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1983's Without a Trace was my first exposure to the acting gifts of one Kate Nelligan. Nelligan dominates the screen as a soon to be single mom who sends her young son off to school one day and he disappears. The film makes all the predictable twists and turns you expect it to but the journey is worth it because of the gut-wrenching performance by Kate Nelligan in the lead.

Credit must be given to skillful direction, a serviceable screenplay and strong supporting turns from Judd Hirsch as as a detective, David Dukes as Nelligan's self-absorbed ex, Stockard Channing as her insensitive best friend and Kathleen Widdoes as a psychic, but it is the performance by Kate Nelligan that raises the bar on this one, who brings so much more to her performance than is in the script, rich, detailed, and worth studying.
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A movie I stumbled upon accidentally in a video store, Wrestling Ernest Hemingway turned out to be a complete and utterly delightful comedy-drama that, though probably not for all tastes, would be a wonderful film for anyone to see who appreciates really great acting.

The film takes place in Florida and traces the unlikely friendship that develops between a straight-laced, Cuban, retired barber (Robert Duvall)and a free-spirited, independent-minded, retired naval officer (Richard Harris) who brags to anyone who will listen about his wonderful relationship with his son, who, in reality, is just too busy for him.

This warm and engaging character study is not so big on story, but on the relationship that develops between these two diversely different people who eventually find a way to connect with each other. Harris, in particular, is just remarkable in his gutsy, totally unhinged performance that should have earned him an Oscar nomination.

There are effective supporting turns by Sandra Bullock as a waitress Duvall has a crush on, Shirley MacLaine as Harris' landlady and Piper Laurie as a local lady Harris fancies, but this movie is mainly an acting showcase for two of the best...Robert Duvall and the sublime, divine (and deeply missed) Richard Harris.
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I'm sorry if I was wrong about Sarah Jane's father being white, but I stand by my opinion of the film...you have a right to your opinion and I ask that you allow me mine.




The 1970 Neil Simon comedy The Out-of-Towners is a slightly dated but still very entertaining comedy that was actually a discarded act from his play PLAZA SUITE.

The film stars Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis as George and Gwen Kellerman, a couple from a small midwestern suburb who fly to Manhattan where George is expected for a job interview and find out exactly what the term "Murphy's Law" refers to when their plane circles for hours waiting to land and they miss their dinner reservation at Tavern on the Green and that is just the beginning of their troubles.

Arthur Hiller's manic direction is a perfect compliment to Simon's one-liners, which come at breakneck speed. Lemmon reunites with Simon for the first time since The Odd Couple and continues to be a first rate Simon interpreter and his chemistry with Dennis is surprisingly solid. It's easy to believe that the Kellermans have been together for 60 or 70 years.

There are funny comic bits contributed along the way by Anthony Holland as a snooty desk clerk, Ann Prentiss as a flight attendant, Graham Jarvis as a Manhattan thug, and Anne Meara as a purse snatching victim, but it is Lemmon, Dennis, and Simon that make this somewhat over-the-top misadventure believable and funny at the same time. This film was remade in 1999 with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn in the leads, but I say, stick with the original.
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Airport 1975 is the first sequel to the 1970 classic Airport that was intended to provide the same kind of entertainment, but for me, brought mostly unintentional giggles.

Director Jack Smight actually appears to have been directing this story of a small private plane crashing into a 747 with a straight face. To this day, I still debate which is funnier: the sight of Dana Andrews clutching his chest while feigning a heart attack so that his private plane could crash into the jumbo jet or a cross-eyed Karen Black stumbling into the cockpit and trying to revive the dead pilot and co-pilot and then trying to fly the plane herself.

Charlton Heston, who was EVERYWHERE in the mid 70's, brings his granite-faced authority to the role of Alan Murdock, the pilot dropped in the jet to save it and Nancy's part-time boyfriend. Heston looks undertandably embarrassed as do Efrem Zimbalist Jr as the pilot, Myrna Loy, Sid Ceasar, Susan Clark, and the legendary Gloria Swanson (playing herself) as various passengers on the plane. Linda Blair, fresh off her triumph in THE EXORCIST, who has a glorified cameo as a little girl being flown to a hospital for an organ transplant and Helen Reddy as a singing nun, don't look too thrilled with the ride either. George Kennedy tries to keep a straight face as he reprises his role from the first film as Joe Patroni. Jerry Stiller is actually featured in the film as a passenger who SLEEPS through the entire adventure.

The idea of a sequel to Airport probably looked very good on paper, but definitely lost something in its transfer to the screen.
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A triumph for star and director, Dog Day Afternoon is the fact-based 1975 classic that should have won Oscars for Al Pacino and director Sidney Lumet who possessed one of the most impressive directorial resumes in the business.

Pacino plays Sonny, a bisexual criminal who decides to rob a Brooklyn bank in order to pay for his boyfriend's sex change operation. The robbery doesn't quite go as planned and the robbery turns into a hostage situation with Sonny, his partner (John Cazale), and nine bank employees as hostages.

Pacino is riveting throughout, whether Sonny is trying to take control of his hostages, dealing with the hostage negotiator (Charles Durning) or talking to the lover (Chris Sarandon) for whom he is doing this.

The film works because Pacino somehow manages to make Sonny so likable that you find yourself cheering him on from the moment he clumsily pulls that rifle out of the flower box. We know that what Sonny is doing is wrong, but Pacino makes that irrelevant.

The film received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director, Lead Actor, Supporting Actor (Sarandon), and screenplay adaptation. In another year, it might have won most of these awards, but the film collapsed at the Oscars that year under the One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest sweep, but I'm still one of the few people who thinks Pacino should have won. Lumet's direction is electric and atmospheric, making you feel the sweat on this hot Brooklyn day and the intensity of what's going on and makes you cheer for someone who you really shouldn't be cheering for.
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Colin Higgins' imaginative direction and the breezy performances from the cast helped to make 1980's Nine to Five a minor comedy classic.

This clever and well-written comedy is about three secretaries at a large corporation whose battles with a sexist pig of a boss include blackmail and kidnapping.

Jane Fonda (who also served as one of the film's executive producers) plays Judy Bernlee, a newly divorced woman venturing into the workforce for the first time. Lily Tomlin plays Violet Newstead, a widowed single mother and longtime employee of the company who has just learned that she was passed over for a promotion by an employee that SHE trained. Dolly Parton made a sparkling film debut as Doralee Rhodes, the slimy boss' personal secretary who most of the office assumes is having an affair with said slime. Dabney Coleman, who had a patent on slimy movie characters in the late 70's and early 80's, is appropriately greasy as Franklin Hart, the boss who is the subject of the film's most entertaining scene, where our three heroines share their fantasies about doing away with the boss and that's where the fun begins.

It's a cute story that takes some fun twists and turns with on-target performances, with Tomlin a standout, and a very satisfying denoument. Parton's rendition of the title tune became a smash hit. An entertaining and laugh-filled comedy that, despite its feminist bent, has a little more substance than one might expect.
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Seems Like Old Times is a laugh-out loud comedy written by Neil Simon directly for the screen.

The film stars Goldie Hawn as a bleeding heart liberal attorney whose attempt to help her ex-husband (Chevy Chase), who is on the run after being forced by gunpoint to rob a bank, is putting a cramp in the life of her current husband (Charles Grodin), who is running for political office.

Hawn and Chase, whose onscreen chemistry together had already been documented in Foul Play, proved that their smooth onscreen partnership was no fluke. The two work like a well-oiled machine, yet Grodin never allows himself to be blown off the screen and definitely earns his share of the laughs.

Robert Guillaume, Harold Gould, and Yvonne Wilder offer effective comic bits along the way, but it is the classic Neil Simon one-liners and the solid performances by the three leads that make this one a winner.

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In contemporary media where reality television is slowly becoming the rule and not the exception and advertising has completely dominated the media (try signing on to any website on the internet without having to endure at least a handful of commercials), the 1976 film Network has become more and more timely as the years have passed.

This scathingly dark satire focuses on UBS, a fictional television network that is struggling in the ratings until a news anchorman comes on the air one evening and casually announces that in a few days he is going to kill himself on the air. Instead of taking the man off the air and getting him the obvious help he needs, the powers-that-be decide to capitalize on the media frenzy by making the anchorman a "mad prophet of the airwaves" denouncing everything that is wrong with contemporary society; however, it backfires when his tirades begin to affect network business. The film's primary focus is on the rise and fall of anchorman Howard Beale, whose news program is reformatted by a hard-as-nails programmer whose other primary focus is to try and launch a TV series based on a terrorist group similar to the group that kidnapped Patty Hearst.

Sidney Lumet struck gold here. His crisp, articulate, and in your face direction should have won him an Oscar. Paddy Chayevsky's brilliant and incisive screenplay, which seems to have gotten better with age, won him his second Oscar. For my money, this is one of the five best screenplays in cinematic history.

William Holden turned in the performance of his career as Max Schumacher, the director of the news division and Howard Beale's best friend, who is disgusted by the interference with his job and the network's manipulation of his friend. Faye Dunaway won the Oscar for Lead Actress for her crisp performance as Diana Christiansen, the ice-in-her-veins programmer who is all about her work and always has her mind on business (even during sex), who takes over Howard's programming while drifting into a doomed affair with Max.

Peter Finch won the first posthumous Oscar for Lead Actor for his charismatic performance as the tortured Howard Beale, a lost soul who suffers when he starts to believe his own press and Robert Duvall is razor sharp as the network executive playing puppetmaster with Max, Howard, and Diana. Beatrice Straight, a virtual unknown at the time of the film's release, won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for virtually one extremely powerful scene as Max's wife. Ned Beatty also received an Oscar nomination for a single scene as the owner of the network who attempts to rein in an out of control Beale. This was the first film since A Streetcar Named Desire to win three of the four acting awards. Personally, I think if they had nominated Duvall instead of Beatty, they would have won all four. The film was also robbed of the Oscar for Best Picture.

This film is a triumph for all concerned, particularly Chayevsky and Lumet. This film is Lumet's masterpiece and a film that just gets better and more important with age.
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Splash was the 1984 comedy that put Ron Howard on the map as a director and made an official movie star out of Tom Hanks.

The story is simple: Boy meets girl, girl is really mermaid, boy dumps mermaid, boy has change of heart and loves mermaid. Hanks' character, Alan Bauer, fell off a ferry as a child and had an encounter with the same mermaid and after his girlfriend leaves him, Alan gets away to Cape Cod and is reunited with childhood muse of the sea.

What follows is a literal fish out of water story as the mermaid (charmingly played by Daryl Hannah) does her best to keep her secret, despite the suspicions of a slimy scientist (Eugene Levy) who is determined to expose her but turns out to have a heart after all.

Howard showed a real gift for painting cinematic pictures here...I love the shot of Alan on the beach looking for his muse and way, way in the background in the ocean, you see her tail briefly surface and go back in the water with just the tiniest splash.

In addition to Levy, the late John Candy also provides major belly laughs as Alan's lazy brother, whose biggest ambition in life is to have a letter published in Penthouse magazine. The film was remade for TV in 2013, but as my usual advice, stick to the original.
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1951 was a very good year for American cinema and one of the most memorable offerings from that eventful year was A Place in the Sun.

Director George Stevens crafted a compelling and emotionally charged melodrama that tugged at the heartstrings. Montgomery Clift, in one of his best performances, plays the apex of a romantic triangle, George Eastman, torn between a plain Jane factory worker named Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters), who has trapped him into an engagement and a glamorous socialite named Angela Findlay (Elizabeth Taylor), and how George's obsession with Angela leads him to desperate measures to free himself from Alice. These measures lead to George's arrest and a trial that brings about myriad emotions because throughout the trial, the viewer's mind continues to flash back to the night Alice died and the way the scene was filmed, it's not made absolutely clear what happened or if George was guilty of what he was accused.

The romantic triangle was a cinematic staple in the 1940's and 1950's and never was it utilized to greater effect than here. Based on Theodore Driesel's AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY, this story offers a tortured protagonist who does things that he shouldn't but manages to evoke our sympathy at the same time and therein lies the melodrama.

The chemistry between Clift and Taylor is electric and Taylor has rarely been more beautiful onscreen (and that's saying a lot). The film began an offscreen friendship between Clift and Taylor that lasted right up to his death and they did make two more films together, but this one was the best. Winters is quietly brilliant as Alice, creating a surprisingly complex and compelling character that, despite the real romance between George and Angela, we can't help our hearts breaking for Alice.

The film received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Lead Actor (Clift), Lead Actress (Winters) and George Stevens' sensitive direction won him an Oscar. A classic in every sense of the word.
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Rocky was the feel good film of 1976 that unexpectedly walked away with the Oscar for Best Picture of 1976 and made an instant star out of its star and writer, Sylvester Stallone, for whom the film was pretty much a do or die project...the ultimate Hollywood Cinderella story.

For those who have been living under a rock for the past 50 years, this is the story of Rocky Balboa, a hulking Philadelphia schlub who works as a thumb-breaker for a local bookie. Rocky's life is forever changed when Apollo Creed, the reigning heavyweight boxing champion, offers Rocky the chance to step into the ring with him, pretty much as a joke and publicity ploy, but Rocky doesn't get the joke and actually is determined to give the champ a run for his money.

Stallone has crafted a story and a character that audiences can't help but empathize with. Rocky's life borders on the pathetic as the film opens and you can't help but want to see him make the most of this once in a life opportunity that has fallen into his lap.

Stallone is supported by a solid cast...Talia Shire as the painfully introverted Adrian who he begins a tentative romance with, Carl Weathers as the obnoxious Apollo Creed, Burt Young as Paulie, Adrian's over-protective brother, and especially Burgess Meredith as Mickey, the over-the-hill trainer, who agrees to take on the task of preparing Rocky for his big fight. Stallone won an Oscar as producer and was also nominated for Lead Actor and for his screenplay. Shire was nominated for Lead Actress and Meredith for Supporting Actor.

John G. Alvidsen won an Oscar for his spirited direction as did Bill Conti for his heart-pumping musical score. An instant classic that has spawned five sequels (so far).
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1964's Send Me No Flowers marked the final film collaboration of Doris Day, Rock, Hudson, and Tony Randall and was definitely the weakest of their vehicles together.

Hudson plays a hypochondriac who mistakenly comes to believe that he is dying and spends the rest of the film trying to keep the revelation from wife Doris while trying to find a suitable guy to take his place after he's gone.

The film's weakness lies in the fact that in Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back the first two vehicles this trio made together, the story's primary focus was on Hudson's pursuit of Doris who spent both films keeping Hudson's character at arm's length. There's no chase here, no conflict, the characters are already married and, for some reason, the relationship just doesn't have the spark produced in the first two films.

Norman Jewison's spirited direction is a plus and Randall has by this time gotten the art of playing Hudson's best friend down to a science. Paul Lynde also garners major laughs in a small role of a mortician who tries to help Hudson with his final resting place and ends up assisting Doris as well. Hudson and Day work very hard at being funny; however, the film is a sad denoument to this classic cinematic team.
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CBS television mounted a lavish version of the Broadway classic Gypsy in 1993 featuring Bette Midler putting her own special stamp on what is possibly the greatest female role in musical comedy, Mama Rose.

This role was originated on Broadway by Ethel Merman in 1959 and has also been interpreted by Rosalind Russell in the 1962 theatrical film version and in various stage reincarnations by Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters, Tyne Daly, and Patti LuPone (all but Peters won Tony awards for their performances).


This musical featuring an almost iconic score by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim and original book by Arthur Laurents, for the uninitiated, is a slightly fictionalized look at the mother of all stage mothers, Rose Hovick, the mother of future burlesque sensation Gypsy Rose Lee and actress June Havoc, who ran one daughter away and made a reluctant star out of the other, merely as a vicarious satisfaction for her own lost ambitions.

This is a complete production of the original musical, the score completely intact ("Together Wherever we Go" was cut from the 1962 film) and Jerome Robbins' original choreography has been lovingly recreated. The score includes "Some People", "Everything's Coming up Roses", "Let Me Entertain You", "You Gotta get a Gimmick" and the fabulous "Rose's Turn."

Midler is electrifying in the title role and definitely has put her own stamp on the role. Being the trained musician that she is, she sings the role better than most of the above mentioned Roses and always keeps the character slightly manic, but never unlikable.

Cynthia Gibb works hard in the pivotal role of Louise, the allegedly untalented daughter of Rose, who, thanks to her mother's prodding, becomes the world's most famous stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee. Gibb is less successful as the wallflower Louise, but she absolutely shines when Louise finally takes the stage as Gypsy Rose Lee. Her rendition of "Little Lamb" almost rivals Natalie Wood's in the '62 film, one of my most favorite cinematic musical moments ever.

Peter Riegert does yeomen service to the thankless role of Herbie, the candy salesman turned agent, who falls for Rose, despite the fact that they want very different things from life. Riegert holds his own with Midler and never allows her to blow him off the screen. There are also a couple of effective supporting turns from Andrea Martin as a theatrical secretary and Christine Ebersole as one of the strippers in the "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" number.

Polished direction by the late Emile Ardolino and lavish sets and costumes are the icing on the cake in this loving remounting of this musical comedy classic. Fans of the genre and the show should be pleased.
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Robert Altman, a director whose unconventional cinematic eye produced mixed results, a very selective cult following, and various degrees of box office success, reached his zenith as a director for me with Nashville, the lavish, 1975 all-star classic that combines an almost documentary-like look at the machinations behind the birthplace of country music with effective jabs at politics and the mercilessness of the media.

As he always did, Altman paints his story on an extremely huge canvas but somehow managing to present a surprisingly balanced look at 24 different major characters, framed against the preparations of a musical rally for a political candidate.

Altman made some bold casting choices here that really paid off, particularly the late Henry Gibson as country music icon Haven Hamilton. The former ROWAN AND MARTIN'S LAUGH-IN regular commanded the screen here, in an Oscar worthy performance as the country legend who neglects his family, runs his music organization with an iron fist and is quietly considering running for political office. Gibson gets solid support from Barbara Baxley as his devoted wife, who sometimes doesn't know how neglected she really is. Ronee Blakely got the role of her brief career here as Barbara Jean (who looked like and seemed to be based on Loretta Lynn), a tempermental and overly emotional singer who REALLY needs a vacation and is intensely pampered by her husband/manager (Allen Garfield). Blakely received an Oscar nomination for her performance here. Karen Black plays Barbara Jean's number one rival, Connie White (clearly patterned after Dolly Parton). Keith Carradine plays a boozing womanizing singer who finds himself at the apex of a romantic quadrangle that provides one of the most entertaining scenes in the film where Carradine is onstage singing a song in a club and has four different women in the audience thinking he is singing especially to her...just fabulous. The song Carradine sings in that scene, "I'm Easy" was written by him and won him the Oscar for Best Song that year.

Lily Tomlin received an Oscar nomination for her performance as one of the women involved in that scene, a Nashville housewife and mother of a mentally challenged child. There are also standout turns from Ned Beatty as Tomlin's husband, Gwen Welles as a would-be country singer in denial about the fact that she can't sing, and especially Barbara Harris, as a would be singer who can, who figures prominently into the film's shocking finale.

Altman's improvisatory style of directing never worked to better advantage and made a richly complex film of depth and substance that slightly haunts by the time the finale rolls around.
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