Gideon58's Reviews

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America: The Motion Picture
Don't let the pretentious title fool you...American history is stomped on, twisted inside out, and mangled beyond recognition in an off-the-wall, politically incorrect , animated laugh riot from Netflix called America: The Motion Picture, which in the tradition of proven farceurs like Seth MacFarlane and Matt Groening, takes no prisoners, breaks all the rules, and works tirelessly to shock and offend. The demographic for this film seems to be anyone who flunked history class in high school.

In this 2021 hot mess, we are first introduced to childhood friends George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, whose lifelong friendship leads to their battle to defeat the British, who they refer to as the Fun Police, because of their stupid rules. Their battle to defeat the British is stalled when George and Abe go to the Ford Theater to see the Red, White, and Blue Man Group and Abe is brutally murdered by Benedict Arnold, stooge of the mighty King George. An inconsolable George returns to Mt Vernon and after having sex with wife, Martha, is inspired to continue the battle for freedom with the aid of Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, Geronimo, and Thomas Edison (who is now a woman).

Yes, strap yourself in for one of the bizarre animated adventures ever presented onscreen as director Matt Thompson and screenwriter Dave Callahan have turned American History into a marvel comic movie, where nothing happens the way it did in history and all concepts of logic and credibility are thrown out the window, stretching the powers of animation to the nth degree while giving us a disjointed look at just about every period of American history you can think of, except they've decided to throw out all the facts and just make us laugh.

The film features adult language and themes (including a graphic sex scene between George and Martha Washington) and moves at a lightning pace, which turns out to be a detriment to the proceedings. There's so much clever and funny stuff going on here that it's absolutely impossible to catch it all. I doubt even repeat viewings would help. The British "rules" are briefly posted on a wall and I was laughing so hard as I started reading that I didn't even get to read them all. George Washington is given chainsaw hands and Benedict Arnold is a werewolf transformer, head to head in a climactic battle set to the tune of "You've Got a Fight for your Right (to Party)". This is a rare example of a story that could have been allowed to unfold a little more slowly.

The animation is bold and brassy and the unabashed violence that unfolds here is unprecedented, but forgiven because it's animated. There is standout voice work from Channing Tatum as George Washington, Andy Samberg as Benedict Arnold, Will Forte as Abe Lincoln, and Jason Mantzoukas as Sam Adams. A definite "put your brain in check and enjoy" animated acid trip, the likes of which you'll never see. I could definitely see this someday becoming a midnight movie house cult classic like The Rocky Horror Picture Show.



Bambi
In 1942, Disney studios came up with an instant classic called Bambi, an animated look at the animal kingdom that was absolutely nothing like I imagined. For a film that was clearly aimed at children, this film was rich with a lot of dark and adult themes that one wouldn't expect for a film with its demographic target.

As the film opens, we see all the animals in the forest rushing to get their first glimpse of a newly born fawn, whom they all refer to as "the young prince." The film follows this young prince learning to be part of this special animal kingdom until he is lured into "the meadow", where he is warned of danger from man and eventually finding romance, danger, and his place in the animal kingdom.

There are several different themes that are explored in this film that I didn't see coming at all. Bambi's introduction to this special animal kingdom had almost a Shakespearean sensibility to it as we get a brief glimpse of Bambi's father and then don't see him again until halfway through the story. Tolerance seems to be the theme of the first third of the film as we watch Bambi openly embrace the other animals of the forest, forming special bonds with a rabbit named Thumper and a skunk that Bambi named Flower. Flower's adulation at the name Bambi gives him is absolutely adorable. I also found it an interesting touch that the first animal encounter that elicits fear from Bambi is with another fawn.

Witnessing the education that Bambi receives from his mother is a little disconcerting as there is a vagueness to it that Bambi doesn't see but the viewer does. I've heard a lot about the death of Bambi's mother over the years, but it is portrayed with discretion and taste. Loved the introduction of romance into the lives of Bambi, Thumper, and Flower who initially resist but appear to be powerless against. Love is portrayed as all-powerful and that the female has said power. Thumper's seduction by a female bunny was particularly hysterical.
There are even hints of chauvinism and domestic abuse that would never go in a politically correct 2021, but probably went unnoticed to children in 1982.

Was very impressed with the way music was such an integral part of telling this very special story. Loved that choral piece that played during Bambi's first rain, which began with the oboe punctuating each raindrop. This animated fairy tale is collaborative tale where every part of constructing it is intricate and important, though I don't think children appreciate the true substance of the piece. A direct to video sequel was produced in 2006.



Bambi
In 1942, Disney studios came up with an instant classic called Bambi, an animated look at the animal kingdom that was absolutely nothing like I imagined. For a film that was clearly aimed at children, this film was rich with a lot of dark and adult themes that one wouldn't expect for a film with its demographic target...

Glad you watched this and nicely written review

I can't believe you never seen Bambi until now. Did you watch Disney animation as a kid? Have you seen many other 1930-1960s Disney classic animation?



I watched some Disney animation...I've seen Cinderella and later animated stuff like Jungle Book and The Aristocats, but I have never seen Snow White, Dumbo, Sleeping Beauty, or Fantasia



Who are You, Charlie Brown?
Apple Original scores with 2021's Who are You , Charlie Brown?, a lovingly mounted look at the legendary creator of the Peanuts comic strip, Charles M Schulz, that seamlessly provides surprises about the subject and provides a loving look at the characters that we all grew up with.

Director and co-screenwriter Michael Bonfiglio has provided an economic overview of the life and career of this iconic cartoonist, but made it infinitely more entertaining by framing it with an animated story where Charlie Brown receives a homework assignment where he has to sum up who he is in 500 words (thus the title of the documentary). It is this framework that takes this documentary a notch above most, because it is mounted with complete respect to the subject with surprisingly authentic detail that can be referenced in Schulz' work, pieced together from original strips and television specials without actually using work we have already seen.

One of the most pleasant surprises for this reviewer was when it is revealed that Charlie Brown is not based on Charles Schulz, but that there is a little bit of Charles Schulz in ALL of the characters he created for the strip. Another pleasant surprise was the reveal of the first official PEANUTS strip which featured Charlie Brown, Patty, and Shermy. Patty and Shermy were later reduced to minor characters after the appearances of Snoopy, Linus, and the bombastic Lucy.

Loved that the film paid special attention to Schulz' introduction of two characters to the strip many years after the strip started...Peppermint Patty was completely different from any other PEANIUTS character and the reveal of who was partial inspiration for the character was fantastic and the introduction of the strip's first black character, Franklin (whose last name is revealed here, which I never knew existed).

Found myself fighting tears when they showed Schulz' drawing hand getting shaky after being diagnosed with colon cancer and loved seeing the way PEANUTS has affected so many other artists. The film is narrated by Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o and commentary is provided by Drew Barrymore, Kevin Smith, Paul Feig, Al Roker and a Jewish cartoonist named Ira Glass to whom Christmas means nothing but never missed a viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Treat yourself to this special look at a very special artist...it'll make you feel 10 years old again.



Kissin Cousins
Elvis Presley makes an attempt to flex his acting muscles in a silly musical comedy called Kissin Cousins, which finds the Pelvis stumbling into Hatfield/McCoy territory.

The 1964 film stars Elvis as Josh Morgan, a soldier who has been commissioned by the army to get a mountain family to allow the army to build a missile base on the property and pay them $1000 a month for the privilege. Accompanied by Captain Salbo (Jack Albertson), Josh returns to Porcupine Flats where he meets long lost cousins, Ma and Pa Tatum, and a cousin named Jody, who is also played by Elvis.

Josh finds himself romancing a pair of distant cousins named Selena (Pam Austin) and Azalea (Yvonne Craig) and fending off a group of horny females called the Kitty Hawks. Meanwhile cousin Jody finds romance with a pretty military stenographer (Cynthia Pepper).

Director and co-screenwriter Gene Nelson has concocted a predictable story that pretty much plays like an extended episode of The Beverly Hillbillies, but the gimmick for this movie was clearly supposed to be the novelty of Elvis playing a dual role. Unfortunately, the only distinction between Josh and Jody is that Jody has blonde hair. Scenes where Josh and Jody appear together are kept to a minimum and there are moments here and there where you can actually see Elvis' double. There were also a couple of plot points that I don't know would have played in 2021: First, the fact that Josh wants to romance both of these girls, even though they're supposedly cousins. Second, the moment that Josh Jody come face to face for the first time, all Jody wants to do is wrestle with Josh.

Of course, we're distracted from the dumb story by having Elvis sing a bunch of nice songs. He actually sings three songs during the first 15 minutes of the film. Highlights included "A Boy and Two Little Girls", "Smokey Mountain Boy", "Tender Feeling", and two big production numbers, "Barefoot Ballad", and "Once is Enough". If the truth be told, the strongest musical moment in the film came from a rarity in an Elvis film,,,a solo for someone other than Elvis. Veteran movie goddess Glenda Farrell actually stops the show with the bluesy "Pappy Won't You Please Come Home". A gallant effort for Elvis to try something different, but when it comes down it, it's just another Elvis movie.



Tom Clancy's Without Remorse
Despite some impressive production values, 2021's Tom Clancy's Without Remorse is a by the numbers action adventure that is muddled and predictable, never fully engaging this reviewer. It should be noted that this review is coming from someone who has never seen any of the previous films based on Tom Clancy's novels and that's no accident...I've always been wary of a movie where the title includes the author of the book the film is based on...big red flag for me.

Michael B Jordan inherits the role of John Kelly here, a former Navy Seal who returns from a special mission in Syria and not long after his return, his pregnant wife is brutally murdered and he is critically injured as well, sending him on the expected revenge mission, which finds Kelly caught in the middle of a larger and darker conspiracy.

The John Kelly character was played by Willem Dafoe in A Clear and Present Danger and by Liev Schreiber in The Sum of all Fears and maybe viewing those films might have helped understanding this film more. What I found basically was Death Wish meets Rambo III, where a soldier's grief triggers his determination no matter what the danger, which here consists of alleged allies from the FBI and the CIA, but screenwriter Taylor Sheridan's screenplay is so cliched that this reviewer was able to separate the white hats from the black hats pretty quickly.

The film features the expected explosive actions scenes including a couple that defy logic, like a crashed vehicle being set on fire and then our hero entering and exiting the vehicle before it exploded. The underwater climax after the reveal of the true bad guy was a little hard to swallow as well.

Director Stefano Sollima puts a lot of attention into the mounting of the action here, with standout work from his editing and sound people. but apparently thought non-stop action would disguise the deficiencies in the screenplay. Michael B. Jordan is properly chiseled in the underwritten lead role and works well with Jodie Turner-Smith (Queenie and Slim0, Jamie Bell, and Guy Pearce. Fans of previous Tom Clancy works will have a head start I imagine.



The Big Picture (1989)
Christopher Guest, the king of the "mockumentary" (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind), made another serious impression with a scathing black comedy called The Big Picture that provides entertainment thanks to some imaginative direction and a terrific cast, but ultimately falters due to an over ambitious screenplay that makes some odd detours during the final act.

The 1989 film stars Kevin Bacon as Nick Chapman, a film student who wins a major Hollywood film award and is then courted by a pushy studio head who agrees to get his studio behind Nick's vision for his first full-length feature film idea, but wants to make all kinds of changes to Nick's script, which the young filmmaker reluctantly agrees to. Right in the middle of the production, the studio head is abruptly fired and Nick's film is shut down, leaving him penniless and eventually reduced to becoming a messenger to pay the rent until a fellow film student offers him the beginning to a new career.

Guest and co-screenwriters Michael Varhol and Michael McKean (who also appears as Nick's best friend and cinematographer) start off with a clever idea that takes effective jabs at the Hollywood system, like a later Guest film, For Your Consideration. Loved the idea of a young filmmaker sacrificing his personal vision in order to get his film made and was looking forward to seeing what finally ended up on the screen, Instead we watch the film get scrapped and our totally likable hero getting eaten up and spit out of Hollywood's mouth and people who were behind him during his project, like an oversexed movie starlet and his flamboyantly neurotic agent, turn their back on him. And then the story does a hard to believe 180 where all of a sudden, Nick gets a new career and he's Hollywood's darling again, including an odd reappearance from the fired studio head.

There is some clever stuff going on here...loved the opening of the student film award being given out with clips of the five nominated films being shown (one of which features Elliott Gould, June Lockhart, Stephen Collins, and Roddy McDowell). There are myriad fantasies touches that don't always work, though I loved when Nick was visualizing his movie to the studio head and it was being shown to the viewer, every time the studio head interrupted, the actors in the fantasy looked at the camera. Also loved that scene where Nick makes his friend get out of the car while he takes a private call from the studio. The detour to the unexpected happy ending just came off as convenient and rushed.

Guest assembled a terrific cast to pull off his vision, some of whom would later become permanent members of his rep company, like McKean. Bacon is utterly charming as Nick Chapman and the late JT Walsh is appropriately smarmy as the studio head. Martin Short garners major laughs as Nick's off the wall agent and Teri Hatcher does a sex on legs turn as the self-absorbed movie starlet. Also enjoyed Jennifer Jason Leigh, Dan Schneider, and Barbra Streisand's son, Jason Gould, as Nick's fellow film students, who all cross his path later on in his life. Guest has a really terrific film in here somewhere and show the promise he would deliver in later years, he just lets this one get away from him a little.



Gunpowder Milkshake
2021's Gunpowder Milkshake is a stylishly thunderous and unapologetically bloody nail biter that doesn't allow the viewer time to sweat small plot points, but provides solid entertainment thanks to sophisticated direction and spectacular production values, including the most memorable use of the art of slow motion that this reviewer has ever seen.

Sam is a second generation professional assassin who hasn't seen her mother, Scarlett, in fifteen years. Sam is commissioned to retrieve a large amount of money from a powerful organization known as The Firm, an assignment that leads Sam to rescuing an 8 year old girl who has been kidnapped, killing the son of another powerful criminal, and finding assistance from three of her mother's former associates, also professional assassins, and just as Sam and the little girl are forced to go on the run, Scarlett comes back into her life right on cue.

Director and co-screenwriter Navot Papushado has mounted a gargantuan and violent epic that is almost too much for the viewer to take in completely. There is initial yet familiar confusion as it's hard to tell who Sam is working for and who is after her, and the answer to these questions seem to change throughout the running time. But Papushado has provided a terrific tale in this Me too area, populated with strong female characters who spend the majority of the running time kicking serious ass without ever breaking a sweat.

Papushado's approach to presenting this story definitely displays influence from directors like Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, but brings his own style to the singularly uniquecanvas upon which this story is mounted. Jack Rabbit Slims gets a layer we don't see coming when the diner that opens and closes the film has the hostess making all patrons give up their weapons before being seated. We never expect the library where Sam meets her mother's former partners to have a computerized headquarters upstairs and hundreds of hollowed out books full of weapons and cash. Loved that bowling alley too where Sam dispatches of a trio of thugs she calls the Boneheads and that creepy hospital where our heroine temporarily loses the use of her arms. The relationship that develops between Sam and the little girl kind of reminded me of Sigourney Weaver and Carrie Henn in Aliens. Loved when they were driving the car together.

Papushado puts so much detail into the look of the film, including a flawless use of slow motion that the viewer almost doesn't notice how a lot of the violence on display completely defies logic. The film features incredible art direction/set direction, editing, sound, and music. There are standout performances from Karen Gillan as Sam, Lena Heady as Scarlett, and especially Carla Gugino as Madeline, but this film is, more than anything, a textbook for aspiring directors. LOVE that title too.



Yankee Doodle Dandy
James Cagney's charismatic Oscar-winning performance is the centerpiece of an elaborate musical biopic of patriotic composer and showman George M Cohan called Yankee Doodle Dandy that rises above its predictable screenplay to provide solid entertainment thanks to the extraordinary performance from Cagney.

This 1942 musical feast traces Cohan's life and career from his humble beginnings to vaudeville to his amazing success on Broadway with several musicals that were rooted in the man's strong political conscience and how his said political conscience allowed him to contribute to the war effort even though he was deemed too old to serve.

The screenplay plays like many other musical biopics of the era, but the underlying theme of Cohan's political conscience and his considerable ego are always at the forefront. Biopics of the 40's and 50's weren't big on the facts, often sacrificing or altering facts for the sake of entertainment and where entertainment is concerned, this film delivers in spades.

Director Michael Curtiz, who would also direct Joan Crawford to an Oscar in Mildred Pierce, does a wonderful job of creating elaborate musical sequences based on Cohan's work, particularly a show called "Little Johnny Jones, which featured "Give My Regards to Broadway" and the title tune and this is where Cagney really shines. His rag doll-styled tap dancing was unlike anything we were seeing Astaire and Kelly doing, not to mention his "talk-singing" of songs, a technique of selling a song onscreen that would decades later be perfected by Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady.

Other musical highlights include "Mary", "Harrigan", "The Belle of the Barber's Ball", "Oh You Wonderful Girl" and the patriotic finale "Over There".

In addition to Cagney's Oscar for Best Actor, the film also won Oscars for musical scoring and sound. The lavish costumes and settings are Oscar-worthy too, but this movie is the Jimmy Cagney show. He appears in practically every frame of the movie and never makes you regret it.



Bad Trip
Actor/comedian Eric Andre gets an "A" for imagination but his 2021 comedy Bad Trip is an over the top and often offensive comic melding of two different genres that were never really meant to meld, providing the occasional chuckle, but not enough to sustain its economic running time.

Andre directed, co-wrote, and stars in this comedy as Chris, a guy who lives in Florida and has an accidental run in with a girl from high school named Michelle, learning that she now lives in Manhattan. Chris decides that Michelle is his soulmate and decides he has to go to Manhattan and find her. He persuades his best friend, Bud (Lil Rel Howery) to steal his sister's car so they can take a road trip to New York. Bud's sister, Trina (Tiffany Haddish) is a convict who has escaped from jail and hits the road to murder her brother and his BFF for stealing her car.

Andre seems to be going the Borat route here as he presents a standard buddy/road movie, fills it with outrageous physical comedy and places said comedy in the context of a hidden camera television premise and therein lies what's wrong here. The blending of a movie genre and a television genre is a risk that doesn't pay off here the way it did in Borat probably because Andre's writing skills aren't at the level of Sasha Baron Cohen.

The film actually gets off to a good start with Chris' fake musical number in the middle of a mall where shoppers have no desire to be part of a musical number. Unfortunately, Chris' encounter with a gorilla in a zoo, Trina's hassling people about having seen her brother, Bud's battle with a port-a-potty, and Chris' drunken vomit-filled escapade at a bar aren't really as funny as Andre thinks they are.

It wasn't until about halfway through the film that I realized what Andre was trying to do here, and once I did, it didn't make what was going on any funnier, Andre is a funny, energetic guy who shows promise as an actor and a writer, but this vehicle just makes him look like an idiot. Lil Rel Howery just looks embarrassed throughout and Haddish is just ridiculously over the top. Borat fans might have a head start here.



I Spy
Despite expensive production values and a semblance of chemistry between the stars, the 2002 action comedy I Spy is a predictable buddy comedy/action adventure that suffers due to an unimaginative and messy screenplay.

Owen Wilson plays Alexander Scott, a government secret agent who has been assigned to retrieve Switchblade, an invisible stealth fighter jet that is getting ready to be auctioned off to the highest bidder by an arms dealer named Arnold Gundars (Malcom McDowell) to the highest bidder in Budapest, Hungary. Scott's bosses decide the way to get to the plane is through civilian cover, which comes in the form of middleweight boxing champion Kelly Robinson (Eddie Murphy), who is going to be in Budapest battling for his 58th victory in the ring.

This movie pretty much just borrows the basic premise of the classic 1960's spy drama that starred Robert Culp and Bill Cosby and have created a story that just seems to be another comic vehicle for Murphy, who works very hard at being funny here. Unfortunately, his Kelly Robinson is an obnoxious egomaniac who is so self-absorbed that he refers to himself in the first person, a bit that grows very tiresome and very quickly. The spotty screenplay also seems to be a bit confused on exactly how competent a secret agent Alex Scott is...in one scene, he comes off as a naive rookie agent who is in way over his head, and in the next he comes off like James Bond. His competence is also clouded by his attraction to a fellow agent named Rachel Wright (Famke Janssen), which, in reality, should have gotten someone else assigned to the case.

Director Betty Thomas makes the most of her $70 million dollar budget here employing gorgeous on location photography, first rate editing, stunt work, and visual effects, but the whole thing just has that all-too-familiar "been there done that" feeling about it. It was a little hard to swallow that international criminals were making silent bids on a plane they couldn't see, but we go with it, expecting some surprise plot twist that will make us accept everything we're watching, but it never really comes. The climactic confrontation on the rooftop between our heroes and Gundars goes on way too long.

Murphy and Wilson do work well together, even though Murphy's over-the-top cockiness gets tiresome. MacDowell makes the most of his thankless villain role as does Janssen of her super spy leading lady. Wouldn't have minded a little more of Gary Cole's fellow spy of Alex whose shadow Alex spends a lot of time in. BTW, when Kelly takes that phone call from President Clinton near the beginning of the film, that's Will Ferrell doing Clinton. A big budget but sadly routine action yarn that might appeal to hardcore Murphy fans.



Space Jam A New Legacy
Though the technical wizardry involved here can't be denied, 2021's Space Jam A New Legacy is an overlong and overambitious re-thinking of the hit 1996 film that definitely suffers from "sequel-itis"...the cinematic sequel formula that tries too hard to make everything bigger and better than the first movie, and, as usual, the results are exhausting and hanging until the credits roll is a chore.

In this film, an artificial intelligence named Al G Rhythm (Don Cheadle), who has his own server at Warner Brothers kidnaps the son of NBA star Lebron James, who hates basketball but is creating his own basketball video game, and tells Lebron the only way to get his son back is to get the Toons to help him win a basketball game against his team, the Goon Squad, who are actually from his son's game brought to life. If Lebron loses the game, everyone in the game and all the spectators will be trapped in Al G's server forever.

First of all, this is really a re-imagining of the 1996 film, as it really has nothing to do with that film, except for the fact that a basketball player finds himself interacting with Warner Brothers cartoon characters. Sadly, Lebron James; one-note performance here isn't as nearly as entertaining as Michael Jordan was in the first film, which made remaining invested in what was happening difficult.

The screenwriters took way too long with the confusing exposition that leads up to Lebron leaving Toon Town with Bugs, who is all alone there now, and finding teammates for this game. It's confusing when Lebron and Bugs travel to DC land looking for help from Batman and Superman, but end up with Daffy, Granny, the Road Runner, and Bugs' squeeze, Lola Bunny, who is battling Wonder Woman when we first see her. For some reason, Daffy, who provided a lion's portion of the laughs in the first film is regulated to the sidelines as a coach in this one.

Director Malcom D Lee, who directed films like The Best Man and Girls Trip might have been a little out of his element here. Despite all the dazzling animation and visual effects involved, this film moves at a snail's pace and seems to go on forever. Don Cheadle easily walks off with the film with his slick and sharp Al G Rhythm. And if you don't doze off, you'll catch cameos by Lil Rel Howery, Anthony Davis, Ernie Johnson, Draymond Green, and Sue Bird. This time around the voice of Lola Bunny is provided by Zendaya. An "A" for effort, but it takes too long to get going and too long to wrap up.



The Accidental Tourist
Intense direction by Lawrence Kasdan and a superb performance by Oscar winner William Hurt in the starring role are the best things about an unconventional drama called The Accidental Tourist that starts off as intriguing character study but moves to a melodramatic and slightly disturbing conclusion

The 1988 film stars Hurt as Macon, an emotionally distant writer of travel guides whose child died a year ago, which leads to his wife, Sarah (Kathleen Turner) leaving him. Even though he fights it all the way, Macon is eventually brought out of his shell by an effervescent but pushy dog trainer named Muriel (Geena Davis) with a young son, who starts to take control of Macon's life when Sarah suddenly decides to re-enter it.

Frank Galati's screenplay, based on a novel by Anne Tyler, is a little on the talky side, but it's forgiven because the central characters are so terribly flawed yet believable. Galati and Kasdan quickly establish Macon's never having gotten over the death of his child and his willingness to take the blame for the end of his marriage. It's initially interesting as we watch Muriel work so hard to be in Macon's life, but the way her turn to obsession seems to coincide with Sarah's return into Macon's life was beyond creepy.

The first half of the film works better as it concentrates on Macon and how he has become the shell of a man he once was, using snippets from his book as partial narration to his empty life, which actually involved traveling around the world. Loved the scene in London on the street with all the restaurants specializing in American food and the scene in Paris where he Muriel eat at a Burger King. The story gets even muddier with Sarah's return because nothing has changed between them and her desire to reconcile makes no sense.

Kasdan, Hurt, and Turner reunite for the first time since Body Heat and make a formidable team. Geena Davis' quirky Muriel won her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, though I'm not sure why. The work of Hurt and Kasdan make this one worth a look.



Jolt
Another richly entertaining entry from the "Put your brain in check and enjoy" school of filmmaking, 2021's Jolt is a deft action thriller that features a story that doesn't bear too close scrutiny, but does feature an eye opening performance from the leading lady.

Kate Beckinsale gets the role of her career playing Lindy, a woman who suffers from a condition that manifests itself in wild fits of violence that she has absolutely no control of. She has suffered from this condition since a child and has spent her life as convict, mental patient, and lab rat until a psychiatrist develops equipment that control her condition up to a point. The shrink tells Lindy that true love is the only possible cure for her condition. She meets a man named Justin on a blind date and thinks she's in love, but right before their third date, Justin is found brutally murdered.

Scott Wascha's debut as a screenwriter shows a lot of promise as he has constructed a completely implausible story that done with just enough tongue in cheek sensibility that the viewer is able to accept a lot of what's going on here. The moments where we see Lindy imagine her attacks before they actually happen were a little obvious. We shouldn't have been able to tell whether or not what we were watching was really happening. Loved when she messed up that waitress and the scene in the maternity ward had me holding my breath. And just when we think we've been taken on just enough of an unbelievable ride, we get a delicious twist in the final act that doesn't completely explain everything, but sure makes it more acceptable.

Director Tanya Wexler keeps this blend of The Terminator, Gunpowder Milkshake, and Promising Young Woman moving at a such a lightning pace that we can't help but get completely caught up. There are some impressive production values on display here, with shout-outs to art direction, editing, and sound. Kate Beckinsale blows her total screen persona out of the water here with a fire and ice performance unlike anything I've seen from her that allows her to employ her natural British accent. Solid support is provided by the always watchable Stanley Tucci as Lindy's shrink and Bobby Cannavale and Laverne Cox as cops on opposite sides of Lindy's innocence. It's not rooted in any kind of realism, but it's a lot of fun.



Mother Wore Tights
Twentieth Century Fox poured a lot of money into 1947's Mother Wore Tights,a nostalgic and slightly syrupy musical comedy about a vaudeville family that starts off promisingly, but gets less and less interesting, despite its introduction of a charming screen team so strong that they made three more films together.

The film stars Dan Dailey as a vaudeville hoofer named Frank who falls for Myrtle (Betty Grable), one of his chorus girls. He plucks her from the chorus line and they become their own double act and fall in love in the process. They get married and when Myrtle gets pregnant, she decides to retire from the stage. After the birth of their second daughter, Frank convinces Myrtle to return to the stage where they thrive until they decide that being with their daughters is more important than show business.

Lamar Trotti's screenplay, based on a book by Miriam Young, that initially tries to tell Frank and Myrtle's story through the eyes of their elder daughter, Iris, but doesn't really grab the viewer's attention until Frank and Myrtle start experiencing success as a vaudeville team. The first half of the story is a lot of fun thanks to some wonderful musical numbers, but the second half of the film where Frank and Myrtle decide to give up show business and travel to different vacation spots with their daughters, is almost snore-inducing.

It's sad because Fox really struck golf with the pairing of Dailey and Grable, who, with a little more attention from the studio, might have given Astaire and Rogers a run for their money. I've always felt Dailey was severely underrated as a musical comedy performer and he really gets a chance to shine here. His dancing style is very special...he has the lighter than air touch of Astaire combined with that glorious spontaneous style of Donald O'Connor, where he never looks like he's counting, he looks like he's making up the dance as he goes along. And yes, we get more than ample opportunity to check out the million dollar legs of Betty Grable, which are generously on display here.

Musical highlights include "Daddy You've Been a Mother to Me", "Berlington Bertie from Bow", "You Do", and "We're a Couple of Broadway Brothers." For some reason daughter Iris, played by Mona Freeman is allowed to sing two verses of "Silent Night", a number which brings the film to a dead halt (Freeman's singing is dubbed by Imogene Lynn).

Fox and director Walter Lang put a lot of care into production values, including lavish set direction and costumes. Dailey and Grable are so magic together that they would reunite for Call Me Mister, When My Baby Smiles at Me, and My Blue Heaven. Their musical numbers here are a lot of fun; unfortunately, when Frank and Myrtle leave the vaudeville stage, so does a lot of the film's appeal.



Freaky
The slasher movie gets a complex yet inventive makeover with Freaky, a deliciously black comedy spoof that re-invents the slasher genre by borrowing elements from other genres and films into a near perfect mashup of laughs and thrills, despite a dangling plot point here and there.

The 2020 film is set in the fictional town of Blissfield where we witness a deranged serial killer known as The Butcher brutally murder four teenagers in order to get his hands on a mystical dagger. He then attempts to murder another misfit teenager named Millie with said dagger. Though he fails to kill her, the contact with the dagger somehow causes Millie and the Butcher to switch bodies. After doing major damage throughout town, the dagger ends up in police custody while Millie and her besties google the dagger and find out if the don't retrieve the dagger and stab the butcher with it within 24 hours, the body switch will become permanent.

A big bouquet to director and co-screenwriter Christopher Landon for coming up with this surprisingly riveting comic thriller that borrows heavily from other genres and other films with a tongue-in-cheek sensibility that makes the story feel original and keeps the viewer on its toes with laugh-out loud humor in one scene and grisly, stomach-churning violence the next.

The story is smartly constructed in ways we don't see coming. The exposition provided at the beginning of the film sets up the villians of the piece perfectly, so that we know when the time comes, who's going to get it, even though we're never sue when or how. Also enjoyed the fact that there was little or no collateral damage in the story. As grisly and uncompromising as the violence is here, the only characters who end up victims are the ones who are set up during the exposition. We even get the occasional respite that should slow the film down but doesn't...loved when Millie, already inside the Butcher, connects with her mother, outside of a department store dressing room.

Christopher Landon's direction is smart and imaginative, with some wonderful camerawork that is completely merciless in its depiction of the story's carnage. He also some manages to make us completely believe the body switch that is the crux of the story. It's never made clear why the Butcher is targeting Millie, but it becomes irrelevant pretty quickly.

Vince Vaughn is completely winning as the Butcher and is quite convincing as his character becomes a teenage. Kathryn Newton, who had a memorable cameo as Frances McDormand's daughter in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, does a star-making turn as Millie. Shout-outs as well to Misha Osherovich as Millie's gay BFF, Katie Finneran as Millie's mom, and in a memorable cameo as Millie's nasty shop teacher, Alan Ruck, who became a star playing Cameron in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. There are an unanswered question here and there, but I was on the edge of my chair for the entire running team.



Monster's Ball
Emotionally charged direction and strong performances keep 2001's Monster's Ball, a tale of racism, loss, and guilt watchable despite an ambiguous screenplay that doesn't completely commit the way it should.

After the execution of a sensitive black criminal and a personal tragedy, a corrections officer named Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton), quits his job and finds himself reevaluating his entire belief system while finding himself accidently drawn into a relationship with the widow of the man that was just executed (Halle Berry).

The screenplay by Milo Addica and Will Rokos actually received an Oscar nomination, though I found it to be the weakest element of the production. Most films spend too much time with exposition, establishing the characters and backstory, but I don't think this one spent enough. The deeply troubled relationship between Hank and his brother, Sonny (the late Heath Ledger) is obvious but the viewer is never given privy to its roots. Almost the first third of the film is devoted to this man's final hours before the electric chair, but curiosity was aroused as to what led him to death row and even if he was truly guilty, since the racism among the prison staff was on display without apology. The conclusion of the story is a little fuzzy too, as we watch the widow go through a huge reveal, but keeps her feeling from Hank.

Director Marc Forster (Finding Netherland) does try to fill in some of the blanks left by the screenplay with a camera that really gets inside most of these characters, who are all terribly flawed and not very nice people. Forster's direction is much more instrumental in making us accept the relationship between Hank and this woman than the screenplay is. The way it's played, Forster wants us to decide if the relationship between Hank and this widow, Leticia, is a product of guilt, loneliness, or genuine romance.

The film is famous for a surprisingly graphic sex scene between Thornton and Berry that is expertly edited and performed by the stars and, for my money, one of the most realistic sex scenes I have ever witnessed. It's realistic because it is about sex...it's not about love or passion, it's about loneliness and a genuine desire to satisfy a physical need. Watch right before the scene begins where the two are sitting on the sofa and Hank tentatively puts his hand on Leticia's back two or three times and quickly pulls away. It was refreshing to see a sex scene that was about sex and nothing more and the difference between this scene and the next time they have sex was like night day.

Halle Berry made history when she became the first African American woman to win the Oscar for Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role. It's a solid performance, but not sure if it was really Oscar-worthy...looking at the other nominees that year, was she really better than Sissy Spacek in In the Bedroom or even Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge? I think this win came from a couple of places. First of all, the Academy was taking a lot of flack at the time (and still are) regarding diversity among the winners. Lead Actor that year went to an African American as well (Denzel Washington for Training Day). Second, Berry was seriously cast against type in a seriously de-glammed role that was like nothing she had ever done.

Thornton is beautifully understated as Hank and Ledger should have received a supporting actor nomination for his troubled Sonny. Mention should also be made of the impressive film debut of Sean "Puffy" Combs as the death row inmate and the late Peter Boyle as Hank's nasty, bigoted father. The subject matter is unpleasant but the direction and performances definitely make it worth watching.



Here Today
After 46 years in the business, Billy Crystal still displays filmmaking skills as the director, co-screenwriter, and star of a quirky and sentimental comedy-drama called Here Today, where just about everything works...except the leading lady.

The 2021 film stars Crystal as Charlie Burnz, a former screenwriter and playwright whose best days are behind him and is now working as the senior writer on an SNL-type comedy show where he is pretty much ignored. As Charlie struggles with maintaining relevance in the business, he is also struggling with dementia that is terrifying him. Charlie begins to take one step out of the past when he meets a loud-mouthed black street singer named Emma (Tiffany Haddish) who he forms an unusual bond with that cannot really be classified.

Crystal and co-screenwriter Alan Zweibel (who also appears in the film as a writer on the comedy show) really score in the creation of this central character. Establishing the character as show biz legend on the cusp of being a has been is a bit cliched (Charlie refuses to use a computer and still writes on a beat up typewriter), but we empathize with the character without pitying him. The other refreshing aspect of Charlie is that even though he is frightened about what dementia is doing to him, he is not in denial about it. He has bulletin board in his house with his children's picture and their names on post-its next to their pictures. I also liked the fact that even though he is pretty much just a figure head at his job, he's grateful to still be working and not into rocking the boat.

What just doesn't work for me is this relationship he develops with this woman Emma. The woman swears like a sailor, is half his age, knows nothing about him or his career, and for most of the running time, insists on referring to him as "Old Man" and it never occurs to her how insensitive that moniker might be, though he says nothing. I've seen relationships between characters in movies that didn't make sense before, but I just couldn't get on board with these two people finding common ground. I actually shuddered during the scene where Charlie asks Emma to be his date for his granddaughter's bat mitzvah, because I knew it had disaster written all over it...and the way she took over at the event was silly and unbelievable.

Crystal could have removed the Emma character from the story completely and spent more screentime with two really charming subplots: There's one writer on the staff named Darrell who worships Charlie and listens when Charlie suggests there is a comedy character in Darrell's personal life. There's also an actor on the show who when he pronounces words, always puts the accent on the wrong words or syllables, which makes Charlie and insane and leads to the film's funniest scene.

Crystal's performance is funny and heartbreaking...the brief scene where he gets detoured on his morning walk is so sad. Also loved Tony winner Laura Benanti as his tightly wound daughter and Anna Deveare Smith as his therapist, but every moment Haddish has onscreen takes me out of a really lovely story.