Gideon58's Reviews

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Can't Hardly Wait
1998's Can't Hardly Wait is a semi-raunchy, sporadically funny teen comedy that borrows inspiration from teen comedies of the past and provided inspiration for teen comedies of the future, but ultimately is an uneven movie experience.

The canvas for this comedy is a graduation party where several separate stories unfold. The primary one being the breakup between star jock Mike (Peter Facinelli) and girlfriend Amanda (Jennifer Love Hewitt), who has been the secret object of lust for Preston Meyers (Ethan Embry). Nerdy William Lichter (Charlie Korsmo) has an elaborate plan of revenge against Mike, who shamed him in front of the entire student body; and a ditzy girl (Melissa Joan Hart) who seems to have come to the party for the sole purpose of having everyone sign her yearbook.

Co-directors and screenwriters Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan have affectionately captured different kinds of teen angst but the society of cliques that make up every high school and provided a teenage soap opera that often substitutes raunch for genuine comedy. A lot of scenes go on a lot longer than they should, stretching credibility to the nth degree. The story of Mike and Amanda is hard to stay with because Amanda comes off as an icy bitch; the deconstruction of William's revenge plan against Mike reminds me of Farmer Ted in Sixteen Candles and about halfway through the film, we just want to strangle yearbook girl. The only story that sustained interest for this reviewer was when a brainy but vivacious girl named Denise (Lauren Ambrose) gets locked in a bathroom with her childhood BFF (Seth Green),, who seems to think he's black.

The film starts off strong setting up the varied relationships, but the individual stories become less and less interesting as the film progresses. There's a whole lot of attention paid to Amanda's arrival at the party, where the party guests part like the Red Sea and the camera zooms in on her while a wind machine gently blows her hair. This scene is perfectly recreated in the teen movie satire Not Another Teen Movie. And William's transition from nerd to rock idol because he lip syncs to a song is hard to swallow and goes on way too long.

A lot of familiar faces pop up along the way here including Jaime Pressly, Sean Patrick Thomas, Freddy Rodriguez, Jenna Elfmann, Donald Faison, Breckin Meyer, and Chris Owen, who found screen immortality the following year playing the Sherminator in American Pie, but this is passable entertainment, not much more.

Bill Nighy's Oscar-nominated performance is the centerpiece of a melancholy character study called Living that had this reviewer riveted to the screen.

It's England in the early 1950's where we meet Mr. Williams, a long time government employee who instills an unspoken fear in his employees and seems to be just an inconvenience to his son and daughter-in-law. Everything changes for Mr. Williams when he learns he has a terminal illness and decides to take time away from the job to try and enjoy the time he has left, even though he is clueless as to how.

The crisp and concise screenplay doesn't waste a lot of time with exposition. We learn about Mr. Williams through his employees on their daily train ride and from his heartless family. So we're not terribly surprised when the only two people he tells about his illness during the story are a stranger and a lovely young former employee named Miss Harris, who isn't ready to handle this. Also loved the turn the final third of the film takes revealing Mr. Williams to be a different person than we're initially led to believe.

Nighy, who pretty much stole Love Actually from its impressive all-star cast, lights up the screen here in a powerhouse performance where, like Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prade and Christian Bale in Vice, barely speaks above a stage whisper. Especially loved the scenes where he sang in the bar and when he asked Miss Harris to have a drink with him because he didn't want to go home.

Nighy's superb performance earned him an Oscar nomination for Outstanding Leading Actor as well as a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Big shout out to Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch's lush music score, which reminded me of some of Max Steiner's best work. A very special motion picture experience.

State Fair (1962)
1962's State Fair is the third film version of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that doesn't really bring anything new to the story, but there are a couple of performances, including one by a former 20th Century Fox movie queen, that make it worth a look.

The musical focuses on the Frake family, a close-knit farm family who reside in the fictional town of Banning Texas, who are excitedly preparing to travel to the annual State Fair in Dallas. Dad Abel is preparing to entering his favorite hog, Blueboy in the boar contest and his wife, Melissa is looking forward to the mincemeat contest with her new receipe, which includes a generous helping of alcohol. Son Wayne is planning to enter the stock car race and dreamy-eyed daughter Margy is looking for a new romance, bored with her current one. Wayne manages to find romance as well wth a sexy showgirl named Emily, who might have a questionable past.

This is typical musical comedy fare, held together by one of Rodgers and Hammerstien's most melodious scores. but if the truth be told. the film grinds to a screeching halt whenever the music stops because the dialogue is riddled with cliches and the plot is about as predictable as they come, but that can be excused to an extent because it's a musical. The funniest scene in the film occurs when the judges of the mincemeat contest get drunk on Melissa's concoction. Viewer patience is really tested though when Abel sings a love song to his hog, though Melissa's wisecracking about Abel loving the hog more than her never get old.

The score includes "It's a Grand Night for Singing", "That's for Me", "Isn't it Kinda Fun", and "It Might as Well be Spring", which won the Best Song Oscar for the 1945 version of the film. "Never Say No", "More than Just a Friend", and "Willing and Eager" were written by Richard Rodgers especially for this film.

Fox did put some money into this production, making it fun to look at, but it doesn't make the story anymore interesting, and the one note performances of Pamela Tiffin as Margy, Pat Boone as Wayne, and Bobby Darin as Jerry don't help. However, I really enjoyed Ann-Margret, impressive in only her 2nd film appearance as the flashy showgirl Emily and in her final film appearance, the legendary Alice Faye, who steals every scene she's in as Melissa Frake. Wally Cox is also very funny in a cameo as the drunken mincemeat judge, but truthfully, the 1945 verison with Jeanne Crain and Dana Andrews was better.

80 for Brady
Despite a serious shot of star power going for it, 80 for Brady is a corny, predictable, and dreadfully unfunny comedy that produced surprisngly few laughs for this reviewer.

The 2023 film stars Jane Fonda, Sally Field, Rita Moreno, and Lily Tomlin as four female senior citizen BFF's who are serious fans of the New England Patriots in general and of Tom Brady in particular whose dream is realized when they win tickets to Super Bowl LI where the Patriots faced the Atlanta Falcons.

Can't recall the last time such high expectations for a film were so quickly dashed. The screenplay by Sarah Haskins and Emily Halpern comes off as an extended episode of The Golden Girls with these four women finding themselves in one silly situation after another from the moment they win these tickets. The ladies initially come off as likable but the attempt to flesh out the characters by giving them individual backstories that have nothing to do with Tom Brady just make the overly cute and overlong journey to the conclusion a very labored and wasn't nearly as funny as everyone involved seemed to think it was. An hour and 40 minute movie seemed five hours long.

The ladies' adventure at The NFL Experience went on way too long, especially the spicy buffalo wing eating contest in which Field participates. Credibility is stretched throughout the film as these women somehow manage to get into a lot of pre-Super Bowl parties and events that shouldn't have been so easy for them. The scene where three of the ladies eat marijuana gummie bears proved that the writers don't know anything about the effects of marijuana and worst of all, the implied cosmic connection between Brady and Tomlin's character, which reminded me of Steve Martin talking to the highway billboard in LA Story. And when Tomlin's character actually gets to give Brady a halftime pep talk, that was check out time for this reviewer.

The four stars work very hard to make this viable entertainment, but they deserve better than this. Serious star gazers will notice appearances from Billy Porter, Rob Corrdry, Harry Hamlin, Patton Oswalt, Glynn Turman, Alex Moffat, Sara Gilbert, Andy Richter, Sally Kirkland and Guy Fieri. If the truth be told, the only laughs for this reviewer came from Bob Balaban in a hysterical turn as Field's husband, who is completely dependent on her and lost when she heads to the superbowl. Only the star power keeps this film from a lower rating. Tom Brady is billed as the producer of mess.

Three Coins in the Fountain
A 1954 Best Picture nominee, Three Coins in the Fountain is a sumptuously mounted romantic melodrama that bears more than a passing resemblance to the previous year's How to Marry a Millionaire, both guided by the same director.

This is the story of three American secretaries who are working at a large publishing firm in Rome, Italy and their individual searches for romance. Miss Frances (Dorothy McGuire) has been in the eternal city for the past 15 years working for a famous novelist (Clifton Webb) who she has been harboring a secret crush on; Anita (Jean Peters) works at the firm and has announced she's returning to America to get married, but she is really in love with the firm's translator (Rossano Brazzi); Maria (Maggie McNamara) is newly arrived in Rome but falls instantly in love with a wealthy prince (Louis Jourdan).

On the surface, the film might appear to be a rehash of How to Marry a Millionaire, but this story is told with a much more sincere and straighter face than the 1953 comedy. In that film, Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe, and Betty Grable have given themselves a one year time limit to land millionaire husbands. This film is purely about love and romance. Only one of the three men in this story is truly wealthy and even to the girl pursuing him, it appears her attraction to him has very little to do with money. Anita's romance gets her man fired but it doesn't stop her from loving him and Miss Frances spends most of the film hiding her feelings for Webb's character.

The film also benefits from gorgeous Rome scenery making the film look like a stack of picture postcards. As a matter of fact the film won the Oscar that year for color cinematography. The adult screenplay about the pursuit of love instead of the pursuit of material things like the girls in Millionaire is also a big plus, but director Jean Negulesco manages to take the romance that bubbled underneath the surface in Millionaire and allows it to lovingly be brought to the forefront here.

Gorgeous costumes for the ladies and Victor Young's music, including the Oscar-winning title tune, sung over the opening credits by Frank Sinatra are icing on this cinematic cake. McGuire and Peters are lovely and Clifton Webb offers another of his wonderfully understated performances as the writer. Lovers of classic melodrama will be in heaven here. Remade as The Pleasure Seekers.

White Noise (2022)
Director/Screenwriter Noah Baumbach has reunited the stars of his 2012 film Frances Ha for a cinematic acid trip called White Noise that claims an underlying theme but all this reviewer saw was over half a dozen different stories being introduced and waiting for a connection between them that never materialized.

Adam Driver stars as Jack, a college professor who teaches Nazism and leads a rather harried existence with his wife, Babette (Greta Gerwig) and the varied children they have produced during the course of both of their four marriages, The children seem to be living in a constant state of terror and paranoia about absolutely everything and seem obsessed with trying to scare their parents to death. A supposed connection is then revealed through Jack's Hitler studies and an accident between a truck and a train which causes a toxic accident resulting in the evacuation of the entire town.

And this is just the beginning of this impossible story that starts off as typical Baumbach fare, a filmmaker who has rarely gone the commercial route in his storytelling and this film is no exception. The film opens with a fellow professor of Jack's named Murray (Don Cheadle) teaching a class about cinematic car crashes which segues into Jack's Hitler class and then a dual lecture where Jack is talking about Hitler and Murray is talking about Elvis, which leads to the toxic accident and an evacuation, which seems to connect to the alleged underlying theme of this story, which seems to be the fear of death.

But just when we think Jack and his family are going to meet their greatest fear during this toxic accident, it ends as abruptly as it started and all of a sudden things seem to be back to normal. Then the story suddenly shifts to Babette's addiction to an unknown drug, which leads to alleged adultery, attempted murder and a visit to a church turned into an emergency room staffed by nuns who speak German. By this time, I was just trying to keep my eyes open.

Baumbach's direction is striking, filling the screen with some unforgettable imagery, but the connection that we keep waiting for with these separate stories never comes. Driver is terrific as is Sam Nivola as his son, Heinrich. Nivola is the son of actor Allesandro Nivola, best known for playing Castor Troy in Face/Off, but this is easily the nadir of Baumbach's career and two hours and sixteen minutes of my life I'll never get back. And a gold star to anyone who can explain what goes on during the closing credits.

Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?
Doris Day was one of the biggest box office attractions of the 1950's, but her star began a serious decline in the 1960's thanks to some really inferior films like the 1968 alleged comedy Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?, a dreadfully unfunny film that has a fictional story centered around a non-fictional event.

Back in 1965, New York City suffered a blackout at exactly 5:27 PM that lasted approximately 12 hours. In this film, hours before the blackout, we meet Maggie Garrison (Day), a Broadway actress who catches her philandering husband, Peter (Patrick O'Neal) in a compromising position with a reporter with whom she had just done an interview. A furious Maggie fights her way through the blackout and manages to travel to her country home in Connecticut. She takes some sleep medication and passes out while Peter is enroute to the house to explain his behavior.

Meanwhile, a hotshot young executive named Waldo Zane (Robert Morse) has just been passed over for a promotion and retaliates by embezzling two million dollars from the company. He buys a car from a stranded motorist for $2200 and heads for Boston, but the car breaks down in front of Maggie's house and also takes the same medication that finds Waldo and Maggie passed out together on the same sofa.

It's mind blowing that it actually took three writers to come up with this juvenile screenplay where a fictional story is set against non-fictional events, almost always disastrous for a film. Logic and continuity just go out the window in favor of this slightly smarmy story that attempts to capitalize Day's screen persona...the play that Maggie is appearing in is called THE CONSTANT VIRGIN and the script even borrows Oscar Levant's famous line about knowing Doris before she was a virgin.

There's so much stuff that probably went unnoticed in 1968 that looks pretty stupid today. It's hard to believe that both Maggie and Waldo would fall asleep on the same sofa, falling all over each other and never realize they were sharing a sofa. The only laugh out loud moment for me was when we saw thousands of stranded commuters in Grand Central Station all holding lit candles and the minute the lights come back on, all of the candles have conveniently vanished.

Doris tries hard to make this story work, but she's really miscast here, doing a lot of silly slapstick that was more suited to Lucille Ball. It's no surprise that Day would only appear in one more film after this one before forsaking Hollywood until her death in 2019. Robert Morse is a lot of fun as Waldo, a darker variation on J Pierpont Finch. Terry-Thomas struggles with a thankless role as Maggie's director, who is allegedly Russian but the actor speaks with the same British accent he always did. Even hardcore Day fans will find getting through this a struggle, despite the very economic running time.

Bones and All
The question of whether or not destiny can be controlled and/or altered seems to be the underlying theme of 2022's Bones and All, a disturbing and chilling blend of horror and romance that, despite a dangling plot point here and there, had this reviewer riveted to the screen for this unapologetic acid trip, directed by the director of 2017 Best Picture nominee Call Me By Your Name.

The film introduces us to Maren, a troubled young teenager who has been living on the periphery of polite society thanks to a personal and horrifying destiny that her family tried to hide from her, eventually sending her on a journey to learn what happened to her and if she has any power over it, guided by an old man named Sully and a sexy and charismatic drifter named Lee, whose similar destinies find them in a battle for Maren's soul.

The screenplay for this seemingly unique film experience actually seems to be rooted in Stephen King films like The Shining and Doctor Sleep that offer a central character completely conflicted about a destiny that part of them seems to enjoy and part of them really wants to embrace, but still forces them into a self-imposed exile that eventually becomes too confining. We're distressed as the initial impression that her parents tried to protect Maren from who she is is quashed about halfway through the film. Her initial encounter with Sully, though disturbing, is on the money. However, her seemingly coincidental meeting of Lee, who has seemingly embraced his destiny, does raise questions for her, but her questions are clouded thanks to the beginning of the very unconventional romance that develops between them.

Director Luca Guadagnino employs endless imagination in creating this uncomfortable but balanced mixture of horror and romance, that walks a perfect tightrope between both genres. Every time the viewer begins settling into one genre, the story randomly brings us back to the other genre with no rhyme or reason. The viewer finds himself torn regarding what Lee's influence is going to do to Maren's journey and yet we are drawn to the sexual attraction between the two, which leaps off the screen. As much as want Maren and Lee to be together, they also seem doomed.

The film is rich with just as much bloody and unapologetic violence as it is with sexual tension, providing a cinematic experience that forces complete attention from the viewer. Zendaya-look-alike Taylor Russell is a revelation as Maren and Timothee Chalamet offers a sexy and dangerous performance as Lee that galvanizes the screen. Oscar winner Mark Rylance is also appropriately creepy as Sully. There are small elements of the story that remain unexplained, but this film still rivets the viewer to the screen.

Warrior (2011)
Sports drama and family dysfunction drama blend to spectacular effect in 2011's Warrior, an edgy and often ugly tale of a tattered family attempting to reconnect that will keep the viewer riveted the screen, despite the film's slight overlength.

Paddy Conlon is a former boxing coach who destroyed his family and career thanks to alcoholism and as the film opens, we learn that Paddy is approaching 1000 days sober, but this does not repair the damage his drinking did to his relationship with his two sons. Younger son Tommy Conlon is a war hero who, despite doing his share of heavy drinking, has decided to resume his career in Mixed Martial Arts and has decided to put the past in the past and asks Paddy to train him. Tommy's older brother, Brendon is also a mixed martial artist but because of family obligations, gave up the sport full time to become a teacher, but now, on the verge of losing everything, decides to re-enter the ring as well, with no help from his father. The lives of Paddy and his two sons converge upon a Mixed Martial Arts tournament in Atlantic City, where the winning purse is $5,000,000.

Director and co-screenwriter Gavin O'Connor (The Accountant) has crafted a story that is really multiple stories that eventually intersect and tangle into one often moving and emotionally manipulative story. We have a man trying to repair the damage of his alcoholism to little or no avail. We have a frightened former soldier trying to escape his overseas mistake through a new career and his inflexibility regarding the mistakes of his father and his older brother, who he feels deserted him at a difficult turning point in his life. We also have Brendon, a man who gave up his passion for the realities of survival, but finds himself in an untenable position when his life begins to implode and a return to Mixed Martial Arts seem to be the only viable option.

O'Connor effectively chooses to let his camera tell a lot more of the story than the minimal backstory does. Love the shot of Brendon returning to his house after rejecting his father and the camera is from Brendon's view while the image of Paddy still standing outside by his car gets smaller and smaller. Another thing that O'Connor does to maximum effect, like Ron Howard did in Apollo 13, is that he tries to tell this intimate family story through everyone involved, even on the periphery. The glance at Brendon's former students who followed his athletic career all the way to Atlantic City could have easily been omitted, but O'Connor's inclusion of the story gave it a layer we really don't see coming. And maybe I'm just getting old, but I also never saw Paddy and Brendon facing each other as the final opponents the tournament coming which I won't say anything else about here.

O'Connor gets first rate assistance from his film editing team, who make the fight sequences crackle. He also works wonders with a terrific cast: Frank Grillo underplays nicely as Brendon's trainer, whose enthusiasm about the project changes as it progresses, Joel Edgerton brings real heart to the role of Brendon Conlon, making you feel everything he feels and Nick Nolte's powerhouse Paddy Conlon earned him his third Oscar nomination, this time for Best Supporting Actor. Above all though is Tom Hardy, another actor I am adding to my list of actors being incapable of giving a bad performance, who is nothing short of electrifying as Tommy Conlon, a role he completely disappears inside of with seemingly little effort and bringing a truly tortured movie character to frightening fruition. A commanding motion picture experience that will simultaneously entertain and haunt.

Blue Jean
Films like Philadelphia, The Children's Hour, and Carrie flashed through my head as I watched an edgy and compelling 2022 drama called Blue Jean, a story about how homophobia can destroy lives.

It's 1988 England and apparently Margaret Thatcher was backing a lot of legislation that clearly discriminated against homosexuals and this provides the canvas for this story of a young lesbian gym teacher named Jean, who has been living a quietly closeted life for quite awhile but she fears her life could crumble when one of her 15 year old students spots her in a gay bar.

The AIDS crisis was at its zenith in 1988 and people everywhere were terrified and were convinced that the only solution was to wipe homosexuality from the planet. This seems to be the basis of writer and director Georgia Oakley's story that eventually winds down to how Jean's life is affecting others rather than herself. We see her relationship with girlfriend Viv fall apart because Viv is tired of living in the closet as well as Jean's sister's sudden discomfort with Jean babysitting for her nephew, who innocently tells his mother there was a woman at Aunt Jean's house.

More than anything, this film is about the danger of lies and secrets regarding these matters that can completely devastate people on all sides of the issue. The film broaches the subject of whether or not homosexuality is a choice by informing us halfway through the film that Jean is divorced from a man. The damage of someone being bullied about their sexuality can cause damage as well as we watch the young student, Lois, bullied by her classmates, scenes that reminded me of the opening locker room scenes in Carrie, which eventually lead to an accusation of sexual assault where Jean makes her first truly incorrect in this story and finds there's no turning back.

Oakley has crafted a story that is slightly manipulative, making the viewer really empathize with what Jean is going through, but said empathy is challenged during the final third of the film, but eventually it does come to light that Jean really doesn't deserve what she goes through here. Oakley pulls luminous performances from Rosey McEwen as Jean, Kerry Hayes as Viv, and Lucy Halliday as the troubled Lois. Chris Roe's lush music score perfectly frames this sensitive and disturbing story.

I gave Warrior the same rating. Having said that, I was actually hoping that those two wouldn't be the teo finalists, because, come on. That's kid's show writing for an adult movie.

I gave Warrior the same rating. Having said that, I was actually hoping that those two wouldn't be the teo finalists, because, come on. That's kid's show writing for an adult movie.

I don't know why, but it never occurred to me that they would be facing each other in the finals. I thought one of them would get eliminated early on and be in the corner of the other.

Berserk! (1967)
From the "So bad it's funny" school of filmmaking comes 1968's Berserk!, a cliched and melodramatic attempt at thrills that really doesn't do anything but produce unintentional laughs.

In her second to last feature film appearance, Joan Crawford plays Monica Rivers, the ruthless and icy owner of a second rate traveling circus having financial troubles, who is shocked by what initially appears to be the accidental death of her tightrope walker. The event brings a surge in box office receipts that Monica gladly welcomes and decides to soldier on, but when her business partner is murdered the following night, his death has authorities looking at the tightrope walker's death and it is decided that both deaths were murder and Monica quickly comes into spotlight as the prime suspect.

Monica's troubles are complicated by the appearance of Frank Hawkins, a tightrope walker with a shady past who way too coincidentally shows up to replace the dead guy and eventually decides he wants to be Monica's new business partner. Monica's daughter, Angela, also shows up, freshly kicked out of boarding school, who wants to become part of her mother's circus as way of getting the attention she feels she has never gotten from Mom.

Once again, as with The Greatest Show on Earth and Billy Rose's Jumbo, the circus appears to be a hopelessly dated setting for a soap opera-ish screenplay that is constructed with little imagination or originality. The first half of the movie works so hard at setting up Monica as the killer, that we just know there's no way it could possibly be her. Despite her acting guilty for the first half of the story, her guilt all of a sudden turns to fear as a third murder occurs and people start following her in the shadows.

There's no denying that it is a lot of fun watching the legendary Crawford, 60 years old at time and being allowed to display an incredible pair of legs, chewing up scenery like only she can and almost making this silliness watchable. There is no denying that whenever Crawford is not screen, the film screeches to a dead halt, especially when director Jim O'Connelly hands the screen over to what appear to be real circus acts, including trained poodles, angry lions, and elephants trained to step over terrified looking showgirls. Even more screen time is eaten by a silly musical number called "It Must Be Me" featuring the strong man and the bearded lady.

Crawford does her best to disguise her obvious embarrassment over what she has gotten herself involved in. Ty Hardin's bland performance as Frank doesn't help and he has no chemistry with Crawford. Judy Geeson, who fared much better the same year as Pamela Dare in To Sir with Love, is over the top here as the spoiled brat Angela. Sixties sexpot Diane Dors also provides her share of laughs as the nasty magician's assistant. Even hardcore Crawford fans will have trouble getting through this unintended giggle fest.

A Man Called Otto
Despite the accustomed splendid performance from two time Oscar winner Tom Hanks, the 2022 film A Man Called Otto suffers from an overly detailed screenplay that offers a little more information to the viewer than necessary.

Hanks plays Otto Anderson, a grumpy widower who has never gotten over the death of his wife, Sonya, and has vowed to her and himself that he will join her via suicide (the opening scene finds Otto in a store buying rope with which to hang himself). Much to his chagrin, Otto finds his mission to end his life complicated by a pregnant Latino housewife named Marisol, his guilt about his friend Ruben's Parkinson's disease which has turned him into a vegetable, and a young transgender youth who was a student of Sonya's.

This film's origin is a novel called A Man Called Ove", which was adapted into a 2015 Swedish film. In terms of intentions, this film hits a bullseye, going a lot of the places you expect it go, even though initially it comes off as a rehash of Jack Nicholson's About Schmidt or Woody Harrelson's Wilson, but additional layers are revealed here that take this story to another level than those films. Unfortunately, these layers come out in the form of several flashback sequences that are supposed to legitimize why Otto is the way he is, but they take all the mystery out of the Otto character and take all the work away from the viewer. Imagine if Lawrence Kasdan had stuck to his original concept for The Big Chill and kept in all of Kevin Costner's scenes as Alex? The mystery appeal of Alex as a character would have been quashed and the empathy we're supposed to have for Otto disappears here because the screenplay does all the work, leaving nothing to the imagination or to Tom Hanks. Not to mention that Otto makes four attempts to kill himself during the film and he is interrupted by a knock at his door every time...are we really supposed to believe that Otto didn't see this as some sort of sign?

Director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland; Stranger Than Fiction) offers sensitive guidance to Hanks and the rest of the cast, but this story would have been so much more powerful if the screenwriters and Forster had trusted the story to the Otto character and kept him in the present, where the presentation of his past from his lips would have been so much more powerful than the flashbacks peppered throughout the film, which just made the film longer than it needed to be.

Hanks is always worth watching though and this film is no exception and he gets terrific support from Mariana Trevino, in a star-making performance as Marisol. Thomas Newman's beautifully understated music is also a big plus, I just wish that a little more of what happens in this movie was left to present day Otto and to our imaginations.

All Fall Down
The author of Bus Stop and the director of the original The Manchurian Candidate collaborate on a moody and compelling 1962 melodrama called All Fall Down that works due to a screenplay that doesn't play all its cards at once and a spectacular ensemble cast working at the top of their game

As the film opens, young Clinton Willart (Brandon DeWilde) is observed bailing his no good drifter older brother, Berry-Berry (Warren Beatty) out of jail after he physically assaulted a prostitute. Clinton attempts to reconcile Berry-Berry with their parents: Ralph (Karl Malden) is a sweet-natured but hard drinking soul with a bit of a sexist nature who probably isn't above hitting a woman either and his wife, Annabel (Angela Lansbury) is a domineering, well-intentioned but smothering mother figure whose love for her sons borders on incestuous. Throw into the mix Echo O'Brien (Eva Marie Saint), the slightly trampy daughter of a childhood friend's of Annabell's, who Clinton is seriously crushing on even though he is 16 and she's 30, but when she meets Berry-Berry, all bets with Clinton are off.

William Inge, who had just won an Oscar the previous year for his screenplay for Splendor in the Grass, adapted this screenplay from a novel by James O'Herlihy, that features a lot of surprisingly adult themes for a 60's film that had a real Tennessee Williams feel to it. Especially the younger man/older woman dynamic between Beatty and Saint. We are introduced to a severely broken family here, but Inge never feels the need to overload the audience with a lot of backstory or flashbacks, but allowing the present to fuel audience imagination about what we missed before the movie started. There are a couple of starts in the story that never finish like when Berry-Berry gets picked up in an early scene by a lonely wealthy housewife (Constance Ford) and we never see her again.

If the truth be told, the main reason I wanted to watch this movie was I wanted to watch something with Angela Lansbury that I hadn't seen and I really got lucky because Lansbury's dazzling performance is the best thing about this movie. She completely dominates the proceedings with this rich performance that galvanizes the screen but she never steals anyone else's thunder either. This was the kind of performance that helped to make Lansbury arguably, the greatest character actress who ever blessed the silver screen.

Warren Beatty's sex-on-legs Berry-Berry, in only his second feature film appearance, is a lot of fun and Eva Marie Saint is a total eye opener as Echo. Have never seen Saint play such a sexually-charged character. Brandon DeWilde also scores as Clinton. Alex North's music perfectly frames this melodrama made completely watchable thanks to the top-notch performances. An over-looked gem from the 1960's.

Despite a spotty screenplay, the 2022 Netflix film Windfall is a claustrophobic hostage drama that initially provides some nervous laughs but remains watchable thanks to a couple of surprise twists during the final act and solid performances from the leading men.

Jason Segel plays a man (billed as "Nobody") who breaks into the vacation home of a tech billionaire and is about to leave with the guy's Rolex and about a thousand dollars when he is interrupted by the cocky CEO (Jesse Plemmons) and his nubile young bride (Lily Collins). The CEO offers to get the guy half a million dollars in exchange for he and his wife's safety but he can't get the money to the house until the morning, forcing the guy to spend the night with his hostages.

Segel actual co-wrote the screenplay with Charlie McDowell (who is married to Lily Collins) and Justin Lader, whose story provides a couple interesting layers revealed almost immediately that actually take this a notch above the average hostage drama. It's revealed almost immediately that this billionaire's marriage is not something based on any kind of grand passion and they have no qualms being honest about that. Nervous laughs are actually initiated as we watch this guy trying to figure out what he's going to do with his hostages because it's plain that this guy is no career criminal; however, we are never told exactly who this guy is or why he's doing this, which kind of made it hard to completely invest in what was going on. The wrinkle of an innocent bystander entering all of this seemed a tad convenience to lead us to a hard to swallow conclusion.

What was also interesting about this story was the way the CEO showed absolutely no fear regarding the situation he and his wife were in and spent the majority of the running time ridiculing this guy and trying to get him to admit exactly why he was doing this. This guy has no moral barometer at all, evidenced in the scene where he has to call his assistant to arrange for the money and we learn that he's having an affair with her.

Despite the problematic story, the film remains watchable thanks to a pair of superb performances by Segal and Oscar nominee Jesse Plemmons (The Power of the Dog). Plemmons is especially impressive, playing such an arrogant and unlikable character, really new territory for him. Lily Collins' lifeless performance is a big demerit though...kept picturing someone like Florence Pugh in this role. With a different leading lady and a more concise screenplay, this could have really been something.

Athena (1954)
One of the lesser offerings from MGM's golden age, 1954's Athena is a pleasant musical diversion that features a pleasant score and some nice comic touches, unfortunately the story was a little overly sophisticated for 1954 movie audiences, not to mention a less than charismatic leading man.

Adam Shaw (Edmond Purdom) is a handsome attorney considering a run for congress who is engaged to be married. He finds his life turned upside down when he meets Athena (Jane Powell), a professional landscaper and numerologist who is the eldest of seven sisters from a family of health and physical fitness nuts. Even though Adam is engaged, Athena informs him that it is in the stars for her and Adam to marry and won't even let his fiancee deter her. Meanwhile, Adam's old army buddy, nightclub singer Johnny Nyle (Vic Damone) falls for Athena's sister, Minerva (Debbie Reynolds), whose destiny with Johnny is also apparently in the stars.

This was another musical from the Joe Pasternak unit at MGM, who built several musicals around Powell. This was the second of three films that Powell and Reynolds made together and the second in which they played sisters. Unfortunately, the story for this musical was probably a little off putting for 50's moviegoers. Its focus on things like numerology, astrology, and bodybuilding, a very strange canvas for a musical. There's an underlying theme here that men with muscles have no brains. It reminded me of the way the Ben Stiller film Zoolander gave the same message regarding male models. As of a matter of fact, unlike most MGM musicals, instead of a big production, ends with a Mr. Universe competition.

The score is pleasant enough, written by Ralph Blaine and Hugh Martin, who wrote the score for Meet Me in St Louis. As a matter of fact, Damone is allowed to reprise a song from that movie, "The Boy Next Door". Also enjoyed "I Never Felt Better", "Vocalize", and "Love Can Change the Stars."

Powell's lyric soprano commands attention, but Purdom, whose speaking voice sounds like Cary Grant, is dull as dishwater as Adam Shaw. Debbie Reynolds is her usual bundle of energy and does manage to create chemistry with Damone. Louis Calhern steals his few scenes as the girls' grandfather and comedy veteran Kathleen Freeman can be glimpsed as Adam's secretary. Real musical buffs might notice that one of the other sisters is played by Virginia Gibson, who appeared as a bride the same year in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. For hardcore Powell fans only.

Mother, Jugs & Speed
The recent passing of movie goddess Raquel Welch motivated my first viewing of 1976's Mother, Jugs and Speed, a raucous and uneven comedy that tries to do for the ambulance business what M*A*S*H did for war.

The canvas for this story is a turf war between two ambulance companies, who are seriously competitive about getting to emergency calls first in order to collect their fee, often at the expense of the victim. At one of the companies, we meet the title characters: Mother (Bill Cosby), the cynical veteran who often doesn't take his job as seriously as he should though he's very good at it; Jugs (Welch) is the dispatcher/switchboard operator who really wants to be an EMT driver; Speed (Harvey Keitel) is a suspended cop waiting out an IA investigation where he's been accused of a drug-related crime.

The screenplay immediately brings to mind the 1970 Robert Altman classic in its attempt to bring humor to what is primarily a very serious subject. It's a little unsettling the way a lot of the ambulance drivers treat what they do with such nonchalance. We observe drivers betting on how many dead bodies they will pick up before midnight, Mother is observed keeping chilled beer in his first aid kit while his co-driver is smoking marijuana. There are some very dated ideas about racism and sexism that become part of the story as well that wouldn't play too favorably in 2023. The story makes jarring and squirm worthy moves from raunchy comedy to serious drama without rhyme or reason, rarely straying from reality, with the possible exception of an early scene of an overweight black woman careening down the street on a runaway gurney.

Director Peter Yates (Bullitt) keeps the movie movie at a nice clip, even giving a serious homage to his famous chase scene in Bullitt, with a well-filmed chase scene where a police unit is chasing a stolen ambulance. Yates brings an almost frightening realism to a couple of scenes involving a junkie who calls an ambulance in order to get drugs and a scene where Jugs has to deliver a baby in an ambulance.

Bill Cosby tries hard, but never really convinces as the ambulance driving Hawkeye Pierce of the piece, but I haven't enjoyed Welch onscreen this much since The Three Musketeers. Welch takes full advantage of the fact that even with the sexist moniker, hers is still the smartest character in the movie. She reminded me of Loni Anderson's character on [i]WKRP in Cincinnatti/I]. Welch shines in that scene where Jugs and Speed have to deliver that baby. Harvey Keitel's ingratiating charm as Speed is unlike anything I've seen him do. Mention should also be made of a scene stealing supporting performance from Larry Hagman as a sex-hungry driver. It's not a home run, but there is entertainment value here.
RIP, Raquel.

Cocaine Bear
From the "Put your brain in check and enjoy" school of filmmaking comes 2023's Cocaine Bear, an uneven combination of squirm-worthy laughs and blood-curdling violence that defies logic at every turn and is the seventh directorial effort of actress Elizabeth Banks.

This allegedly fact-based story opens with a man named Andrew Stanton observed on a plane throwing large bricks of cocaine out of a plane that eventually crashes in Tennessee where Stanton's body is found as is some of the cocaine. However, most of the cocaine lands in a mountain town in Georgia where huge amounts of it is ingested by a female bear, sending her on a killing spree involving a single divorced mom, a pair of hikers, three drug dealers looking for the coke, a veteran cop looking for the dealers, a park ranger and her horny boyfriend, and a trio of dumb teenagers who discover a bunch of the coke and try to steal it for themselves.

Jimmy Warden's screenplay asks us to accept a lot here, especially how cocaine would affect a bear, but it's almost tolerable due to the tongue in cheek style of the screenplay that provides laugh out loud moments with some startling and bloody violence that could cause the viewer to actually turn from the screen. The jarring switches from laughs to blood make for a pretty uneven story that is difficult to completely invest in.

Banks proves to have an imaginative director's eye that defies logic but finds the laughs when she wants and the immediate "boos" when she wants. There are scenes here and there that tempted this reviewer to check out, like when the bear passed out on top of one of the drug dealers or when she actually was chasing an ambulance and leaped into it, but morbid curiosity kept me watching.

Banks makes the most of her indie budget and her "B" movie cast, with standout performances from Margo Martindale as the park ranger, Alden Emmerich as the drug dealer and in the final film appearance before his death, Ray Liotta, to whom the film is dedicated. Fans of films like Eight Legged Freaks and Cujo will have a head start here.

School Ties
Long before he won the Best Actor Oscar for The Whale, Brendan Fraser proved to have some serious acting chops with his performance in a 1992 drama called School Ties, an emotionally charged drama about bigotry that had this reviewer riveted and talking back to the screen.

The year is 1959 where we find Fraser playing David Green, a high school quarterback from a working class family who gets the opportunity to transfer to a fancy New England prep school for his senior year. David finds initial excitement at the school becoming the hero of the football team, making lots of friends and pursuing a new romance, but is seriously conflicted by the fact that he has to hide the fact that he's Jewish.

The screenplay by Dick Wolf and Daryl Poniscan is edgy and unpleasant and would not play well in the present, but because the film is set during the 1950's, everything that happens here is believable, though we're more accustomed to seeing bigotry like this against blacks. The story errs in revealing David's religion at the beginning of the film. There's a scene after David arrives at school where David is observed taking off his shirt, revealing a chain around his neck with a Star of David hanging from it. This would have been a much stronger reveal of who David was, but its power is diluted because we already know. It should also be mentioned that this script made the word "Jew" just as offensive as the "N" word.

It's very easy to forget the bigotry that has occurred over the years for Jews but this film brings it disturbingly and unashamedly to the forefront. The story also manages an effective subplot regarding the pressure that students are under to succeed. Some to attempting suicide or as the final act of the film reveals a student has cheated on an exam, leading to several squirm-worthy scenes that made my blood boil, but never made me want to check out.

Director Robert Mandel has mounted this story on an inviting canvas and gets top-notch performances from his cast of once and future stars. Fraser is crisp and sensitive as David, offering a performance that completely endears us to the character. Matt Damon is equally impressive as the snotty quarterback David replaced and becomes the eventual thorn in his side. Other familiar faces pop up along the way including Ben Affleck, Chris O'Donnell, Ed Lauter, Peter Donat, Cole Hauser, Anthony Rapp, Amy Locane, Randall Batinkoff, and Zeljko Ivanek. It's an occasionally ugly story, but there's nothing here not steeped in realism.