Gideon58's Reviews

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Alex in Wonderland
Perhaps a little full of himself after his smash hit Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, director and screenwriter Paul Mazursky did a serious backslide with 1970's Alex in Wonderland, a talky and pretentious show business comedy-drama that starts off promisingly, but eventually veers off in so many directions that the viewer really doesn't have a clue what Mazursky is trying to say here.

Donald Sutherland plays the title character, Alex Morrison, a movie director who has just completed directing his first film. The film has not been released yet, but it's getting very positive buzz. Alex finds himself being courted by a major studio head and trying to put his wife off regarding buying a bigger house, but the only thing on Alex's mind is what his next project is going to be. The problem is Alex has no idea what that project is going to be.

Initially, Mazursky and Larry Tucker's screenplay seems to be an Americanized version of 8 1/2. Federico Fellini even makes a cameo appearance in the film. Initial interest is provided as Alex contemplates making a film about Lenny Bruce but decides not to do it because he feels no one can play Lenny Bruce but Lenny Bruce. Then he decides he wants to make a movie about racial tension in the country, but friends and hangers on convince him that he is unqualified to make such a movie. We then just watch Alex wandering around Hollywood looking for ideas and it isn't nearly as interesting as Mazursky thinks it is.

The core of the piece actually comes early on when Alex meets with a studio head (played by Mazursky himself) who has apparently seen Alex's first film and is determined that his second film will be for him and throws every script on his desk at Alex, in hopes that he will accept one as his next directorial assignment. This scene is terrific; unfortunately, the film goes seriously downhill after that where we are subjected to bizarre fantasy sequences that are supposed to represent the kind of movie Alex wants to make, including an encounter with a group of naked black people that reminded me of a scene in the equally bizarre Up the Sandbox and a chance encounter in a bookstore with French actress Jeanne Moreau that actually turns into a musical number. These scenes are interspersed with scenes of Alex emotionally abusing his family because he can't decide what he wants to do next. And I'm still scratching my head over the last ten minutes of the doesn't seem to end, it just seems to stop.

What does make this movie worth a look is a near brilliant performance by Donald Sutherland as Alex and the always watchable Ellen Burstyn does bring substance to the role of the wife that isn't in the screenplay. Mazursky's real life daughter, Meg, also appears as Alex's older daughter, Amy. I've always been a fan of Mazursky's work, but this one just left me confused and a little bored.

Of an Age
An Australian filmmaker named Goran Stolevski, who began his career making short films, absolutely knocks it out of the park as the director, writer, and editor of his second feature length film called Of an Age, a sweet, sad, and tasteful romantic drama that tells a story with leisure without challenging viewer attention spans and is so good that I would have awarded it a 2022 Best Picture Oscar nomination over Triangle of Sadness.

The film opens in 1999, introducing us to Kol, a 17 year old guy preparing to enter the finals of a ballroom dancing contest with his BFF Ebony who is taken by surprise when he finds himself attracted to Ebony's older brother, Adam.

I absolutely loved this movie because Stolevski's screenplay doesn't play all of its cards at once and allows the audience to do a little work where figuring out what is going on here is concerned. He also allows his camera to be the primary storytelling tool here. Our first glimpse of Kol finds him dancing bare-chested in front of a mirror. A couple of scenes later, a stranger to Kol describes as being gay to someone over the phone, which prompts an immediate reply from Kol: "I'm not really gay." With the insertion of the word "really" into that line, Stolevski gives us Kol's backstory. We immediately know that Kol is either bisexual, in the closet, bi-curious, or questioning his sexuality. With one word in the screenplay, Stolevski takes about twenty minutes off the running time.

The most fascinating aspect of the story is the very slow dance to a possible romance that follows. Stolevski takes an unconventional route with this by placing Kol and Adam in a car during their first scene alone, limiting what can happen between them and letting the camera tell the story as it takes turn playing Adam and Kol's eyes, surveying each other physically, all the while engaged in polite conversation. There's a fantastic scene where Kol and Adam are in Adam's bedroom and Kol is changing his shirt because he spilled something on it. As Kol dresses and undresses we can see, without the use of any dialogue, how much these two want each other, but they both want the other to make the first move.

I love that the first physical contact between Kol and Adam is a lovingly photographed handshake and when they do finally have sex, Stolevski once again places them inside a vehicle, leaving a lot to viewer imagination. We are shocked that, after one encounter, they are separated like ships in the night. What we don't see coming is reunion 11 years later and even that doesn't go as we hoped. Did love that after 11 years, Kol returns to the story as an out and proud gay man. There is a touch ambiguity to the ending, but it just adds an extra layer of richness to what we've already seen.

Stolevski has a richly imaginative and erotic camera eye that provides romance with taste and never crosses the line into exploitation and never gives us stereotypical gay behavior from Kol and Adam, making this story accessible to a heterosexual audience with an open mind. Elias Anton and Thom Green create a magical chemistry as Kol and Adam, respectively, that help to make this one of the best movies of 2022 that nobody saw.

Loving Couples
The 1980 comedy Loving Couples is a by-the-numbers romantic comedy that remains somewhat watchable thanks to a terrific cast.

Evelyn (Shirley MacLaine) is a doctor who is feeling neglected by her husband, Walter (James Coburn), who is also a doctor. Evelyn's discontent with her marriage makes it very easy for her to drift into an affair with one of her patients, a sexy real estate agent named Greg (Stephen Collins). It's not long before Walter gets a visit from a weather girl named Stephanie (Susan Sarandon), who informs him that she is Greg's girlfriend and that he is having an affair with Evelyn. Of course, Walter and Stephanie decide the best way to get back at their unfaithful lovers is by giving them a dose of their own medicine.

The screenplay by Martin Donovan (Death Becomes Her) sometimes plays like a throwback to romantic comedies of the 1950's and other times like an extended episode of a sitcom. To give you an idea of the kind of film we're talking about, if it were made in the 50's, Evelyn and Walter would have been played by Doris Day and Cary Grant and Stephanie would have been played by Marilyn Monroe. There's a dangling plot point here and there, like we never find out exactly how Stephanie found out who Evelyn was, but it eventually becomes irrelevant. One original bit that brought the film its biggest laugh is when the four principals meet face to face for the first time and discover what's going on. There's also an unnecessary plot complication when an amorous customer of Greg's, played by the fabulous Sally Kellerman, starts to come between him and Evelyn.

Jack Smight's direction is definitely on the pedestrian side and makes an hour and thirty-seven minute film seem twice as long. A running bit about James Coburn's teeth also grows tiresome pretty quickly, as do Stephanie's jokes about the trials and tribulations of being a weather girl, which only make the less than interesting central plot even less interesting than it already is,

Smight does put together a pretty good cast to pull this kind of predictable hijinks off. MacLaine is a little one-note for my tastes, but Coburn is fantastic and Sarandon brings a substance to Stephanie that is not in the screenplay and, of course, Kellerman steals every scene she's in. When it all comes down to it, this is another one of those movies that is like a beautifully wrapped package with nothing inside.

The decades old collaborative relationship with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon has come up with another winner with their 2023 film Air, a slightly manipulative, but very effective look at a marketing strategy that became a singular and all-consuming mission for one particular shoe salesman.

It's the 1980's (and director Affleck makes no bones about pounding this into the viewer's heads) where Nike, which appears to be the #4 shoe company at the time, looking for a way to boost their revenue. One of their salesman, Sonny Vaccaro (Damon) decides the way to do that is by getting the greatest basketball player in the world, Michael Jordan, to endorse one of their sneaker designs. Sonny's idea, though, is instead of having the athlete endorse a particular shoe, design a show created specifically for Jordan and naming it after him.

Director Affleck actually gave a television writer named Alex Convery his first shot at a screenplay, and for a first time screenwriter, the work is pretty impressive. The story might have just a tad more detail than necessary and takes a little too much time with setting up the 80's but the Cinderella story of Sonny Vaccaro is a joy to watch...the slightly overweight dreamer who has settled into the quiet rut his life becomes until this opportunity falls into his lap. It was especially fun watching Vaccaro trying to convince his bosses what he wants to do and then defying everyone by making the forbidden move of talking to Michael's parents. Loved when Sonny first arrives at the Jordan home and meets his parents and dad stays in front working on the car while mom deals with Mr. Vaccaro.

One thing I loved that Affleck did here was, being aware that he was dealing with Jordan at the beginning of the career, he knew he could not cast Jordan as himself (apparently he even told this to Jordan personally), so he does cast a young actor in the role, but we never see his face and he never speaks. His mom handles all negotiations for him. I loved that first meeting between Vacarro and Mrs. Jordan, the planning meeting of the Nike staff where they decide CEO Phil Knight (Affleck) should arrive at the meeting seven minutes late, Sonny's first talk with Michael's agent, David Falk, Sonny's speech at the meeting, and his final phone conversation with Mrs. Jordan.

Affleck put a lot of care into production values here and I was particularly impressed with the music that frames the story. Not only are original recordings from th 80's employed, but some of the most famous riffs and vamps heard during the 1980's are tweaked just enough that Affleck probably didn't have to pay for permission to use them. Matt Damon brings a lovely sincerity to Vaccaro and gets solid support from Jason Bateman as marketing exec Rob Strasser, and Chris Tucker as Howard White. Oscar winner Viola Davis and Chris Messina steal every scene they're in as Jordan's mother and agent, respectively. It takes a little longer than necessary, but a very smooth and entertaining ride nevertheless.

North by Northwest
The Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, teams with one of his favorite leading men, the iconic Cary Grant and knocked it out of the park with the classic 1959 suspense thriller North by Northwest that combines suspense, humor, and action in a package that is so engaging this reviewer stayed on the edge of his chair. This film was robbed of a 1959 Best Picture nomination and, as he was so many times, Hitch was also robbed of a Best Director nomination.

Grant stars as Roger Thornhill, a New York advertising executive who gets abducted when he is mistaken for a man named George Kaplan and finds himself in so much danger that a bottle of bourbon is poured down his throat and he is placed in an automobile planning for him to drive it off a cliff. No sooner does he miraculously get out of that mess is he framed for murder at the United Nations in front of dozens of people, which sends him on the run for his life.

To reveal anymore of what happens would be wrong, but let me say that this film has always been considered top tier Hitchcock and there's a reason for that. In my review of more than one Hitchcock film, I have mentioned that with his films, it is not so much the story but the way it is told. With a screenplay by six time Oscar nominee Ernest Lehman, we have a first rate story that offers mystery, romance, red herrings, humor, and, of course suspense, at every turn. Loved after his drunken automobile ride when Roger returns to the scene of the crime and finds there's no bourbon stain on the sofa and the liquor cabinet is now a bookshelf. The scenes of him playing detective with his mother, played by the fabulous Jessie Royce Landis, in Kaplan's hotel room is a welcome comic respite to what has gone on up to that point. The story presented initially provides us with two sets of black hats and we somehow know they aren't both black hats we just can't figure out which is which.

And as soon as the comic relief winds down, we get undeniable sexual tension between Roger and the icy Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) that arrives a little too on cue to be coincidental but we have to wait a minute to find out what's going on there. And there are no words for that crop duster plane sequence...loved the way it started with a quiet shot of the plane WAY in the background that only lasts a couple of seconds and the conclusion of it, which we definitely don't see coming. And a big bouquet to Hitch for setting that heart-stopping finale on the faces of Mount Rushmore. Most directors would have put that scene on the Hollywood sign.

Grant and Hitchcock work well together here and I'm glad Jimmy Stewart was doing Anatomy of a Murder making him unavailable for this. The sexual sparks Grant creates with Eva Marie Saint are undeniable and I loved the steely turn from James Mason and Martin Landau as his number one flying monkey. It's a tad longer than it needs to be, but anyway you slice it, a classic that lived up to its reputation.

Being Mary Tyler Moore
Mary Tyler Moore, whose passing in 2017 I'm still in denial about, is the subject of 2023's Being Mary Tyler Moore, a slightly overlong but loving look at the iconic actress that doesn't seem to have been created for people who want to learn about her, but for people who already adored her and want to revel in that adoration.

The movie actually uses two different interviews from very different periods of her life that serve as a hook for the film and director James Adolphus goes back to over and over. One is an interview from the 1960's with David Susskind while The Dick Van Dyke Show was still in production. The other, which I suspect was in the 1980's, finds her being interviewed by Rona Barrett, whose face we never see.

The film does eventually get down to the facts, starting with Mary's childhood in a racially charged Brooklyn neighborhood. This film provides the first look at Mary's parents, who I've never seen before, sitting in the front row of a taping of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the seven season sitcom where Moore created the 1970's first true symbol of feminism, Mary Richards, even though this was not Mary's intent at all. Mary's feminist sensibilities are revealed long before that as we learn that it was Mary's idea, not Carl Reiner's or anybody else, that Laura Petrie wear pants.

It was wonderful seeing clips from Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman, the CBS television special that Van Dyke threw to Mary and ended up getting her the offer of her own show. Loved learning that when Mary agreed to make her Broadway dramatic debut in Whose Life is it Anyway?, she showed up at the first rehearsal with the entire role memorized. Also loved the home movies of Mary's bridal shower before marrying Robert Levine.

But it's the glimpses into her personal life that were the most revealing for this reviewer. One of the few things I actually learned in this documentary is that Mary had a younger sister named Elizabeth who overdosed at the tender age of 21. This was one of the few things Moore was a little reluctant to talk to Rona Barrett about. This and the accidental death of her son, Richie.

Again, this documentary does provide a lot of information about the actress that people who aren't hardcore fans of the actress didn't know. However, for hardcore fans of Mary, this movie allows us to revel in the incredible one-of-a-kind performer Mary was and if you're looking to find out that Mary's onscreen persona was the polar opposite of who she was, you will be disappointed. Commentary is provided by Ed Asner, James L Brooks, Treva Silverman, Mary's best friend, actress Beverly Sanders, Norman Lear, Joel Grey, Julia Louis Dreyfuss, Katie Couric, and many more. Serious Mary Tyler Moore fans will be in heaven here.

North by Northwest is my number 5 Hitchcock, and for a while it was my number 1 before I re-evaluated Psycho, Rear Window and Vertigo.

The North Avenue Irregulars
Back in 1979, Disney Studios had a modest hit with a silly action comedy called The North Avenue Irregulars that offers pretty consistent laughs throughout and some serious star power, but it's difficult to figure out who the intended demographic for this film was.

Rev. Michael Hill is a widowed minister with two small children who is getting ready to begin his new assignment at the North Avenue Church when he is approached by agents from the US Treasury requesting assistance in bringing down a gambling syndicate in town. Rev. Hill finds resistance from the local businessmen in town who are afraid of retaliation, but he does find willing volunteers in six of his female congregants who are more than willing to go after the bad guys.

After watching this film, I did confirm my suspicion that it was based on a true story since Don Tait's screenplay was based on a book written by Rev. Albert Fay Hill. This was another reason I wondered who the demographic for this film was, because if you were looking for fact-based stories where ministers took on the mob in the late 1970's, the last place you'd look is Disney Studios, but that's what they have done here.

The other reason I suspected that this film was based on true events that there's so much that goes on here that's just too silly not to be based in some sort of truth. And just when we're getting into the spirit of said silliness, we take a dark turn at the halfway point of the film where the church is actually set on fire, where we actually begin to wonder if we're watching a Disney movie.

Director Bruce Bilson, whose primary directing experience was in television, provides yeomen service to this fast-moving story, which consists of a lot of complex car-chases that involve a lot of vehicles on a lot of crowded LA streets and some strong camerawork and Bilson delivers for the most part, though there are a couple of moments during the final showdown where we can actually see the reflection of the blue screen behind some of the actor's silhouettes. And must also mention how much the opening credits and music reminded me of The Pink Panther.

The late Edward Herrmann, who would later make a career for himself as Hollywood's most cuckolded husband, was a surprisingly charming leading man in the role of Rev. Hill and created a nice chemistry with Susan Clark as the serious and sincere Church secretary. Cloris Leachman, Karen Valentine, Virginia Capers, Patsy Kelly, and the fabulous Barbara Harris play the other five lady bad-asses. Along the way if you pay attention, you will also catch appearances from Michael Constantine, Herb Voland, Steve Franken, Frank Campanella, Alan Hale, Dena Dietrich, Louisa Moritz, Ivor Francis, Ruth Buzzi, and that's a very young Melora Hardin playing the Reverend's young daughter, Carmel. It's no Mary Poppins, but there's some fun to be gleaned here.

Big George Foreman
The 2023 biopic Big George Foreman is the long and rambling look at the legendary heavyweight boxer who earned the championship title at the age of 25 and briefly regained it twenty years later, the only boxer ever to achieve that feat.

The classic biopic route is charted here as we watch George from his dirt poor childhood to his ascent to the championship, his loss of said championship, which led to his finding religion and a brief tenure as a minister before opening a youth community center and eventually back on the road to being the World Heavyweight Champion.

Director and screenwriter George Tillman, who directed a film I loved called The Hate U Give, puts a lot of work and respect in his presentation of Foreman's life, which has definitely been a unique journey that deserves a tribute, it's just ashamed that Tillman couldn't have applied a little more imagination to the execution of his dream. The screenplay he co-wrote with Frank Baldwin borders on cliche and something this familiar shouldn't take this long to unfold before us.

There's just too many scenes here that we've seen a million times in other movies that just didn't bring anything new to the table. From the childhood dreams and bullying scenes to the "my business partner ran off with my money" scene to the "you're too old to come back", these scenes all come to fruition here but it all felt so "been there done that" that this movie seemed about six hours long.

What did make this movie worth investing in was a surprisingly effective performance from Khris Davis in the title role. Davis, whose credits include Judas and the Black Messiah and Space Jam A New Legacy, gives a real movie star performance as Foreman, which Davis seems to have developed from the outside the walk, anyone whose ever seen Foreman will see that Davis nails it, as well as Foreman's gregarious spirit that inhabits the performance as well. Davis makes us fall in love with Foreman and make us stay that way until the closing credits. Similar to a moment in the Eddie Murphy film Dolemite is My Name, loved when George confesses to his trainer when he's getting back in the ring for the first time in a decade that he's embarrassed to take off his robe.

Tillman has been afforded a big budget for this story and all the money is up there on the screen. Shout-outs to art direction/set direction, production design, and costumes, which are definite standouts. There are a couple of surprises in the supporting cast other than Oscar winner Forrest Whitaker as George's trainer Doc Broadus and Sonja Sohn as George's mother. LOVED Sullivan Jones as Muhammed Ali, Matthew Glave as Howard Cossell, and a dead on impersonation of Johnny Carson from an actor named Tom Virtue, but this movie definitely could have used a tighter screenplay, but there's enough here to gain attention, especially the impressive performance by Khris Davis in the title role.

1989's Dad is a sweet and manipulative family comedy-drama that makes up for its slight overlength with some top-notch performances from a terrific cast, which includes three Oscar winners. Caught in the right mood, this one could ignite a tear duct.

John Tremont (Ted Danson) is a hard working businessman who drops everything when he learns that his mother (Olympia Dukakis) has had a heart attack. We learn that Mom has put her own life on hold so that she can care for John's father, Jake (Jack Lemmon) who seems to be quietly slipping into senility. John wants mom to concentrate on her own health for a change and offers to put his life on hold to take of dad, with an assist from his sister (Kathy Baker) and his son, Billy (Ethan Hawke).

Director and screenwriter Gary David Goldberg has crafted a story of a family trying to hold things together in a crisis, even though the story did feature a few things that didn't make sense to this viewer. Most of the time when we meet elderly characters like Jake in movies, they are very moody and cantankerous, angry about the aging process and how they can't control it. I had an aunt who was like that during her final years. This Jake Tremont seemed to harbor no bitterness or resentment about getting old and puts complete trust in his loving wife, Bette and then in John. Since the film is entitled Dad, I was expecting Bette to die, leaving John and Jake to bond without her, but Bette recovers quickly but doesn't like what Jake's relationship with John has done to her relationship with him.

The abrupt changes in Jake's health were also a little hard to believe. He seems OK until he is diagnosed with Cancer and it seems like just the diagnosis sends Jake into a coma, at which point, John actually moves into his dad's hospital room. These scenes reminded me of Sally Field trying to take care of a dying Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias, a film that was released the same year. Then one day, Jake just wakes up and wants to live life to its fullest, trying all the things he never tried before, which came off a little cliched. Flashbacks to Jake's childhood that allegedly were related to Jake's condition just seemed to pad the running time,

Despite the problems with the story, the film is totally watchable thanks to a fantastic cast all working at the top of their game. Jack Lemmon's glorious performance earned him a Golden Globe nomination and Danson does some of his strongest work as John. Dukakis is splendid, as always, and young Ethan Hawke is adorable as Billy. Also loved JT Walsh as an insensitive doctor. The acting alone makes this one worth watching.

Who Invited Charlie?
Fans of films like What About Bob? and You Me and Dupree will have a head start with 2022's Who Invited Charlie?, a sporadically funny comedy about a family torn apart by an outside influence that thinks it's being cute and original, but for most of the running time, is about as predictable as they come.

It's 2020 Manhattan at the height of pandemic where we meet Phil, a hedge fund manager who is married with a teenage son named Max. A failing business and complete paranoia about Covid-19 motivate Phil to move his family to their home in the Hamptons for awhile. Phil is surprised when his old college roommate, Charlie, who he had run into a few nights before they left New York, shows up in the Hamptons and asking if he can stay with his old roommate and his new family until the pandemic dies down.

The film is written and directed by Nicholas Schutt and Xavier Manrique, who also wrote and directed a 2016 film I hated called Chronically Metropolitan, a film whose best quality was its title. Schutt and Manrique don't fare much better here as they attempt to bring humor to the situation of the pandemic through plotting that we've seen in other films. Personally, I'm over filmmakers trying to mine comedy out of the Pandemic because there really anything about it that was funny. For some reason, the pandemic has provided a plethora of material for stand up comedians, but so far, it has not been an effective breeding ground for feature length comedy.

What does work here is the plotting, not so subtly borrowed from What About Bob? and You Me and Dupree, where the reunion between two old friends who had a questionable past is now affecting their present. We can practically recite the dialogue with the actors as Charlie intrudes on Phil's life and bonds immediately with Max, who doesn't utter two words until he meets Max. Of course, we then expect Charlie to go after Phil's wife, which he doesn't do directly, but he does manage to get her to overlook the fact that Charlie smoked a joint with her teenage son. There's a couple of scenic postcards where we see the main characters hiking and looking over the lake that seem to do nothing but make the movie longer than it needed to be.

The film does feature some nice Manhattan and Hamptons location shooting, but Manrique's direction is wooden, making the film move at a snail's pace. Reid Scott, who was so funny on Veep, is terrific as Phil, as is Adam Pally, so good on the ABC sitcom com Happy Endings brings a nice Bill Murray/Seth Rogen quality to Charlie, but the movie does not sustain interest for its entire running time.

Jane Fonda's first Oscar-winning performance anchors 1971's Klute, a solid blend of crime drama and character study that takes a minute to get going, but it does deliver the goods.

Donald Sutherland plays the title character, John Klute, a small town private investigator who has been commissioned to track down an old friend of his who has disappeared. The trail to finding this guy eventually leads to Klute to Manhattan, where it's revealed that his last contact was with a prostitute named Bree Daniel (Fonda), who, of course, is not exactly enthused to cooperate until other bodies continue to drop as Klute continues his investigation.

Andy and David E. Lewis' screenplay, which earned the film its only other Oscar nomination, doesn't take the route of the traditional murder mystery and chooses an unconventional conduit with which to deliver the story. Prostitutes have been a staple of movies for a long time, but Bree Daniels was just not what we think of when we think of a movie prostitute. Bree is not stupid and she has a surprising ability to be honest about herself even if she can't always be honest with other people about it. Loved the reveal that Bree doesn't love what she does, but she is addicted to it and is unable to stop. This was also the first film I recall where I met a prostitute who is actually seeing a psychiatrist, which allows the screenwriters to create this character onscreen for us and see exactly what makes her tick. Loved the first scene with her shrink where she humbly explains why she is such a good prostitute.

Just as the viewer starts to becomes fascinated with learning who this Bree Daniel is, the story shifts to a possible crime that Bree might have knowledge of and might be putting her in danger. I did like that John Klute was serious about what he was doing and did not fall into bed with Bree the second he met her, but the scene where they do finally connect sexually was smoking hot, well staged by veteran director Alan J Pakula, whose style is all over this movie.

Two years after her first Best Actress nomination for They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, Fonda buried the sex kitten phase of her career forever and was awarded her first Best Actress Oscar, despite being smack in the middle of the whole "Hanoi Jane" controversy. Donald Sutherland is properly icy in the title role and Roy Scheider, Charles Cioffi, and Dorothy Tristan score in supporting roles. And if you don't blink, you'll catch a brief appearance from an actress named Jean Stapleton, who later on that year, would create the role of Edith Bunker on the CBS sitcom All in the Family, The film keeps the viewer in the dark for a good chunk of the running time, but viewer patience is rewarded and Fonda is sublime.

the scene where they do finally connect sexually was smoking hot
I loved the staging of this scene:

The use of the mirror, the way you see her hands grab his coat when he delivers that line.

I think I liked the film overall a smidge more than you, but it's been quite a few years and it's one I've been meaning to revisit.

Book Club: The Next Chapter
After watching the dreadful 80 for Brady, I was a little concerned about watching the similarly-themed sequel Book Club: The Next Chapter. It was better than 80 for Brady but not much.

As this 2023 sequel opens, Vivian (Jane Fonda), Diane (Diane Keaton), Sharon (Candice Bergen), and Carol (Mary Steenburgen) are smack dab in the middle of the pandemic and are staying in touch with each other via skype. Once the restrictions are relaxed, Vivian reveals to her girlfriends that she and Arthur (Don Johnson) are getting married. The girls decide to send Vivian off in style and decide to have a bachelorette party for Vivian in Venice.

Bill Holderman, who produced the first film, directed and co-wrote the screenplay for this one and his lack of experience in these areas really show. Once again, the screenplay is pretty much made up of jokes about aging and sexual double entendres which grow really tired really quickly. It was a nice idea to fly the ladies to Venice, which was a big asset here. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous and is a big distraction in the by-the-numbers comedy we get here. The actresses are pros but their talent can only carry this predictable and slightly dull comedy so far.

Once again, Holderman decides that star power is his primary weapon in keeping this sequel worth sitting through. In addition to the ladies, it was nice to see Don Johnson, Andy Garcia, and Craig T Nelson reprise their roles from the first film as well. In this film, Steenburgen and Nelson are kept apart because Nelson's character, Bruce is recovering from a heart attack and Carol's whining about how she shouldn't have left Bruce alone gets old pretty quickly. Ironically, Carol does come thisclose to cheating on Bruce. I loved how that plot played out though.

Needless to say, all the ladies have brief encounters of some sort of sexual dalliance but they're just not interesting enough to sustain the entire running time. I thought it was interesting that about 30 minutes into the film, the ladies have their luggage stolen, but that didn't stop them from costume changes every scene. And except for Vivian's wedding dress, most of the costumes the ladies wear in this film are hideous. Costume designer Stefano De Nardis must have been high throughout production.

The performances are a matter of taste...Bergen and Steenburgen have some funny moments, but Fonda seemed afraid to open her mouth out of fear of cracking her botox. Screen legend Giancarlo Giannini, who was a Best Actor Oscar nominee for Seven Beauties, makes the most of a thankless role as a police chief who helps the ladies when they get arrested and are thrown in the biggest jail cell I've ever seen. If only real jail cells were that big. The movie is pretty, but kind of boring. I actually had trouble staying awake.

Batman Returns
Tim Burton provided a worthy follow-up to his surprise 1989 hit Batman called Batman Returns that provides solid entertainment, despite an overstuffed screenplay.

The 1992 film finds Batman dealing with Oswald Cobblepot, the demented and deformed man who was thrown into a river as a child and ended up in a sewer and being raised by penguins. Cobblepot grows up and is manipulated into running for Mayor of Gotham City by a corrupt businessman named Max Schreck, who tries to cover up his dirty dealing by attempting to murder his neurotic secretary, Selena Kyle, whose alleged death is assuaged by a few hundred cats licking her back to health.

After the monster success of the first film, it's no surprise that screenwriters Bob Kane, Daniel Waters, and Sam Hamm wanted to give us a story that's bigger and better than the first one and they do accomplish that on some level, but sometimes it just feels spread a little too thin. Truly enjoyed the detail put into the Penguin's backstory and loved the obvious comparison of his story to John Merrick in The Elephant Man, which I actually saw long before the movie actually referenced it. It was such an interesting move to have him manipulated by Schreck in what seemed to be an attempt to provide the Penguin with some sympathy, but I'm not sure why they felt this was necessary.

And the entire presentation of the Selena Kyle/Catwoman character was nothing short of brilliant. This Selena was so severely broken when we first meet her. Loved the way she talked to herself constantly, full of self-loathing...loved when she first comes home after work and says "Hi honey, I'm home! Oh, I forgot, I'm not married." Not really clear on how being licked by a hundred cats saved her after being pushed out of a 70 story window, but it's a movie. Another thing I loved is that even after she became Catwoman, we got to see Selena Kyle again and see the Catwoman inside her.

Burton's attention to bringing us a fresh story without rehashing the first film was on the money. Loved that the story referenced Vicki Vale, Batman's leading lady in the 1989 film. And assuming it was collaboration between Burton, the screenwriters, and Michael Keaton. I liked that Bruce Wayne was allowed to lighten up just a bit and not be so deadly serious as he was in the first film. Keaton seemed to relish this chance to bring some fun to Bruce Wayne and to Batman. I also loved that the story addressed something I've always wondered about Batman and I don't know if it's been addressed in other films, but this is the only one where I noticed it. Loved learning that Bruce had more than one Batman costume and alternated for hygiene purposes.

If the truth be told, what kept this movie on sizzle was the insane performances by Danny DeVito as the Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. DeVito made the hair on the back of neck stand up for the majority of the running time and Pfeiffer is just dazzling, creating two distinct characters in Selena and Catwoman and when it's time for the two characters to meld, they do flawlessly. The performances by DeVito and Pfeiffer added half a bag of popcorn to my rating.

2023's Bruiser is an emotionally charged family drama that had me completely engaged for most of the running time because this is one of those stories that had three sides and we understood all three sides and couldn't really decide which side we wanted to take.

Darious is a bright and outgoing 17 year old who is beginning to examine the true meanings of masculinity and how toxic they can be at times. Darious is being raised by his loving mother, Monica and her husband, Malcolm, a no-nonsense, hard-working man who loves Darious like his own. One day after getting in a fight, Darious befriends a mysterious loner named Porter who lives in the woods and encourages Darious to stand up for himself. In the very next scene, we see Monica and Malcolm sitting in a restaurant where they are waiting for Porter, who is immediately revealed to be Darious' biological father. We are further rocked when it is revealed that Malcolm and Porter have been best friends since high school.

Rookie director and co- screenwriter Miles Warren really scores here with a story that tells one challenging story from three very different angles that we are able to understand perfectly. The story establishes Porter as a man with a dangerous past and a propensity for violence so we understand why Malcolm wants Darious to stay away from him, but we understand that Porter has a right to know his son and that Darious wants to get to know him. Then we have the mom, who is torn right down the middle about this whole mess and complicates things even further by not being able to commit one way or the other.

And Mom is not the only one who makes wrong moves here. All the principal characters make bad moves. Actually, one of the most infuriating moves for me was when at the beginning of the film, Malcolm refuses to buy Darious a new bike. but after Darious starts spending time with Porter, he suddenly changes his mind. Porter's behavior at the carnival wasn't right either, but Malcolm got him back for that. The other thing I liked about the story is the way Malcolm initially comes off a little soft but turns out to be anything but, just as Porter initially comes off as dangerous and crazy, but does reveal a sensitive side to his son.
Unfortunately, when the inevitable showdown between Malcolm and Porter finally happens, it's a bit of a cop out and so poorly lit we can't really see what's going on. As a matter of fact, for a movie whose dominant theme seemed to be machismo, the three fight scenes in the film were the film's weakest moments.

The performances are first rate though. Jalyn Hall, who impressed last year as young Bobo in Till got to take center stage in this film playing Darious, delivering a performance of intensity and pathos. Trevonte Rhodes, who played the adult Chirone in the 2016 Oscar winner for Best Picture Moonlight is chilling as Porter and Shamier Anderson is surprisingly strong as Malcolm. The finale is a bit of a cop out, but until then a solid family drama that had me completely engaged.

Grosse Pointe Blank
John Cusack scores a direct bullseye as the star and co-screenwriter of Grosse Pointe Blank, a bloody black comedy that sizzles for its entire running time due to a razor sharp screenplay you can cut your finger on and terrific performances.

Cusack plays Martin Blank, a hitman who is approached by a fellow hitman named the Grocer (Dan Aykroyd) to incorporate and when Blank refuses, tails Blank to his next assignment in Detroit in order to take him out while Blank decides to visit neighboring Grosse Pointe Michigan for his ten year high school reunion. Blank is reunited almost immediately with his high school obsession, Debi Newberry (Minnie Driver).

The screenplay of this movie is based on a fantastic premise that plays out just about every one of its possibilities. What is a hitman supposed to talk about at his ten year high school reunion? And how do you rekindle a romance with a woman without telling her what you're doing now, the backbone of most reunion socialization. And how do you do your job and keep the woman you allegedly love out of danger without looping her in on what you do?

I loved the fact that Blank has issues with what he does, evidenced in his seeing a therapist, a therapist who really doesn't want to treat Martin because Martin didn't tell him what his occupation was until their 4th session and he feels that treating Martin is putting himself in danger. Loved when Martin jokingly tells the doctor that if they don't continue working together that he knows where he lives or when the doctor starts to pick up the phone and, realizing it's Martin, drops the receiver like it's a boiling pot on the stove. The relationship between Martin and Debi rings completely true and I loved the fact that the reunion was established as one of the most boring events ever, Also loved the exploding convenience store and the clerk's reaction to it, not to mention the disposal of a body at the reunion, which we think is a precursor to the end, but it's not even close. The relationship between Martin and his assistant, Marcella (Joan Cusack) was also a lot of fun, though I seriously doubt they were brother and sister as they are IRL.

Director George Armitage (Miami Blues) not only proves to be adept at the action sequence, but blending in the black comedy and the action film to perfect effect. Cusack's slick, smart-ass title character was perfection and though Aykroyd seemed a little old and out of shape to be playing a hitman, he made it work. Driver almost buries her English accent and Hank Azaria, Mitchell Ryan, Jeremy Piven, and K Todd Freeman also offer strong support. The late Alan Arkin stole every scene he had with Cusack as his psychiatrist and Barbara Harris makes the most of a thankless cameo as Martin's hospitalized mother. And if you don't blink, you'll also catch Cusack's other sister, Ann, in a small role. Movies like Get Shorty and the HBO series Barry owe a lot to Grosse Pointe Blank.