtesan named Philia as his bride. Unfortunately, Pseudolus' mission is complicated by the other houses of their neighborhood, including the house where the courtesans live.

The musical upon which this film was based opened on Broadway in 1964 and ran for over 900 performances, so it was no surprise that a film version was rushed to the screen, but this screen version is but a shell of the original musical, which I have seen and am in possession of the Broadway soundtrack. Sondheim's score has been severely tampered with here, deleting eight songs from the original score, though we still have "Comedy Tonight", "Lovely", "Bring Me My Bride" and the show stopping "Everybody Ought to Have e Maid". There are about four songs from the original score that this reviewer sorely missed because they help to flesh out some of the characters, especially a number Pseudolus has called "Free." Ironically, the film received its only Oscar for Best Music Scoring.

A few years after his triumph directing A Hard Day's Night, Richard Lester does manage to bring the same over the top pacing to this sometimes confusing story, where it's often hard to tell the difference between the slaves and masters. Fortunately, with the aid of film editor and future director Nicholas Roeg, Lester has provided us with enough chariot races, half-naked chorus girls, comic icons in drag and soldiers who can't tell they're men that we almost forgive the confusion. LOVED the "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid" number...a brilliant collaboration between choreographer, editor, and director. On the the other hand, I wish a little more care had been taken in the dubbing of Milos Gloriosus' singing voice, not to mention the fact the stuntman who subs for Mostel in the final chase scene is about 100 pounds lighter than Mostel.

On the positive, Mostel lights up the screen as Pseudolus. This guy was no singer, but few actors know how to sell a song like Mostel. Phil Silvers and Jack Gilford are hysterical as Lycus and Hysterium and Michael Crawford brings the same goofiness to Hero that he did to Cornelius Hackl a few years later in Hello Dolly! This movie also features the final film appearance of silent screen legend Buster Keaton, a sad swan song in a thankless role. There is entertainment here, but this reviewer wouldn't mind seeing this musical mounted with the full score.

Last Night in Soho
The creative force behind Shaun of the Dead scores with an unrelenting cinematic nightmare called Last Night in Soho that effectively blends mystery and violence for about two thirds of the running time, when a lot of the questions posed are answered all at once, leading to a somewhat convenient ending, but we want to see how it plays out anyway.

The 2021 film is about a young woman named Ellie who moves to London to attend a fashion design school. When she finds herself unhappy at the dorm, Ellie decides to move into a boarding house and one night goes to bed and finds herself transported back in time to 1960's London, a time period that has always fascinated Ellie. She instantly encounters a glamorous nightclub singer and prostitute named Sandie and a cosmic connection to Sandie is implied as Ellie becomes Sandie's reflection. As it might initially appear, a story hinged on the supernatural appears to be something darker yet simpler.

Director and screenwriter Edgar Knight has put a lot of detail and imagination into the mounting of this gothic nightmare that starts off with a quiet simplicity that easily disguises the cinematic explosion coming. The slightly overdetailed exposition which finds outsider Ellie dealing with a kind of Mean Girls/Carrie situation, finding her an outsider at fashion school and we're actually happy that she has possibly time traveled and just as we've accept this premise, we are brought back to the present to show that this story is not the complete fantasy we initially think it is.

Wright does a splendid job of reproducing all aspects of 1960's London, which is the primary canvas for this story. I love the first shot of 1960's London which finds Ellie stepping out of what appears to be a giant theater marquee advertising the James Bond film Thunderball. Wright also utilizes 1960's music as an important tool in establishing mood and advancing story with original recordings and covers of 60's classics like Petula Clark's "Downtown" and Dionne Warwick's "Anyone who had a Heart."

The answers all come flooding out at the beginning of the final third, right before this reviewer figured out what was going on. Wright established an interesting cast to realize his nightmare. Thomasin McKenzie brings a real Jennifer Jason Leigh quality to Ellie and Anya Taylor-Joy, Golden Globe winner for The Queen's Gambit is hauntingly ethereal as Sandie. And to give it authentic 60's cinematic flavor, 60's actors Terrence Stamp and the long absent from the screen Rita Tushingham appear in supporting roles, as does, in her final feature film appearance, Dame Diana Rigg, nearly unrecognizable in a dazzling performance as Mrs. Collins. It takes a minute to get going and wraps up a little too quickly, but this reviewer was riveted to the screen.