Gideon58's Reviews

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It's Kind of a Funny Story
There are some issues with story elements and characterizations, but the 2010 comedy drama It's Kind of a Funny Story is rich with enough imagination, style, and panache, that I can forgive some minor inconsistencies.

Craig is a severely depressed Brooklyn teenager who thinks he is suicidal. Taking the suggestion of a suicide hotline, Craig goes to the emergency room of a hospital two blocks from his home at 5:00 AM on a Sunday morning, goes up to the front desk and tells the receptionist that he wants to kill himself, at which time he is nonchalantly handed a form on a clipboard to fill out. Due to some remodeling going on another floor where teenage mental patients are housed, Craig learns he has to stay in the adult psych ward, he decides he's not suicidal after all, but it's too late...he's been checked into the psych ward and he must stay for a minimum of five days to be properly evaluated.

We then get a ringside seat as Craig befriends an adult patient named Bobby, who he initially mistakes for a doctor. We see Craig resist the lure of art class and music appreciation, not to mention dealing with a roommate who refuses to leave his bed and a pretty female patient about his age.

Writer/directors Anna Bolden and Ryan Fleck provide us with a real mixed bag for a screenplay, but there is definitely more good than bad. The idea of a suicidal teenage checking himself into a psych ward is an intriguing idea that I suspect had some personal meaning for Bolden and Fleck. My problem was, from my vantage point, this kid Craig did not have a terrible life and I could never get a handle on what made him so unhappy that he wanted to kill himself. I also wondered about the legitimacy of checking a suicidal teen in a psych ward. I have always had my doubts about feeling suicidal being classified as a mental illness and it seemed like Craig felt the same way. I also would have liked to have seen the Bobby character fleshed out a little more, specifically, what brought him to the psych ward, because the script was very vague about that.

Despite my issues with the basic premise, it plays out in a most entertaining and imaginative way, which includes a clever off screen narration by Craig, amusing fantasy sequences, and enough breaking of the 4th wall that we never forget that we're watching a movie and a movie that never takes itself too seriously. These elements blend beautifully thanks to a sharp directorial eye, with the aid of some very sharp editing (also by Bolden). I especially loved music appreciation class and their take on David Bowie's "Under Pressure."

Keir Gilchrist lights up the screen as Craig and Zach Galifianakis does a brassy, Oscar-worthy turn as the very damaged Bobby. Emma Roberts and Zoe Kravitz make the most of their roles as the women in Craig's life, on opposite sides of the hospital doors. Oscar winner Viola Davis also makes the most of her brief role as the head psychiatrist on the ward, but this film really belongs to Anna Bolden and Ryan Fleck, who display a real gift for cinematic razzle dazzle.



"Money won is twice as sweet as money earned."



Carnage
With three Oscar winners in front of the camera and a fourth behind it, I was naturally drawn to a brilliant and caustic black comedy from 2011 called Carnage that never quite escapes its stage origins, but the dazzling performances and polished direction made that a non-issue.

Apparently, a pair of pre-teen boys, named Ethan Longstreet and Zachary Cowan got into a fight that climaxed with Zachary hitting Ethan in the mouth with a large stick, causing Ethan to loose two teeth. As our story opens, Penelope and Michael Longstreet have invited Alan and Nancy Cowan over to their plush Manhattan hi-rise to discuss the situation, a confrontation that becomes less and less about what happened between these two boys and more and more about these two marriages, which are not at all what they appear on the surface.

This film is based on a play called God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza who adapted the screenplay with the director, the legendary Roman Polanski. Polanski proves he still has the directorial eye to produce what begins as an emotionally charged drama about two sets of parents, completely at a loss about what has happened between their children and mines stinging humor out of a very serious situation onscreen that finds these two couples not only unintentionally revealing the warts in their own marriages, but doing a "change partners and dance" kind of thing where the Longstreets dissect what's wrong with Cowan's marriage and vice versa. Somehow, Polanski manages to have the viewer laughing and smiling but never losing the cut-with-a-knife tension that is established in the opening scenes, which clearly establishes how different the Longstreets and the Cowans are.

Though the story takes place in Manhattan, the movie had to be filmed in Paris due to Polanski's legal issues so Polanski was forced to keep the story inside the Longstreet apartment and though there are more than one moment in the film where the Cowans try to leave, this is where the action stays, which is why it's obvious that the origin of this story was a stage play, but the economic direction (film runs less than 90 minutes) and the performances are so riveting, we don't notice that the action never leaves the apartment and we don't care.

The performances that Polanski pulls from this cast are nothing short of perfection. Jodie Foster is crisp and explosive as Penelope Longstreet, the mom who feels the Cowans aren't taking what their son did seriously enough; John C. Reilly also scores as Michael, Penelope's husband who thinks this whole meeting was bad idea but tries to make the most of it; Christoph Waltz garners major laughs as the apathetic Alan Cowan, who can't stay off his cell phone long enough to deal with what's happening and Kate Winslet offers a bold and brassy Nancy Cowan, the bitterly unhappy, screaming on the inside kind of character that few actresses nail the way Winslet does. The film is handsomely mounted and is yet another testament to the cinematic storytelling skills of the iconic Roman Polanski. Fans of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? will have a head start here.



Broadway Melody of 1940
MGM struck gold with the inspired pairing of Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell in Broadway Melody of 1940, a splashy and entertaining musical confection with just enough plot to make a viable movie without ever interfering with the magic of Astaire and Powell's tap shoes.

Johnny Brett (Astaire) and King Shaw (George Murphy) are dance partners and best friends struggling to get to Broadway. A Broadway producer named Bob Casey comes into the tiny dance hall where they are performing and immediately wants to sign Johnny as the leading man for a new musical starring Claire Bennett (Powell). Johnny thinks Casey is a bill collector looking to squeeze King for some money he owes and thinking King can't be served a subpoena if it's not put in his hand, Johnny tells Casey that he's King. Casey tells his partner, Bert Matthews (Ian Hunter) that he wants to hire King for the show, but, unknown to Johnny, the job offer actually reaches King, who has no problem leaving his pal Johnny in the dust and becoming a Broadway star with Claire.

I implied that the plot for this musical was a little on the wispy side, but it's actually a quite effective look at friendship and how show business can be affected by it. We would have sympathized with King if he had told Casey to go to hell or told him that Johnny was the one Casey really wanted but he never does...he encourages his friend to take the job and even helps him with some of the dance routines and doesn't seem to harbor any resentment toward King...until King starts to fall in love with Claire.

This was my first exposure to the dancing dynamo Eleanor Powell and there is no denying that she was one of the strongest dancers working during the golden era of movie musicals and not just tap dancing either...the choreography allows Powell the opportunity to display all of her dance training. I had always heard what a great tap dancer she was but I was floored when Powell took the stage for "I Concentrate on You" and did most of the dance en pointe! And with the possible exception of Ann Miller, NOBODY did shanae turns like Eleanor Powell.

Other musical highlights included "Please Don't Monkey with Broadway", a snappy song and dance for Astaire and Murphy; a duet for Murphy and Powell called "Between You and Me", and of course have an Astaire staple, a dance with an inanimate object. "I've Got My Eyes On You" features Fred dancing with a golf ball and a piece of sheet music. And let's not forget the incredible finale "Begin the Beguine", the final tap number between Astaire and Powell would eventually be featured in That's Entertainment, but there is actually a ballet before that number to the same tune. This movie was pure entertainment that's definitely got me curious about the rest of Eleanor Powell's resume.



Mike Epps: Inappropriate Behavior
Learning that Mike Epps has just been signed to star in a Richard Pryor biopic motivated me to check out a standup special from 2007 called Mike Epps: Inappropriate Behavior.

Originally airing on HBO, the concert opens with a filmed prologue that has Epps rolling around town on a unicycle trying to figure out how to get to San Jose that goes on a little too long, but once Epps hits the stage, the laughs are pretty much non-stop.

If racial humor is a turnoff, this special is not for you because just about everything that Epps does here is based on race, or more specifically, the difference between the way black people and white people are treated. His comparison of the way black people and white people are treated by police was pretty much dead-on and had this reviewer and the audience on the floor. Epps gets a lot of mileage talking about celebrities going to jail...I loved when he referred to Martha Stewart as a "White Cookbook Bitch." Impressions don't really seem to be Epps' long suit, but he does offer dead on impressions of Judge Joe Brown and Montel Williams.

I also thought it a delicious piece of irony that as racially biased as Epps' material might have been, at one point when he decides to actually acknowledge the white people in the audience, the majority of them appeared to be in the balcony. Speaking of which, it should be noted that I think the camera spends a little too much time capturing audience reactions, yet, the reactions he was getting from black audience members were markedly different from the white audience members.

Epps also gets a lot of mileage out of talking about sex and drugs. His breakdown of what a "fake" drug dealer is was quite revealing. I also liked his impression of a drug addict waiting for a dealer to get to his house with drugs. Also loved his take on the TV show Cops which included a complete rendition of the theme song. It's a compact, but entertaining comedy trip that had me thinking that the guy could make a very credible Richard Pryor.



Tales of Manhattan
From the "They Don't Make Em Like This Anymore" school of filmmaking, five different stories are cleverly interlocked with a clever hook and brought to life by an impressive all-star cast in the 1942 epic Tales of Manhattan, which brings five different stories to the screen on the simple hook of a piece of clothing.

Seventeen different writers, including Billy Wilder, Buster Keaton, Donald Ogden Stewart, and Ben Hecht contributed to this elaborate story that weaves a tailcoat through five different stories.

The tailcoat is first purchased by an arrogant actor (Charles Boyer) who is told that the coat is cursed. The actor is having an affair with a married socialite (Rita Hayworth) whose husband (Thomas Mitchell) figures out what's going on and shoots the guy. Despite the bullet hole now in the jacket, it still gets sold to a womanizing playboy (Ceasar Romero) who leaves evidence of his philandering in the jacket which his fiancee (Ginger Rogers) finds. Our playboy tries to bail himself out by getting his best friend (Henry Fonda) to claim that the coat belongs to him.

We then meet a struggling musician/composer (Charles Laughton) who has gotten an important conductor to introduce a piece he's written and his wife (Laughton's real life wife, Elsa Manchesta) buys the tailcoat for him to wear at the concert, even though it turns out to be too small for him. A skid row bum (Edward G. Robinson) wears the tailcoat to his class reunion and then the coat falls in the hands of a slick con artist (WC Fields) and finally to a group of poor black sharecroppers, who are the first to actually reap benefits from the jacket.

The hook of this tailcoat moving in and out of all the lives of these very different people is a pretty slender thread to mount a film around and I'm guessing director Julien Duvivier knew this and knew that something else was needed to make this story viable entertainment and he nailed it...star power, stars as far as the eye and I can't lie that anticipating what stars were going to pop up here initially piqued my interest, but a couple of these stories, the ones starring Laughton and Robinson in particular, turned out to be genuinely moving.

With all the stars here, it was obvious that Duvivier was given a pretty big budget here and it didn't all go to actors' salaries. The film has top notch production values, with special nods to art direction and Sol Kaplan's music. It should be noted that prior to the film's release, the sequence with WC Fields was cut before the film premiered as some sort of protest to the huge paycheck Fields received, more than any of the other stars, but it has since been restored and the version I saw was the original print in its entirety. The performances are first rate with standout work from Mitchell, Rogers, Laughton, and especially the classy turn by Edward G. Robinson that was powerful and heartbreaking. George Sanders, Gail Patrick, Eugene Pallette, and the legendary Paul Robeson also get their moments in the cinematic sun. Classic film buffs will eat this one up.



Bette Midler: The Showgirl Must Go On
Her recent Tony Award winning run in Hello Dolly made me realize that there are probably a lot of people out there and members of this site who probably only know Bette Midler as a movie star. Yes, Bette has been a movie star for close to four decades now, but before that, she made a name in this business as a live performer, dazzling audiences with her brassy sense of humor and incomparable way with a song. In 1997 Bette won an Emmy for her HBO special Diva in Las Vegas and she returns to Vegas in another HBO concert filmed in 2010 called Bette Midler: The Show Must Go On.

This lavish HBO special was shot from The Colesseum in Ceasar's Palance and was actually directed by Midler herself. She is backed up by a legion of long-legged Vegas showgirls and, of course, "the Staggering Harlettes,". Bette still knows how to command a stage after half a century of doing it, but I found this concert to be a bit of a disappointment. Don't get me wrong...Bette Midler never phones it in and always makes me laugh, but when you've been doing live shows as long as Bette has been doing them, it's very important to bring fresh material to each show and, honestly, there wasn't a lot of stuff here that true fans haven't already seen multiple times.

The title tune was something I hadn't heard before and I liked a song she did that I hadn't heard before called "Hello in There" that had a real Sondheim quality to the lyrics, but the rest of this concert was the just the same old stuff we've been hearing from Bette for years and as hard as she tried to disguise it, it was obvious that even Bette is tired of singing some of these songs.

Right after the opening number, she went into "Friends", and "The Rose"...I mean how many times can you imagine Bette has sung these songs? She attempted some vocal tricks with "The Rose" to keep audience members from singing along, though I loved what she had the camera do with the audience members waving their cell phones in the air during the number. "Do you wanna Dance?" featured some imaginative choreography that actually featured the showgirls en pointe, but it wasn't enough to disguise the whole "been there done that" feeling the number had. It should also be mentioned that HBO cut almost 30 minutes of material from the original production, the Delores Delago section where Bette puts her spin on a couple of Elvis tunes.

It goes without saying that a Midler show wouldn't be complete without her Soph jokes and they were a big hit as always though I was a little taken aback when she actually sat at the edge of the stage and told the audience that Soph was a character she made up. She then surprised me again when she sang "The Glory of Love" accompanying herself on the ukelele...probably the only real surprises this concert provided. There is entertainment provided for people who have never seen Midler live, but for us longtime fans, this one was a bit of a letdown.



Blackkklansman
Have always been hot and cold with the work of Spike Lee, a director who I think has a lot to say but has a tendency to ramble. Though the film has a strong emotional center that definitely stirred feelings, 2018's Blackkklansman doesn't quite match its intentions due to Lee's accustomed preachy style that paints the black hats of the story a little too black.

Based on a book by the central character, this is the story of Ron Stallworth, the first black man hired by the Colorado Springs, Colorado police department during the 1970's. He begins in the records department but is quickly promoted to Intelligence where, with one phone call, instigates an investigation into the Ku Klux Klan that gets sticky when he the local President wants to meet Stallworth so another detective, who is white and Jewish, is sent to meet with the President, while Stallworth initiates a relationship over the telephone with national Klan leader David Duke. Amidst all this, he also finds himself drawn to a pretty black college student who is the leader of the Black Student Union and his investigation ends up putting her in danger.

Spike Lee, along with co-screenwriters Charles Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Wilmott have all pulled out their racism sledgehammers to bring us a story that despite being fact based, really appears to have been exaggerated for the sake of entertainment. The evil white man's treatment of the poor black man permeates every frame of this movie...we actually get a scene of Stallworth walking through the police station and getting papers knocked out of his hand by a fellow white officer...what is this, seventh grade? The film also provides an insight into the Ku Klux Klan that I just had a hard time accepting. We all know that the Klan is evil and does horrible things, but this story makes the Klan look stupid and ignorant and I just don't buy that an organization of this size and this power is populated with people as ignorant as they appear here.

Despite all of this, this film does stir the emotions that I think Lee intended. There is definite wrong done here and it's not all on the part of the alleged black hats of the story either. The initial resentment and lack of support that Stallworth receives from his department does ring true and there was a cockiness to the character of Ron Stallworth that damaged his appeal as a hero we could get fully behind, especially when he seemed oblivious to the danger he was putting this girl in. Speaking of the girl, I was also impressed with the fact that she couldn't accept Ron once he finally admitted to being a cop. There are some genuine moments of suspense that stopped me in my tracks...I swear I stopped breathing when the maniacal Felix showed up on Ron's doorstep after looking his address up in the phone book.

The performances serve the story properly with a special nod to Adam Driver as the white Jewish cop who gets caught in the center of this very dangerous operation. John David Washington is a little much as Stallworth but it fits the story. Topher Grace was surprisingly effective as David Duke and this film was also myy first exposure to Steve Buscemi's brother, Michael. Jasper Pääkkönen also scores as the creepy Felix.

Lee does give the film a very authentic 70's look and sound...the sight of big afros on all the black characters was initially unsettling, as was the use of phrases like "black power" and "power to the people." The production values were solid for the most part, with a special nod to Barry Alexander Brown's film editing. And we got through almost the entire film before we were subjected to Lee's famous "floatcam." And as usual with Spike Lee movies, the music was terrible, but the film is an emotionally charged experience, I just wish the story had been told with a little more balance.



Me and Orson Welles
A movie centered around an iconic Hollywood figure from its golden age seemed like it would be a no-brainer for me, but the 2008 film Me and Orson Welles is a sometimes snore-inducing look at Welles through other people suffers from a cliche-laden script and a not very interesting central character.

The "Me" in the title is named Richard Samuels (Zac Efron), a teenager and aspiring actor living in 1937 New York who manages to get himself a small part in Welles upcoming production of Julius Caesar, which Welles is directing and playing the role of Brutus.

Yes, this is another one of those biopics that really isn't a biopic because it's not a birth to death chronicle of the subject, but a look at the subject during a very specific period of his life, but this one isn't even that. What we get here is a glimpse of Orson Welles through the eyes of this teenage boy who initially worships and reveres Welles but finds he can only take so much of what he perceives as being constantly ridiculed or undermined by the man.

Richard Linklater, the director of Boyhood, brings this story to the screen with a leaden directorial hand and a lethargic pacing that makes this movie somewhat deadening at times. The early scenes of establishing the kind of person Welles is were just kind of predictable and went on way too long. There were way too many scenes of people telling young Richard that you don't defy Orson, you don't correct Orson, you don't question Orson, you get the idea. Well, apparently LInklater and screenwriter Robet Kaplow felt it was necessary that the only way for us to understand Orson Welles was to have a half dozen characters tell Richard the same thing. The movie spent way too much time showing us what an orgre Orson Welles was to this kid Richard instead of providing what this reviewer was really looking for...some insight into Orson Welles himself. I don't know a lot about Welles (sorry, Citizen), and didn't learn anything new here.

Efron works very hard at making the character of Richard interesting and Christian McKey's take on Orson Welles is a matter of taste. The film also provides some nice acting showcases for James Tupper as Joseph Cotten, Ben Chaplin as George Colouris, Leo Bill as Norman Lloyd, and Eddie Marsan as John Houseman. Claire Danes is ultimately wasted as Sonja, Welle's assistant who thinks her way out of her indentured servitude to Welles is through David O. Selznick. The film does feature handsome period detail, but it doesn't make up for the fact that this film doesn't do what it should and it is definitely the weakest work of Richard Linklater's career.



Blockers
A well-worn movie premise is given a couple of tweaks in a silly 2018 comedy called Blockers that provides sporadic laughs instead of the consistent entertainment from credits to credits that a movie should.

The story is a pretty simple: Three parents learn that their daughters are planning to lose their virginity on prom night and decide to stop them. Lisa (Leslie Mann) has raised daughter Julie on her own; Mitchell (John Cena) and wife, Marcie (Serayu Blue) have raised a jock in daughter Kayla and had no clue she was interested in sex; Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) is now divorced from Sam's mother, but has no idea that he is much closer to his daughter than his ex is.

The screenplay by Brian and Jim Kehoe pretty effectively updates teen comedies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and American Pie primarily through making the teens at the center of the story female. It's definitely been a few years since I've heard teenage girls talk so candidly about sex and actually objectifying the men in their lives. But this story does score points on its focus on the parents trying to stop the pact rather than the girls pact itself. Telling this kind of story requires updating that impressed that I really didn't see coming. It was so funny watching Lisa, Mitchell, and Hunter trying to decipher the texts on the girls phones and what the different icons that they're using now means.

Unfortunately, the film takes a little too long trying to establish the relationship between the parents. The opening scene of the three parents meeting for the first time when their girls are starting kindergarten wasn't really necessary. I guess that they wanted to establish the fact that the three parents weren't BFFs the way their daughters were, but it really wasn't necessary. Lisa's pre-prom party at her house clearly established that she and Mitchell had issues with Hunter. I did like the fact that Hunter didn't want to embarrass the girls, but his attempts to stop Lisa and Mitchell from getting in the car and their adventure at the prom party involving funnels of beer was just a waste of screentime.

On the positive side, Ike Barinholtz and John Cena were very funny as the maniacal Hunter and the overly sensitive Mitchell. The relationship between the three girls was very believable as well. The film featured some outrageous physical comedy that the actors committed to, aided by film editor Stacy Schroeder. The film scores some points for bringing a contemporary feel to a dated story, but it just goes into a little too much detail and begins to lose the viewer before it's supposed to.



Crazy Rich Asians
It's a dazzling marriage of romantic comedy and soap opera mounted on such a lavish canvas that we can't help be lured into the world of 2018's Crazy Rich Asians, which effectively disguises its conventional plotting with so much cinematic bling that we almost don't notice.

Rachel Chu is an economics professor at NYU who is asked by her boyfriend Nick to accompany her to Singapore for his best friend's wedding where she will get the opportunity to meet Nick's family for the first time who are, unknown to Rachel, the first family of Singapore, ridiculously wealthy and anxiously waiting for heir apparent Nick to return so that he can take over the family business.

The story comes from the first of a trilogy of books by Kevin Kwan that have become runaway bestsellers and are close to turning Kwan into a literary household name. The screenplay adapted by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim is surprisingly smart even though it tends to lean toward the melodramatic at times. The screenplay is talky, but it is funny and clever talk for the majority of the running time and it was so refreshing hearing this kind of fresh and amusing dialogue coming out of the mouths of characters who aren't white.

Director Jon M. Chu is to be applauded for mounting an elaborate romantic comedy on foreign soil that celebrates Asian culture without shoving it down our throats and never making these characters appear like stereotypes. Loved when Rachel asked her girlfriend if she kept a cocktail dress in the trunk of her car and she replied, "I'm not an animal Rachel."

The story cleverly introduces Nick and his sister as children where it is established that his family has worked for everything they have and are fiercely protective of Nick and his birthright. The story even provides an almost mirror-like subplot revolving around Nick's sister, Astrid and her husband, Michael, a couple struggling to to carve out their own lives without Astrid's wealth.

Chu was apparently given an unlimited budget to give this film its eye-popping canvas. The film features authentic Singapore scenery, and breathtaking settings and costumes. The settings for the bachelor and bachelorette parties are like nothing we've seen before. Constance Wu, who has spent the last four years playing the mom on the ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, proves she has movie star chops with her impressive starring turn as Rachel and Henry Golden is sexy and stylish as Nick. Michelle Yeoh provides a formidable presence as Nick's mom and Awkwafina, so memorable earlier this year in Ocean's 8, is very funny as Rachel's BFF. It goes on a little longer than it needed to, but a minor quibble for a movie that provides enough dazzle it can be forgiven just about anything.



Father of the Bride (1950)
Sparkling direction by Vincente Minnelli and a terrific performance from Spencer Tracy in the title role make the 1950 version of Father of the Bride appointment viewing, even after all these years.

Tracy plays Stanley T. Banks, a partner in a law firm who is complete denial about the fact that his daughter, Kay (Elizabeth Taylor) has gotten engaged to a guy who "makes things" named Buckley Dunstan (Don Taylor, no relation to Elizabeth) and now Stanley and his devoted wife, Ellie (Joan Bennett) now finds themselves up to their necks and emptying their bank accounts in order to give their little girl the wedding of their dreams, if not necessarily hers.

Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett have constructed a witty and engaging story that on the surface is an episodic look at a father going crazy trying to put together the perfect wedding for his daughter. But what is really going on here is a father trying to deal with the fact that his little girl is not a little girl anymore and that he is no longer going to be the only man in her life.

And it is watching this bewildered dad who feels like he's been reduced to nothing but a walking checkbook that makes this movie such a pleasure. Whether he's trying to get out of the kitchen to make a speech at the engagement party, dealing with the snooty caterer's demand that all his furniture has to be moved out of the house , or trying to navigate through the crowd at the reception to say goodbye to his daughter, we feel for Stanley and understand that all of this is still about losing his little girl.

Spencer Tracy gives a master class in comic acting here that actually earned him his fourth Oscar nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor. It's the little moments that Tracy really nails...watch him during the scene where he and Kay can't sleep the night before the wedding or when he sees wife, Ellie coming downstairs the day of the wedding, which brings me to another thing that I liked that Minnelli and company did here...it crossed my mind that after making several successful films together, why wasn't Katharine Hepburn cast as Ellie, but then I remembered what the name of the movie was and thought that Hepburn might have taken too much focus off Tracy's character, who is really the central character here. I also loved a very funny nightmare sequence where Stanley thinks he has missed the wedding. And I can't think of a more underrated piece of physical comedy than when Stanley is trying to fit into his old tuxedo.

Don't get me wrong...Joan Bennett is enchanting as Ellie and never fades into the wallpaper here. And has there ever been a more beautiful movie bride than Elizabeth Taylor? Taylor actually gives a performance of substance here and she works beautifully with Tracy. Billie Burke and Moroni Olsen were fun as Buckley's parents and Leo G. Carroll had me on the floor as the prissy caterer, Carleton Carpenter can also be gimpsed in a bit as an ex of Kay's and as one of Buckley's groomsmen. And yes, that is a very young Russ Tamblyn playing Kay's kid brother. A warm and winning family comedy that inspired a sequel the following year called Father's Little Dividend and was remade in 1991 with Steve Martin.



My Blue Heaven(1990)
Despite an occasional lull in a story that keeps the stars separated for too much of the film, the 1990 comedy My Blue Heaven is worth a look thanks to a pair of terrific lead performances that almost allow the viewer to overlook the screenplay that's not sure what kind of story it's telling.

Rick Moranis plays Barney Coopersmith, a tight-assed FBI agent whose wife has just left him who has been assigned to protect a criminal named Vinny Antonelli (Steve Martin) who has been flown from Manhattan to the suburbs as part of the witness protection program to keep him alive until he testifies in two different trials. Vinny's wife (Deborah Rush) has left him too and it is this common thread between these two guys that springboards a slow burn of a relationship where both parties learn from each other.

I have to admit that teaming Martin and Moranis was quite inspired and something that I would never have thought of, but it really works here and more surprising is the way it works. Martin definitely plays the more outrageous, cartoon-like character that he can play in his sleep and guarantees laughs, but it is Moranis' work as the nerdy FBI agent who eventually sheds his nerd outer shell that really makes this story worth the investment..

Nora Ephron, fresh off her Oscar-nominated screenplay for When Harry Met Sally, provides a humorous story but the method in which the story is told is a little bit confusing. Martin's Vinny and the all the characters in Vinny's orbit seem to be written and played as a satire, in the fashion of a Mel Brooks comedy, while the rest of the characters we are introduced to, including an uptight ADA, played by the always watchable Joan Cusack, are all played with a pretty straight face and the difference between Vinny and the rest of the characters is often quite jarring and makes staying invested in the story difficult at times.

What's not difficult staying with is the wonderful work by Martin and especially Moranis in the starring roles, that makes this movie a lot funnier than it really should be. Ed Lauter, Melanie Mayron, Carol Kane, and the rubbery body of Bill Irwin also offer comic support to this sometimes hard-to-swallow tale that never takes itself too seriously, even though there are times that maybe it should have. Goldie Hawn is billed as one of the executive producers.



Bohemian Rhapsody
The direction displays flashes of brilliance, there are some terrific performances, and you can't beat the music, but 2018's Bohemian Rhapsody still falls short as a great biopic, due primarily to a somewhat cliched screenplay that doesn't offer any surprises or new information.

This film introduces us to a young Freddie Bulsara who goes to a dingy London nightclub on the night that the band playing there loses two of its members. We watch Freddie Bulsara become Freddie Mercury and take his place as the band's charismatic front man, who ends up making a lot of the artistic decisions for the band. We get a glimpse into Freddie's personal life as we watch Freddie fall hard for a pretty girl named Mary and simultaneously discover that he's attracted to men as well. We watch the band's meteroic rise to stardom and how it goes to Freddie's head, who decides he wants a solo career. He crashes and burns as a solo act and simultaneously learns he has contracted AIDS just in time to reunite with the rest of Queen for Live Aid.

Yes, another typical, Mickey and Judy, "Let's put on a Show" backstage musical, right? Not exactly, but what this film does have in common with those mindless pieces of fluffs from the 40's is that it offers no surprises. There is nothing here we haven't seen before, nothing groundbreaking in terms of cinematic storytelling and we really don't learn anything about Queen or Freddie Mercury that couldn't be gleaned from the Internet. The fact that the central character is bisexual does bring a new layer to the show biz romance part of the story, but even that degenerates into silly melodrama that almost wasn't worth exploring at all.

On the other hand, the stuff that works here worked extremely well. Honestly, my favorite moments in the film had more to do with the band than with Freddie's twisted life. My three favorite scenes in the film revolved around how the band created three of their biggest hits, "We will Rock You", " "Another One Bites the Dust", and especially how they created the title song and the initial resistance they met from their label producer (Mike Meyers) about it. I loved the way the intricacy of putting this record together was broken down for us as we watched the individual pieces of the record being strung together and, despite their initial confusion, the band's commitment to Freddie's vision for "Bohemian Rhapsody", which turned out to be Queen's masterpiece.

The film is slow to start, but as the story progresses, it ignites and some of the direction is just dazzling, though I'm not sure where the credit goes for this, because I read that even though Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects) is credited as director, he walked off the film before it was completed and I have to wonder if that has anything to do with why the film's second half is dramatically better than the first, but films are rarely shot in order, so I don't know who is responsible, but patience is required of the viewer because this one takes a little while to get going.

In addition to the above mentioned songs, the film offers other Queen classics like "Keep Yourself Alive", "Killer Queen", "Fat Bottomed Girls", "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and "We are the Champions". And yes, TPTB did have the sense to have the lead lip-synch to original Freddie Mercury recordings...no duplicating that voice.

And even if he doesn't do his own singing, Rami Malek offers a dazzling, Oscar-worthy turn as Freddie, clearly a collaboration of himself and the director(s). Malek really did his homework here, not only recreating Mercury's onstage persona flawlessly, but doing some very convincing fingering on the keyboard as well. I also enjoyed Gwilym Lee and Ben Hardy as Queen band members Brian May and Roger Taylor, respectively. The film also deserves attention in the areas of film editing, set direction, sound, and sound editing. It's not everything it should have been, but what's there ain't bad.



Robin Williams Live on Broadway
Once again, the late Robin Williams commands a large Manhattan venue with little or no effort in a 2002 concert called Robin Williams Live on Broadway that would eventually be broadcast on HBO and earn Williams two Emmy nominations.

Although it's not identified, I'm pretty sure the venue here is Radio City Music Hall, only because there just aren't a lot of venues in Manhattan the size of the one we get a glimpse of here. Anyway, all you get is Robin Williams on a bare stage with nothing but a table with about a dozen bottles of water on it, partly to aid the star in staying hydrated, but they do become part of the show more than once. He actually spills some water on the stage at one point and turns it into a five minute comic bit which I know was not planned. He utilizes another bottle to impersonate a male cat marking his territory.

Williams does not depend on the water bottles at all as he offers lengthy and humorous diatribes on the Winter Olympics and the bias of judges from certain countries. Robin seemed to have a particular grudge with French judge, or he just really enjoys doing a French accent because he spends a lot of time here ragging on the French.

As always, Robin's rantings always turn political which means, in 2002, is going to involve a lot of talk about George W. Bush. If you were a fan of Bush's presidency (Robin just calls him "W"), you just might want to give this entire concert a pass, because Robin is merciless on George W here...he actually makes fun of the guy for waving at Stevie Wonder during a parade (think about that one for a minute). As merciless as Robin might have been, just like George Carlin, everything Robin said is absolutely correct.

Not to say that everything he said comes out the way he planned it...at one point, he mispronounces the word "skier" and instead of pretending the mistake didn't happen, he addresses it and gets two more huge laughs out of it. This man's mind moved at a rate of about 1000 MPH and get exhausting trying to keep up at times, but the challenge was always such a pleasure. RIP, Robin.



Blow Out (1981)
Sizzling direction by Brian De Palma is the centerpiece of a Hitchcock-influenced chiller from 1981 called Blow Out that still provides edge-of-your-seat suspense over thirty years after its original release.

John Travolta plays Jack, a movie sound effects engineer in Philadelphia who is out one night recording sounds for a movie and accidentally witnesses and records a car's tire blowing out and careening off a bridge. Jack jumps in the water and pulls a girl out of the car but the driver drowns. It turns out the driver of the car is the Governor of Philadelphia who is planning a run for the presidency. Jack learns that the girl (Nancy Allen) is a hooker named Sally and Jack is strong-armed into keeping quiet about it.

Jack takes his tape home and listens to it again and realizes that he hears a gun shot before the blow out, turning what he thought was an accident into a murder. He takes his equipment to the police who have already closed the case as an accident. He tells Sally what he has discovered and she just wants to forget about what happened and go on with her life. A TV journalist approaches Jack about his equipment and when Jack attempts to turn over the equipment to him, suddenly all his tapes and video of the accident have been erased and he and Sally's lives are now in danger.

Brian De Palma really triumphed here creating a compelling and riveting nail biter that doesn't play all of its cards too quickly. The initial scenes of Jack doing his work efficiently establish what Jack does for a living and that he's good at what he does and why we immediately believe him about the gun shot he heard. We even get a little backstory near the halfway point where we learn that Jack once did surveillance work for the police and how a mistake he might have made forced him to find a new line of work. I was also impressed by the fact that we learned Jack's instincts about what happened were on the money through the appearance of a deadly assassin (John Lithgow) even if we never learn exactly who he's working for. This movie proved that your last name doesn't have to be Kennedy in order for your life to be in danger just by running for President.

De Palma uses Philadelphia as a striking canvas upon which to tell this effective little thriller, painting one stark cinematic image after another...I love the shot of Jack in the woods recording the owl and the owl at the foreground of the shot looking straight at the camera or the hair raising drive Jack makes through the streets of downtown Philly, not to mention that fabulous shot of Sally screaming for Jack to help her as the parade festivities continued down below. And let's not forget Sally in Jack's arms with the fireworks exploding overhead.
Yes, it defies credibility that Jack was able to get to Sally as quickly as he did which involved, getting up and walking out of an ambulance with nobody stopping him among a lot of other traffic violations and property damage, but by this time we don't care, we just want Jack to save Sally.

Travolta is solid as Jack and Nancy Allen brings a freshness to the hooker with a heart of gold that is quite endearing. Lithgow is bone-chilling and I also loved future NYPD Blue star Dennis Franz as Sally's alleged accomplice who hangs her out to dry. It wasn't long after this film that Nancy Allen became Mrs. Brian De Palma and you can see De Palma's triumph in 1976 with Carrie was no fluke.



Austin Powers in Goldmember
Mike Meyers and company return for a final (to date) round of international hi-jinks in 2002's Austin Powers in Goldmember, an outrageous third adventure for the 1960's superspy that throws anything resembling logic and realism out the window in favor for some big belly laughs.

The story is so not the story here, but from what I could glean, Austin hopes to find Dr. Evil and Mini-me, who he believes are behind the kidnapping of his father, Nigel Powers (Michael Caine) and must also stop a someone named Goldfinger, who has designed a tractor beam called Preparation H, which is supposed to control all World Organization satellites, but in order to stop Goldmember, Austin must travel back to 1975 where he picks up his new female partner, one Foxy Cleopatra (Beyonce Knowles) to help him with his multiple missions.

Mike Meyers and director Jay Roach just throw out all the rules in bringing this outrageous and difficult to follow tale to the screen. Fortunately, there is so much funny stuff going on here, we almost don't notice that little of what's going on here is making sense, starting off with a movie-within-a-movie. which features cameo appearances from Tom Cruise, Gwyneth Paltrow, Steven Spielberg, Kevin Spacey, Danny De Vito, and Britney Spears.

The movie is just one comic bit after another and they come at such a lightning pace we don't have time to decide what's funny and what's not and exactly what our hero is doing at any point in the story. I gave up trying to keep up with the plot about 25 minutes in and still found myself laughing my ass off for pretty much the entire running time. I found a bit about deceptively dirty subtitles especially funny.

Meyers and company are wearing their characters like comfortable shoes by now and, like the previous two films, the film features outrageous set pieces and fantastic costumes. Marguerite Derrick also provides great choreography for a couple of music numbers, including one led by Dr. Evil and Mini-me in prison. It doesn't make any sense, but it will make you laugh.



Evita
Madonna was given the opportunity to become a genuine movie star when she was awarded the starring role in Evita, the 1996 film version of the Broadway musical that gave audiences a look at the First Lady of Argentina in a way they never expected. Unfortunately, as much as this film has going for it, it ultimately doesn't work because the director and screenwriter don't seem to know how they want us to feel about the subject.

This opera written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, the composers of Jesus Christ Superstar first came to Broadway in 1978 with Patti Lupone in the title role, making her a Broadway sensation and winning the actress her first Tony Award. The vocal demands of the title role are one of the many reasons it took so long for the opera to make it to the big screen.

This is the story of Eva Duarte Peron, the illegitimate daughter of an Argentine nobleman who, at the age of 15, moved to Buenos Aires to pursue a career as an actress. This film shows young Eva arriving in Buenos Aires and through a second rate nightclub singer, a photographer, and a couple of military men, basically slept her way to the top, eventually affording her a meeting with the President of Argentina, Juan Peron, who she would meet at a charity event in 1944 and marry the following year. We watch as Eva's position as First Lady of Argentina sharply divides the country...the military and the upper class despise the woman and think she has too strong an influence on Peron, but the working class people adore her and the juxtaposition of loyalty among the people of Argentina is what makes up the crux of this musical.

As to whether or not Eva actually slept her way to the top, who's to really say, but that is definitely what this musical seems to be telling us. It's summed up quite tidily in a musical number called "Goodnight and Thank You" where we watch Evita efficiently and effectively breeze her way through several men on her journey toward Juan Peron and never look back.

Director Alan Parker, no stranger to musicals (Fame,The Commitments), has spared no expense in bringing this lavish tale to fruition and displays a lot of respect for the original stage piece with minimum tampering with the score; unfortunately, with the aid of his host/narrator for the story, Che Guevera (Antonio Banderas), he fails to make clear how we, the audience are supposed to feel about Evita. As a narrator, Che should be a kind of neutral observer, but he is anything but...the character is almost seems to be Eva's conscience and treats the character with a measure of contempt for the majority of the running time, though everything else that's happening seems to make the character sympathetic, which makes for a very confusing cinematic experience.

The story is also hampered by a dark and un-melodic score that probably won't appeal to non-musical fans, which I think is one of the main reasons Madonna won the leading role over people like Barbra Streisand, Faye Dunaway, and Meryl Streep. I suspect the money people behind this film thought the score might be more appealing with the biggest music star on the planet center stage. The score does include some great songs like "Buenos Aires", "Another Suitcase in Another Hall", "High Flying Adored", and the show's most famous song, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina". A song written just for the movie, "You Must Love Me", won the Best Song Oscar for 1996.

Madonna had to be re-trained to sing musical theater and it works though I never really bought her as a political dynamo who divided a country so passionately. Madonna actually won a Golden Globe for this performance which says to me '96 must have been a weak year for comedies and musicals. Banderas is an energetic Che and Jonathan Pryce is superb as Juan Peron, but it's Parker's concept of this character, which seems to come through the Che character, that keeps this film from being what it should be.



The Wife
Colorful, intelligent dialogue and some brilliant performances make 2018's The Wife appointment viewing. This is a riveting melodrama that redefines that old saying about a woman being behind every great man.

As our drama begins, a writer named Joseph Castleman and his wife, Joan, are awakened by a phone call from Stockholm informing them that Mr. Castleman has just been selected to receive the Nobel Prize in literature. The Castlemans inform their son, David, also a writer and their pregnant daughter, Suhsannah, of the honor and David agrees to accompany the Castlemans to Stockholm to watch his father accept the prize.

The simplistic premise here would imply that this film is about Joseph Castleman but, of course, the title of the film implies it is not. Joan was a former student of Castleman's who met him while she was still in college and he was married to someone else. Flashbacks reveal that their romance ended Castleman's first marriage and how Joan gave up her own dreams and aspirations to be a writer in order to devote herself to her husband, but, as expected, more is to be revealed.

The screenplay by Jane Anderson (Olive Kitteridge), based on a novel by Meg Worlitzer is rich with intelligent dialogue that sparkles and dances, which is only appropriate since three of the central characters are writers. This story is not only examines the sham that the marriage of Joe and Joan Castleman has become, but also into the delicate egos of writers and what makes them tick. I love during one of the flashback scenes when Joan meets a celebrated writer (Elizabeth McGovern, in a brief but flashy turn), who discourages Joan's efforts to write and Joan tells her "I have to write" and the writer replies, "No, you have to be read."

Director Bjon Ruge respects the piece by mounting the story with delicacy and a very deliberate pacing that doesn't play all of the story cards too quickly. Our suspicions regarding exactly what's going on begins to manifest through the writer, played by Christian Slater, who wants to write a book about Joseph, but our patience is requested here and rewarded in full.

Above everything else, Ruge has crafted an absolutely breathtaking, Oscar-worthy performance from Glenn Close in the title role...Close, who also hasn't looked so beautiful onscreen in years, delivers a master acting class here in the role of a woman who is screaming on the inside because of everything she has sacrificed in the name of her husband's career. Close's performance could finally win her the Oscar that has alluded her since The World According to Garp and she is matched note for note by the criminally underrated Jonathan Pryce as the egomaniacal Joseph. Close and Pryce create one of the most believable onscreen marriages I have seen in years. Their final moments onscreen together are electrifying and heartbreaking. Mention should also be made of Max Iron's explosive David, as well as top-notch set direction and music. Fans of Tim Burton's Big Eyes will have a head start here.



The Five Heartbreaks
Long before there ever was a Tyler Perry, there was a guy named Robert Townsend who was a pioneer in independent film making for African Americans and without whom, there would probably be no Tyler Perry. One of Townsend's most entertaining and mainstream offerings was a 1991 offering called The Five Heartbeats, a delicious musical melodrama that despite some cliched story elements, tells a compelling fact-based story with characters the viewer comes to care about.

This film is allegedly based on a vocal group from the early 60's called The Dells but the story Townsend tells here probably could have bee about any of the all-male singing groups that were competing for fans during the 50's and 60's. In this film, we watch Duck (Townsend) and his group The Five Heartbeats struggle with finding proper management, a meteoric rise to fame and the problems with addiction that usually follow this kind of fame and how addiction and lousy taste in women eventually lead to the destruction of the group, if, not necessarily, their friendship.

The screenplay by Townsend and Keenan Ivory Wayans contains all the elements you would expect from such a premise and I'm pretty sure a lot of things that occur in the story were based on personal experience. It is not surprising that racism is touched upon here since it is the 60's, but a couple of different kinds of racism are explored here which we really don't see coming. Our young musicians not only learn they have to be careful with police, but with the people who are supposedly looking out for them as well, evidenced in the scene where they see the cover for their first album for the first time.

As director, Townsend does an effective job in establishing this family unit known as the Five Heartbeats from the beginning of the film but observing this unit crack under the pressure of success, addiction, and jealousy is sometimes silly and sometimes very moving. The scene where Duck and his brother, JT, start tearing off each other's clothes during a performance and then work it into the act was kind of silly, especially since it seemed to trigger their ascent to the top of the charts. The scene where Duck and his baby sister (Tresa Thomas) put together a song with pieces of paper he digs out of the bottom of his clothes drawers was also kind of silly, but did not distract from a consistently compelling story.

The performances are solid, with standout work from Michael Wright as Eddie and Leon as JT and Diahann Carroll makes the most of a thankless role as the wife of the group's manager. Hawthorne James also scores as the record label owner who reveals a very dark side. I'm pretty sure that none of the actors playing the Heartbeats were actually doing their own singing, but the dubbing was efficiently done. The denoument is a little on the saccharine side, but an entertaining ride for the most part.



Lovelace
The late Linda Lovelace became an international star when she was paid $1250 to star in a pornographic extravaganza called Deep Throat that would eventually make $600,000,000 and gave Linda her 15 minutes that would come to a crashing end. Lovelace is the 2013 biopic that attempts to put a human face on this show business fad that features a brilliant performance from its leading man, but suffers due to cliched writing and story structure, and some overripe performances.

As the story opens, we are introduced to 21 year old Linda Boreman who meets the charismatic Chuck Traynor at a party, who claims to be a restaurant owner but has in hands in a lot of other pots, including prostitution and pornography. He romances Linda in record time and convinces her to marry him. Before she even realizes what is happening, Linda finds herself starring in Deep Throat because of a home movie Chuck made of them having sex, which documented Linda's very special skills in the area of oral sex. The film than flashes back to the beginning of their marriage where it is now revealed that Chuck physically abused and pimped out Linda on a regular basis.

Linda Lovelace is a worthy subject for a biopic, but screenwriter Andy Bellin erred as he tried to adhere to a New Millenium trend in film making where the story is told out of sequence, which has worked for a lot of movies, but it really doesn't work here. The story moves from Linda's quickie marriage to Chuck straight to her auditioning for Deep Throat and the superstardom that followed for Linda and then suddenly the story flashes back to reveal who Chuck really is. Unfortunately, the viewer already knows what a slimeball Chuck is and when all these extra layers of his abuse of poor Linda are revealed, instead of evoking sympathy for Linda the way it should, it just makes Linda look like an idiot for never getting away from the guy.

The story attempts to make it look like Linda was trapped and there was no way out. At one point, they even try to blame Linda's mother who, when Linda shows up on her doorstep, asking to return home, tells her to go home and obey her husband. It may have been wrong of Linda's mother to do that, but Linda had other options, like any victim of domestic violence does. Right before the film flashes back, it flashes forward six years and we see Linda attached to a lie detector being questioned about her marriage and we're never really told what that's about. Chuck does eventually get what's coming to him, but it comes way too late in the story for this reviewer's satisfaction.

Amanda Seyfried works very hard to be convincing as the abused starlet, but never really does and the supporting performances from Hank Azaria, Bobby Cannavale, Debi Mazar, and Chris Noth are a little hard to take as well. Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick made the most of their scenes as Linda's parents but the standout performance for me was the brilliant work by Peter Skarsgaard as Chuck, in his most bone-chilling performance since Boys Don't Cry...Skarsgaard's powerhouse performance alone makes this film worth a look. Fans of the Bob Fosse movie Star 80 will have a head start here.