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I almost never bail on movies, but I stopped watching Smile about 30-45 minutes into the film. It just felt like a downer, but without being scary or engaging, and I didn't want to stick around to watch cruel things happen to characters.



I managed to stick it out until the end, but I can definitely understand bailing on it, and, as mentioned in my review, there was a plot twist that had me seriously tempted to tuning out.



Judgment at Nuremberg
It is a story of war, politics, genocide, bigotry, remorse, and redemption, but more than anything, it is possibly the greatest courtroom drama Hollywood has ever produced. The 1961 docudrama Judgment at Nuremberg is a sobering and unapologetic look at a piece of world history, brought to the screen by nine time Oscar nominee Stanley Kramer that earned eleven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.

The setting is 1948 Nuremberg Germany where a recently retired district court judge from Maine named Dan Haywood has been flown to Germany to head a three judge tribunal to preside over the trial of four Nazi judges who have been accused of war crimes that were believed to be responsible for the Holocaust.

Abby Mann's Oscar-winning screenplay is a balanced, intelligent, uncompromising, turbulent and heart-stopping indictment of a horrible miscarriage of justice that has been slightly condensed to feature film length The terror that was Nazi Germany and Adolph Hitler has been whittled down to the crimes of four men who, for the most part, have no remorse for what they did and, even more surprisingly, are not a cohesive unit in their feelings about what they did, On the other side of the courtroom, we have a prosecutor who is trying to do his job despite warnings from his superiors that the United States military still needs Germany as an ally. We also have the defense attorney for the Nazis, who may or may not have the whole story about what his defendants have done, but also believes these men working in the in the best interest of Germany and are not completely responsible for what happened at the concentration camps.

The scenes right after the opening statements were interesting as we get a look at how the proceedings are affecting those involved personally. The first time we the prosecutor outside of the courtroom he is drunk and we also get to see Haywood get the temperature of the city through touring the city and conversations with his house staff and the glamorous widow of an executed war criminal (Marlene Dietrich). It was an interesting touch to the story that Herr Rolfe, the defense attorney, is the only character never seen outside the courtroom.

But it's two major courtroom events that turn these proceedings completely on their ear. The appearance of Irene Hoffman, a woman who had an affair with an executed Jew when she was a teenager and the prosecution's decision to present a film of thousands of Jews being sent to the ovens. These two events bring this trial and this film to an even more intense level than we ever anticipate. It's also interesting that the primary defendant, Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster) refuses to speak for most of the trial (or so we think).

Kramer's depiction of a decaying Germany still trying to reconstruct after WWII is jarring and often hard to look at. The performances are uniformly splendid. In addition to Abby Mann's Oscar for his screenplay, Maximilian Schell won the Oscar for Best Actor for his often explosive performance as defense attorney Herr Rolfe. Watch him when he returns to the courtroom the first day after that film is shown...powerhouse acting that should be studied by students of the craft. I believe this was the first Best Oscar statue awarded to an actor who was billed fifth in the credits. Spencer Tracy also received his 8th Lead Actor nomination for his conflicted Dan Haywood. And can we talk about the gut-wrenching and heartbreaking performance by Judy Garland as Irene Hoffman that earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. I know everyone says Grace Kelly robbed her of the Best Actress Oscar for 1954's A Star is Born, but it happened again in 1962. As wonderful as Rita Moreno was in West Side Story, it doesn't touch what Garland did here, but it was the year of West Side Story. Mention should also be made of a devastating performance from Montgomery Clift as a sterilization victim that should have earned him a supporting actor nomination. This is classic Hollywood at its finest...they don't make 'em like this anymore.



Asteroid City
The ridiculously endless imagination of Wes Anderson is in serious overdrive with one of his most ambitious and challenging undertakings. The 2023 film Asteroid City is a one-of-a-kind celluloid experience that defies genre classification and breaks a lot of basic movie-making rules, but if it didn't, it wouldn't be a Wes Anderson movie. It does require undivided attention and perhaps makes the viewer work a little too hard to keep up.

The story begins with a narrator (Bryan Cranston) onstage at a theater introducing us to a playwright named Conrad Earp (Edward Norton) who then proceeds to introduce the viewer to the characters in his latest play called Asteroid City. The central characters and hook for the story are a recently widowed photographer named Augie (Jason Schwartzman) with four children who arrive in the title city, population 87, where the widower finally tells his children that their mother has died and he has her remains in a tupperware container. Augie then calls his father-in-law (Tom Hanks) to come take care of his granddaughters while his son participates in a science contest and Augie finds himself drawn to a suicidal method actress (Scarlett Johanssen).

We then observe Augie and his family are among several bizarre characters who have arrived in Asteroid City for multiple reasons, including the recent landing of an asteroid in the area and a visit from an alien, who steals the asteroid, which prompts a quarantine from the government not allowing the residents of Asteroid City to go anywhere.

Anderson and co-screenwriter Roman Coppola have crafted a piece that seems to be an overly elaborate valentine to The Twilight Zone. Cranston's narrator seems to be channeling Rod Serling in a story that obliterates the concept of the 4th wall as his introduction of the playwright seems to take him out of the narrative, which the playwright passes onto his characters. Though we are provided with program cards that remind us what act of the play we're in and the two or three scenes we are about to watch. As a matter of fact, at the end of the first act, the program says "intermission optional.": There is wonderful moment where Cranston's character steps into the middle of the play and when characters are confused by his presence, he sheepishly steps out of the scene. Then when we think we have settled into the onscreen madness, the third act invites us backstage where we not only meet the director (Adrien Brody), but an actress whose role was cut before the play opened (Margot Robbie).

As always with Anderson, the film is a visual feast, but the look is something different that I found difficult to pinpoint at first, but about 30 minutes in, I figured it out. The scenery upon which most of the story plays is theatrical scenery, actual flats mounted on a proscenium that are revealed at the beginning of the third act that actual define a phrase I have used in a lot of my reviews..."photographed stage play."

Anderson's direction is crisp and offers consistent surprises that keep the viewer on guard. Most of Anderson's rep company is on hand here, with the exceptions of Owen Wilson and Bill Murray, whose roles seem to have been inhabited by Matt Dillon and Steve Carell. According to the IMDB, Carell replaced Murray when he contracted Covid. Scwartzman and Johanssen command the screen whenever they're on and I would like to nominate Jeffrey Wright and Edward Norton for new members of the Anderson rep company.



The Last of Sheila
An insane, Oscar-worthy screenplay and a fabulous ensemble cast are the key components to 1973's The Last of Sheila, a deliciously complex murder mystery that offers multiple mysteries for the viewer to solve, throwing red herrings in the viewers' faces every step of the way..

Clinton (James Coburn) is an eccentric and wealthy Hollywood bigshot whose young trophy wife, Sheila, was killed by a hit and run driver two years ago. Clinton has announced that he's going to make a film about Sheila and then sends invitations to six friends ito spend a week on his yacht in the south of France, where they will participate in a scavenger hunt-type game, which is, of course, Clinton's way of trying to figure which of these people killed Sheila.

The guests are Tom (Richard Benjamin) a screenwriter and his insanely wealthy wife, Lee (Joan Hackett); an agent named Christine (Dyan Cannon); a formerly acclaimed movie director who now directs commercials named Phillip (James Mason), a beautiful actress named Alice (Raquel Welch), who Clinton wants to play Sheila in his movie, and Alice's boyfriend/manager (Ian McShane).

This wonderful story was actually created by novices to the art of screenwriting: Anthony Perkins and Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim, who knock it out of the park, creating a story that seems to be setting up a standard mystery, but before the beginning of the final act, three more mysteries bubble to the surface. Of the four mysteries presented during the course of the movie, this reviewer was only able to guess one correctly by the time the credits rolled.

This is another one of those movies like The Sting, ironically released the same year, that requires complete attention and if you miss five minutes of the film anywhere during the running time, you will be confused. Herbert Ross provides one of his strongest directorial efforts here because it does what it's supposed to and that's serve the ridiculously clever story by Perkins and Sondheim. The cast provide identical service to the story, with standout work from Coburn, Cannon, and Hackett. Lovely on location photography and some solid editing are the frosting on this cinematic cake.



Sharper
Fans of films like The Grifters, Jackie Brown, and Memento will have a head start with 203's Sharper,a smooth and sexy crime drama that offers an often fascinating look at the art of the con that takes a little too long to travel the full circle it does and not everyone involved gets what's coming to them, but it's never boring.

There's a lonely bookstore owner named Tom who gets taken by Sandra, who gets taken by a grifter named Max, who gets taken by his partner Madeline, who sells out Max when a much bigger payoff presents itself to her and where that payoff comes from is where everything we've seen begins to unravel.

I knew I was in for something interesting when the title of the film appeared onscreen and a definition of the title appeared under it, saying the word was a noun instead of an adjective. The screenplay by Brian Gatewood and Allesandro Tanaka, who wrote the 2011 film The Sitter is carefully structured around some really nice people who are scum and scum who turn out to be nice people and the story seems to be told in reverse pieces that connect to each other but just when we think the story is being told in reverse, we learn that the story is moving forward, a full circle press to an ugly finale where everyone goes into self-preservation mode, where what happens to the victims and to the criminals whittles down to a sizzling climax that had this reviewer talking back to the screen

Director Benjamin Caron, who was part of the directing team for the series The Crown starts this story at such a leisurely pace with such strong sexual undertone that we really don't see exactly where this story is going. We do see Tom get taken for a lot of money in the opening act but we're almost fooled into forgetting that it happened as the canvas begins to expand to a point where we feel heartbroken for Tom, who almost feels like a dangling plot point, but Caron's direction is a great aid in delineating the crooks from the victims and the depiction of the c rooks going into self-preservation mode is a joy to watch. Unfortunately, some people get off easier than I would have liked, but the story unfolds in such an entertaining fashion, it was easy to forgive.

Oscar winner Julianne Moore hasn't played a character this reprehensible since Magnolia and you just want to see this bitch get what's coming to her. The always watchable Sebastian Stan is a smoldering Max and newcomer Justice Smith is a revelation as Tom. The circle the story makes is too long and John Lithgow's character is made to look dumb as a box of rocks, but this one definitely held my attention.



Meet Danny Wilson
A charismatic performance and some silky vocals by Frank Sinatra make an overripe musical melodrama from 1952 called Meet Danny Wilson worth a look.

Sinatra's title character is a struggling nightclub singer with a quick temper who makes money on the side hustling pool with the aid of his piano player and best friend Mike. Danny and Mike meet a bubbly nightclub singer named Joy Carroll (Shelley Winters) who hooks Danny up with her boss, Nick Driscoll (a pre-Perry Mason Raymond Burr), a club owner and mob boss who offers to be Danny's manager in exchange for 50% of everything Danny makes.

Danny falls hard for Joy while becoming a big star in twenty minutes while Nick goes to jail. Meanwhile, Danny has become so successful that he doesn't even notice that Joy is really in love with Mike.

Screenwriter Don McGuire, whose credits include Bad Day at Black Rock and a couple of Martin and Lewis comedies, comes up with a convoluted show business story that starts off quite promising as a romantic triangle is set up between, Danny, Joy, and this mob boss who is controlling Danny's career, but right in the middle, abandons that story and decides that Joy should come between these two lifelong friends instead. It was a jarring switch in the focus of the story because we never really have clue in the story where Joy stopped loving Danny and started loving Mike. I did like the fact that Mike fought his attraction to Joy as long as he could, out of loyalty to his best friend, but the return of Nick in the final reel leading to a silly climax in Wrigley Field just came off as unnecessary. I will admit that I did love the scene where Danny is trying to keep Joy in California by bribing all the airport personnel to get her to stay.

Sinatra does offer one of his breeziest performances here, which includes his own special stamp on classic songs like ", "All of Me", That Ol' Black Magic", and "I've Got a Crush On You". Any of the silliness going on with the story becomes irrelevant when Sinatra sings, like it always did. He actually does manage to create some chemistry with Shelley Winters, playing one of the few characters she played during the 1950's that wasn't a doormat. Ironically, Sinatra and Winters did not get along at all during production and that one point Winters actually punched Sinatra in the face. Maybe this had something to do with Danny not getting the girl at the end of the film, but I don't know that for sure. Sterling Hayden-look-alike Alex Nicol works hard not to be blown off the screen by Sinatra, but Burr makes an appropriately greasy villain out of a thankless role. This show belongs to Ol' Blue Eyes though and his true fans won't be disappointed.



Theater Camp
In the grand tradition of the Christopher Guest mockumentary comes 2023's Theater Camp, a near brilliant send up of community theater in the tradition of Waiting for Guffman that provides the same manic energy of Donny's Bar Mitzvah and is so completely on target; unfortunately, because of the subject matter no one is going to see it.

The setting is a summer theater camp in upstate New York that has been run for decades by one Joan Rubinsky, but right before the summer begins, a freak accident during a performance of Bye Bye Birdie puts her in the hospital in a coma. This puts Joan's idiotic son, Troy, in charge of the camp, even though he doesn't know a thing about theater, which has acting coach Amos (Tony Award winner Ben Platt) and music coach Rebecca-Diane (MollyGordon), sort of a musical theater version of Will and Grace. Amos and Rebecca decide go ahead with their productions this year, Damn Yankees, Cats, and an original musical about Joan called "Joan Still." They, of course, also have to deal with the fact that camp is in serious debt and is being threatened to be shut down and it is up to the moron Troy to handle this with the help of Glen, the technical director, who really dreams of a career onstage, instead of building scenery and adjusting spotlights.

The near brilliant screenplay by Gordon, Noah Galvin, who also plays Glen, and Nick Leiberman is a perfect comedic valentine to community theater made even funnier because most of the participants are children. From the initial amusement of the audition sequences where kids are singing songs completely inappropriate and not caring (Loved the overweight black teenage boy singing "Defying Gravity" from Wicked) to Amos and Rebecca's haphazard composing of the original musical to Troy's ridiculous schemes to raise money to keep the camp open to a member of the staff ditching the production at the last minute for a real acting job, everything rings true here, for anyone who has had any kind of experience in the theater.

The other thing that I loved about this movie is that despite all the ridiculous and over the top things that happen in this movie, the kids cast as the camp participants really are incredibly talented and this piece really allows all of them a chance to shine. Love the 12 year old black kid who gets to shine on "Epiphany" from Sweeney Todd, or the kid Devon who learns to be honest with his gay dads about his heterosexuality. And the final production of "Joan Still" is an absolute joy, featuring an elaborate tap number set on Wall Street and a funky dance number set at Studio 54, a place that a lot of kids in this movie nevr heard of before being cast in this movie.

Ben Platt is allowed to lighten up from the depressing Dear Evan Hansen but it would have been nice if he had gotten to sing a little more. Noah Galvin was a revelation as Glen but Jimmy Tatro was the real scene stealer as Troy. And if you don't blink, you might catch a cameo from original cast member from A Chorus Line, Priscilla Lopez. Despite its obvious limited appeal, this film was still rip roaring funny from opening to closing credits.



Theater Camp
In the grand tradition of the Christopher Guest mocumentary comes 2023's Theater Camp, a near brilliant send up of community theater in the tradition of Waiting for Guffman that provides the same manic energy of Donny's Bar Mitzvah and is so completely on target; unfortunately, because of the subject matter no one is going to see it.
I just watched this last night on Hulu! I'd hoped it would play at a theater near me, but alas.

The other thing that I loved about this movie is that despite all the ridiculous and over the top things that happen in this movie, the kids cast as the camp participants really are incredibly talented and this piece really allows all of them a chance to shine. Love the 12 year old black kid who gets to shine on "Epiphany" from Sweeney Todd, or the kid Devon who learns to be hones with his gay dads about his heterosexuality.
Yes, the kids were great! I thought that the movie walked such a great line of gently mocking kids who attend theater camp, ("So I look over and she's on the floor! Of course I stayed in character . . ." or the "Oh what a beautiful MORNING" call and response) and showing that they are very intelligent and talented.

My rating will be very similar to yours.



This movie was so great and no one's going to see it because of the subject matter.
Maybe. Yours is the second review I've read of it on this site. I'll be writing a review in the coming week or so. I could see it building a nice little following.



The Seduction of Joe Tynan
At the height of his superstardom as Hawkeye Pierce, Alan Alda had the juice to bring his political conscience to the big screen as the star and screenwriter of 1979's The Seduction of Joe Tynan, a glossy political drama with a flawed but likable character center stage, but is hampered by a somewhat cliched screenplay that's a little too predictable to be special.

Alda's Joe Tynan is an idealistic liberal US senator from New York who lives in Westchester with his wife, Ellie (Barbara Harris) and his two children. His work begins to consume his life when he is asked to form a committee to block a nomination to the Supreme Court, leading to his working with and drifting into an affair with an attractive married lawyer named Karen Traynor (Meryl Streep).
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Alda's screenplay is sincere in its intentions, but the structure of the story smacks of cliche. The establishment of Tynan's allegedly happy home life, the pressure applied to him regarding this supreme court appointment, and the almost instantaneous affair with this Karen Traynor is just so predictable. We even get a five minute scene with Karen and her husband that clearly shows us unhappy she is in her marriage in order to legitimize her attraction to Tynan. As predictable as the story might be, one thing I did like about Alda's screenplay here, as opposed to some of his later screenplays like The Four Seasons and Sweet Liberty, the rest of the characters in the story have their own voices. They don't all sound like Alan Alda.

One surprising aspect of this Joe Tynan character was a very sexist underlayer to the character, a surprise from Alda, one of Hollywood's most famous feminists. Watch the scene where Ellie is giving Joe a haircut and he wants to discuss their moving to DC or the telephone call Joe makes to Karen suggesting that they meet the following week to work. Tynan is feigning a two-way discussion in both of these scenes, but under the surface, it's obvious he is not taking no for an answer in either of these scenes. The scene where Ellie and Karen finally meet was an eye opener because it's clear Ellie is aware of the affair, but we're never sure how she found out. I did like the ambiguous quality to the ending that doesn't really guarantee anything, the most realistic part of the story.

Jerry Schatzberg, who directed two excellent Al Pacino movies The Panic in Needle Park and Scarecrow, provides in your face direction that looks into the souls of the three central characters. Alda lights up the screen, as always and creates chemistry with both of his leading ladies.. Especially loved his work with Harris, who he appeared on Broadway with in a musical called The Apple Tree nine years prior to this film. Melvyn Douglas, who won his second supporting actor scar the same year for Being There, Rip Torn, and Charles Kimbrough also score in supporting roles. This film also marked the feature length film debut of Blanche Baker, playing Alda's teenage daughter. Baker made her television debut the year before in Holocaust with Streep! It's a little pat and convenient, but the stars keep it watchable.



Master Gardener
Fans of the 1976 film Taxi Driver will definitely have a head start with a moody tale of redemption and reinvention called Master Gardener, which, coincidentally was written and directed by the writer of the Martin Scorsese classic.

The 2022 film stars Joel Edgerton as Narvel Roth, a horticulturist with a real passion for his work. He is employed by a wealthy dowager named Norma Haverhill, whose interest in Narvel extends beyond her garden. Norma asks Narvel to take on a rebellious grandneice as part of his crew as an apprentice. A misunderstanding has Norma asking Narvel and her grandneice to leave her home, sending them on a journey that creates a connection between the two people through their individual troubled pasts.

Though it does display flashes of originality, Paul Schrader's screenplay centers on two characters who immediately brought to mind Travis Bickle and Iris, the 12-year old hooker played by Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster back in '76. The similarities between these two sets of characters leap off the screen as what appears to be a sexual connection between the two turns out to be a protective vibe that Narvel feels immediately for young Maya, though she is several years older than Iris. The incredible thing, and this can only be credited to Schrader's direction, is that even though all Narvel really wants to do is help Maya, there is a smoldering sexual tension underneath every moment they share onscreen.

There were a couple of troublesome plot points that did gnaw at me. I was troubled by Norma asking Narvel to put Maya on his crew and not actually make contact with her for over two weeks. I also didn't like the way Narvel's police pal (Esai Morales) disappeared on him during the final act. I also couldn't figured out how Maya's ex found out who Narvel was and were able to find Norma's home and destroy her garden.

It was easy to forgive story problems thanks to the chilling and sexy performance by Joel Edgerton in the title role just galvanizes the movie screen. Even though the character reminded me of Travis Bickle, Edgerton brings a young Clint Eastwood quality to the character, reminding me of Clint in The Beguiled that never allows the viewer to take their eyes off of him or want what he wants. Sigourney Weaver's icy Norma was a post graduate acting course as well. Stunning cinematography was also a big asset in making this haunting film quite watchable for the open-minded.



Since You Went Away
It's not nearly as good as The Best Years of our Lives, but the 1944 melodrama Since You Went Away is a sincere and compelling valentine to the war effort and its effects on people in the war and back home that was a smash hit and received nine Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, but suffers from syrupy sentimentality and severe overlength.

As the film opens, we meet Anne Hilton (Oscar winner Claudette Colbert) who has just returned from the train station after sending her husband, Tim, off to war. As she struggles to figure out how she is going to raise daughters Jane (Oscar winner Jennifer Jones) and Brig (Shirley Temple) by herself with limited finances. She decides to take in a retired Army colonel (Monty Woolley) as a border as well, as Tim's best man at their wedding, Tony (Joseph Cotten) who is now in the Navy. Tony has to fight off Jane's attention until the colonel's grandson, Bill (Robert Walker), a West Point graduate, shows up intent on reconciling with Grandpa but falling hard for Jane.

Producer David Selznick, the producer of Gone with the Wind, also served as screenwriter for this film, based on a book by Margaret Buell Wilder, that just goes on and on and on, trying viewer patience in an attempt to come up with another Gone With the Wind that never really happens. The story touches on a lot aspects of WWII that a lot of films in the 40's tended to gloss over, like food rationing and how simple items like nylon stocks became as valuable as gold bouillon. The problem is a lot of these issues get addressed on the periphery of the story outlined above and the story becomes very hard to stay invested in. We're also privy to a lot of samplers and pillows with classic sayings interjected every ten minutes, carefully photographed so that we can read every word, even though they have nothing to do with the story at hand. The USO dance didn't need to go on as long as it did and we also could have done without all the screentime devoted to the antagonistic relation between the colonel and the Wilton family dog named Soda.

There are plot points in the story that don't go in the direction we expect that are quite refreshing. It's obvious from his entrance into the story that Tony as always had a crush on Anne and never acted on it because of his friendship with Tim. Even though we think the romantic wall between them will come down, it never does and I liked that. I also liked the way Tony diplomatically handled Jane's crush on him without hurting her feelings, before the character was abruptly removed from the story.

Despite story and length problems, the film remains watchable thanks to a solid cast. Claudette Colbert is absolutely enchanting, as always, as Anne, a performance that earned her a Best Actress nomination. Monty Wolley received a supporting actor nomination for his colonel as did Jones for supporting actress, though, if the truth be told, Jones kind of grated on my nerves. She does create chemistry with real life husband at the time, Robert Walker as Bill. Unfortunately, this was near the end of their marriage, Jones would marry Selznick a few years alter and seven year later, Walker would pass away at the age of 33.

Familiar faces pop up throughout including Agnes Moorhead, Craig Stevens, Keenan Wynn, Guy Madison, and Hattie McDaniel, five years after being the first black actor to win an Oscar for Gone With the Wind. And if you don't blink, a young Dorothy Dandridge can be glimpsed as a young army wife at a train station. The film received nine Oscar nominations and the only win was for Max Steiner's music. There's some terrific acting here, especially Colbert, but it's too long.



Talk to Me
Co-directors and co-screenwriters Michael and Danny Philippou scores with 2023's Talk to Me, a creepy Australian psychological thriller that borrows small elements from other classic thrillers but stands on its own with a story that had my stomach in knots and had me jumping out of my chair half a dozen times.

The film follows a small group of friends who have discovered a new and disturbing new party game involving a disembodied hand, which apparently belonged to a medium. After lighting a candle, a person grabs the hand and says, "talk to me" and a spirit appears before them. Of course, one girl named Mia takes things too far and watches her BFF's little brother get seriously injured before they start coming after her.

The Philippou brothers immediately amps the squirm on this story by having these kids being amused by what starts happening with this hand. The way that they treat something deadly serious like a drinking game produces immediate tension for the viewer because there's nothing funny about what happens when people do this, not to mention we have seen a murder suicide at the beginning of the film that isn't immediately explained, so we're pretty sure that a connection is coming down the pike.

Impressive was the way the story seemed to be setting up Mia's BFF Jade as the one in trouble but the danger shifts to Mia before we even realize it's happening. Philippou doesn't allow us to think about what' going, thanks to an economic running time and an undeniable talent for the immediate "boo" that doesn't provide instant explanation, but elements of classic thrillers like The Exorcist and The Omen do help to clarify up to a point where we do start looking for an "And then I woke up" scene.

The Philippou's direction is stark and unapologetic and gets a strong assist from film editor Geoff Lamb. Sophia Wilde's performance as Mia becomes an effective anchor to the proceedings, making the viewer genuine terrified for her. Something tells me this film will become richer with a rewatch or two.



Impressive was the way the story seemed to be setting up Mia's BFF Jade as the one in trouble but the danger shifts to Mia before we even realize it's happening.
You and I are very much on the same page in terms of some of our recent viewing, LOL!

In my review, I wrote about how 10 or 15 years ago, Jade would have 100% been the main character here. She's the good girl who doesn't want to participate in this creepy thing, but does so reluctantly at the behest of her wild best friend and her boyfriend. Centering Mia---who is emotional and a screw-up and selfish at times---and keeping us on her wavelength and empathetic makes for a richer film.



3 Women
The late Robert Altman seemed to be channeling Ingmar Bergman as the producer, director, and writer of 1977,s Three Women, a moody and bizarre story of what seems to be a by-the-numbers friendship that, with a couple of brilliantly executed plot twists, turns into a psychological acid trip that the viewer doesn't see coming.

Millie (Shelley Duvall) is a self-absorbed young woman who works as a physical therapist at a hospital in the California desert, who befriends a new employee named Pinky (Sissy Spacek), a painfully shy young woman who comes to worship Millie and shortly after they meet, also becomes Millie's roommate. It's not long before Millie finds Pinky to be an albatross around her neck, but an accident that puts Pinky into a coma changes everything that we have seen up to this point. Millie and Pinky also form a relationship with Willie (Janice Rule), a pregnant artist with a fascination for painting erotic images on the bottom of a swimming pool and with guns, who is married to a womanizing jerk named Edgar.

This was a real oddity in the Robert Altman resume, as it has a more structured story that a lot of Altman's more famous work, though some scenes still have that free form, improvised feeling that Altman is so famous for. Altman does take his time setting up this story for us so that the the changes that occur in the second act are all the more startling. As we are introduced to Millie and Pinky, we learn that Millie considers herself a social butterfly that is pretty much all in her head. Most of her co-workers can't stand her but she has no idea, so she considers goody-two shoes Pinky a hindrance to her alleged glamorous lifestyle that is really all in Millie's head, but Pinky’s accident changes all that.

Altman initially challenges viewer patience here because as the film begins, what appears to be exposition seems to go on forever, but it turns out the detail that Altman puts into establishing the Millie character during the film's first half was essential in making the second half of the film work, because it flies in the face of everything we've seen up to that point, where stark realism becomes replaced by nightmarish symbolism that effectively anchors the changes we get in the Millie and Pinky characters that eventually have the viewer wondering if everything we've seen up to that point is an elaborate nightmare, except we don't know whose nightmare it is.

Altman gets strong assists from cinematographer Chuck Rosher and I loved the creepy music by Gerald Busby, which reminded me of Mancini's music for Wait Until Dark. Altman also gets extraordinary performances from Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek in the leading roles. Spacek is especially impressive in a performance that should have earned her a supporting actress nomination. Looking back on the supporting actress nominees for 1977, it was obvious that Spacek was robbed of the nomination she should have received by Leslie Browne for her dreadful performance in The Turning Point. This was a riveting motion picture experience that isn't for everyone, but Altman fans will be in heaven.



Vacation Friends 2
From the "Unnecessary Sequel" school of filmmaking comes 2023's Vacation Friends 2, the ridiculously over-the-top sequel to a 2021 comedy that was no classic itself, but they've really outdone themselves here with a movie that makes no sense on so many levels.

Once again, Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) and Emily (Yvonne Oriji) have their vacation (this time in the Caribbean) turned upset down by Ron (Jon Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner), who are now parents but have not let that hamper their partying one bit, thanks to the aid of their Latino au pere Maurillio. For some reason, Marcus has scheduled this vacation at the same time he is supposed to court some Korean businessmen on an important business deal and work on having a baby with Emily. The story gets even messier with the arrival of Kyla's father (Steve Buscemi), who has just finished eight years in jail and has never met son-in-law Ron, willing to jump through any hoops he can for the man's approval.

Director and screenwriter Clay Tarver, who is also to blame for the first film, has to take the heat for this one too, because not even the premise for this story makes sense. Even though they did make peace at the end of the first film, after everything Ron and Kyla pout them through, it makes no sense that Marcus and Emily would want to go on another vacation with these people. And why would he schedule said vacation at the same time and location as a very important business deal? And I really didn't understand the point of giving Ron and Kyla a baby, the last couple on earth who should be raising a child. I would have understood Marcus and Emily being parents in the sequel, but Ron and Kyla? I don't think so.

This movie gets just as silly and pointless as the first one did. The Korean businessmen insisting on bonding with Marcus through a drinking game and Marcus sending in Ron to substitute was stupid, as was Kyla's father getting her daughter and her husband and their friends in such serious danger with serious drug dealers, that actually finds them, at one point, trapped in a freighter sinking to the bottom of the ocean. The one part of this story that worked for me was everything Ron did to try and get on his father-in-law's good side. Even though the guy didn't deserve it, Ron's intentions were sincere and rather endearing and almost made this movie worth the time.

Tarver takes advantage of his big budget, but it doesn't really help. Howery (looking considerably slimmer than he did in the first film) works very hard to convince the viewer to accept that he's playing a part that should have been played by Kevin Hart. Cena is just as much fun as he was in the first film and Buscemi brought the greasy to Cena's father-in-law. Also have to give a shout out to Ronny Chieng (who was so much fun in M3gan) as Howery's potential client. If the truth be told, the world could have continued to rotate if this film had never been made.



Something Wild (1986)
Despite some fuzzy plotting and characterizations, 1986's Something Wild is a slick and sexy road trip comedy that has developed a cult following over the years, primarily due to the terrific performances by the three stars pretty early in their careers.

Lulu (Melanie Griffith) is a free spirited grifter who meets a tight-assed tax attorney named Charlie Driggs (Jeff Daniels) at a restaurant and offers him a ride back to his office. Instead of taking him to his office, she kidnaps the guy and takes him on a memorable road trip down south, teaching him how to loosen up which he does. Lulu, whose real name is Audrey by the way, takes Charlie to meet her mother and to her high school reunion, introducing him as her husband. This is where their adventure takes a dark turn when they meet up with Audrey's ex-husband, Ray (the late Ray Liotta), a psychotic ex-con.

Screenwriter E Max Frye, who received an Oscar nomination for his writing Foxcatcher a couple of decades later, cut his teeth here with a screenplay that sets up the classic It Happened One Night kind of comic romance between two people never meant to be together, but muddies the waters when he attempts to modernize the story with the entrance of the dangerous ex-husband. For some reason the free spirited and confident Lulu we meet at the beginning of the film turns into a spineless damsel in distress when her ex enters the picture. We are also confused because she is under the impression that Charlie is married when they meet, but then gets upset with him when she learns he isn't. It was all right to kidnap a guy who is married with children, but a single guy is another matter.

Charlie's brain seems to be removed for thee film. A wizard in business, but socially inept, believing every word that comes out of Audrey/Lulu's mouth, but unable or unwilling to extricate himself from this situation and it is often hard to tell which it is. The oddest thing about the relation between Charlie and Lulu is that she seems to be developing genuine feelings for the man, but he only seems to be thinking from below the waist, that is until Ray enters the picture. Charlie's transformation into Lulu's protector is fun to watch, even though the final showdown with Ray leads to an extra ending that wasn't really necessary.

The late Jonathan Demme, who would win an Oscar five years later for directing The Silence of the Lambs displays a real skill with the camera here, making this intimate story look like a movie, etched on an inviting cross country campus. Jeff Daniels is a solid leading man in his sixth feature film appearance and Melanie Griffith tries hard to work with a character that's all over the place, but it's Ray Liotta who walks off with this movie with a sexy and dangerous performance that leaps off the screen. I'm sure this performance had a lot do with Martin Scorsese casting him as Henry Hill in Goodfellas because it's a real eye-opener. The screenplay definitely has its problems, but Daniels and Liotta make this worth a look.



Oppenheimer
Never one to shy away from cinematic risk-taking, Christopher Nolan has taken on one of his most ambitious visions with the 2023 epic Oppenheimer, a breathtaking technical achievement documenting some disturbing historical events where everything onscreen serves the story, but in the opinion of this reviewer, Christopher Nolan has done better work.

This film is a dramatized look at the life of Robert J Oppenheimer, the primary architect in the development of the atom bomb. The film begins at his original conception, the terror it incites, and most importantly, why he wants to do this. We see him assemble the team he needs to do this, including legendary geniuses like Albert Einstein, and how politics, the military, and his personal life all become obstacles in achieving his dream.

Director and co-screenwriter Nolan sets up the story in a manner that initially confuses, but becomes less so as the film progresses. The film begins with Oppenheimer as the defendant in some sort of legal hearing, but the kind of hearing is unclear, because it doesn't take place in a courtroom, but is inside some sort of conference room where the prosecuting team seems to be cramped on one side of the table while the defendants are questioned on the other side. There is also a sofa in the room where Oppenheimer and his wife are seated when they are not being questioned. This informal setting immediately begs the question of who this prosecuting team is, and, naturally, what Oppenheimer is being charged with. The questioning initially implied that the charge might be treason, but a charge like that would have taken place in an actual courtroom, but as the story flashes back to Oppenheimer's work, this becomes irrelevant until later in the film.

The meat of the film concentrates on Oppenheimer's passion for this project, which, surprisingly, was not so much about personal satisfaction or accolades, but making sure that he gets this done before the Nazis do. Ironically, Oppenheimer finds a lot of the roadblocks in is work coming from suspicions that he is a communist as constant surveillance of his life seems to indicate, including his marriage to the severely broken Kitty (Emily Blunt). The documentation of the technical aspects of building this bomb (Oppenheimer, BTW, refuses to refer to it as anything but a "device" until it actually comes to fruition) involves a lot of scientific language that boggles the mind, but it is all worth it when that glorious scene comes where the device is a reality and it is detonated and all of the audio in the film disappears with the exception of Oppenheimer's breathing and movement, a storytelling technique that Bob Fosse used to remarkable effect during one scene in 1979's All that Jazz. And the way that initial Oppenheimer ally Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr) eventually morphs into the villain of the piece is just masterful.

Nolan does take us out of the stark realism of what is involved here with a couple of strange fantasy sequences that involve nudity, of all things. There is a scene where Cillian Murphy and Emily Blunt are having a conversation in separate chairs across the room from each other and they are nude, for no particular reason. There are even a couple of moments where Oppenheimer is being questioned during the hearing and when the camera returns to him for his answer, he is nude and a woman is on top of him.

Nolan has assembled a spectacular cast to serve his vision, and that is all they do here, is serve the filmmaker's vision. Cillian Murphy is the sensitive heart of this powerhouse story, anchored by Nolan's highly theatrical direction. Robert Downey Jr is earning serious Oscar buzz for his two-faced Strauss and Emily Blunt's broken Kitty commands the screen whenever she's on it. And if you pay attention, you will also notice Matt Damon, Tony Goldwyn, Jason Clarke, Josh Hartnett, Tom Conti, Kenneth Branaugh, James D'Arcy, Florence Pugh, Benny Safdie, Ted King, Rami Malek, James Remar, Matthew Modine, and Scott Grimes all contributing to serving this story. And thanks to the hair and makeup crew, at least two of the actors I just listed I didn't recognize until they spoke and I identified them by voice. Cinematography, editing, production design, and, art direction are all Oscar worthy making this film the unique experience it is, but is it better than Inception or even Memento? I don't think so.