Gideon58's Reviews

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National Velvet
Another classic that lived up to its reputation, MGM's 1944 winner National Velvet is a handsomely mounted family drama that is best known for making a movie star out of a 12 year old actress named Elizabeth Taylor.

The setting is rural England during the 1920's where we meet Velvet Brown, the youngest daughter of a hard-working butcher and his stern but compassionate wife. Velvet is a starry-eyed daydreamer with a passion for horses that consumes her very being. Almost simultaneously, Velvet wins a beautiful horse named Pie in a lottery and a drifter named Mi Taylor arrives at the Brown residence, led there by something his father wrote to him. It's not long before Mi is helping Velvet train Pie for the Grand Nationals and trying to find a jockey to ride the horse for her.

Based on a novel by Enid Bagnold, the screenplay does allow the story of the Brown family to unfold just a tad too slowly, but the cast is so engaging that we almost don't notice. Though it might require a suspension of disbelief for some viewers, I loved the fact that from the moment she and Pie meet, Velvet feels the ability to communicate with him and believes Pie understands everything she says. Was also impressed that, despite the chemistry between the actors, the film did not become a love story between Velvet and Mi. The story never stopped being about the horse and everyone in this horse's orbit. I also loved that the Brown family, just like the Day family in Life with Father think the father is running the family but it's really the mother.

Director Clarence Brown puts a great deal of sensitivity into his mounting of this simplistic story about a girl and a horse. There is no denying that a lot of what Brown accomplishes here has to do with the remarkable performance he gets from little Elizabeth Taylor in the title role. Taylor is in virtually every frame of this film and never makes the viewer regret it. It's hard to believe while watching this film that this was only Taylor's fifth film appearance. This performance by a child actress ranks right up there with Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz and Hayley Mills in Pollyanna. There is real acting going on here in Taylor's that scene where Velvet and Mi are interviewing a possible jockey for the Grand Nationals and she realizes this is not the man for the job. We see Velvet's feelings materialize on her face without her saying a word while Mi keeps talking to the jockey. It's a remarkable piece of acting and should have been a sure indicator that this little girl was going to be a superstar

MGM put a lot of money into this film, which ended up earning five Oscar nominations, winning one for Robert Kern's film editing (even though the stunt girl riding for Elizabeth Taylor looks about eight years older than Taylor) and for Anne Revere's brilliantly understated performance as Velvet's mother. Donald Crisp, who three years earlier won an Oscar for How Green was my Valley was lovely as Velvet's dad and Angela Lansbury was fun as Velvet's boy-crazy older sister. The real surprise with this movie though was the superb performance by Mickey Rooney as Mi. Though he couldn't quite land on a proper accent, this performance was rich and layered, unlike anything I've seen Rooney do and further documented why Rooney was one of the biggest stars on the planet at the time. There's also a terrific cameo during the big race from Arthur Treacher, who 20 years later, would play the Constable in Mary Poppins. It takes a minute to get going, but once it does it delivers, especially the surprise ending I didn't see coming. A sequel was made in 1978 called International Velvet with Nanette Newman playing an adult Velvet.

Triangle of Sadness (2022)
A 2022 Oscar nominee for Best Picture, Triangle of Sadness is an overlong, pretentious, and long-winded look at power, beauty, and wealth that failed to engage this reviewer, despite it winning a Palm D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

The film begins strangely at some kind of audition for male models where we meet supermodel Carl, who is planning a luxury cruise with his girlfriend, fellow supermodel Yaya.
The cruise not only turns out to be a test of the couple's love, but eventually turns into a test for their survival.

Director and screenwriter Ruben Ostlund has, for reasons this reviewer can't fathom, has been nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for this snore-inducing look at the rich and powerful that's all over the place and takes its sweet time in traveling to the various places it lands. The film begins at some sort of modeling call where we meet Carl and get to watch him being coached on how to walk. Approximately seven or eight minutes of screentime is devoted to the proper facial expression for the proper designer and how to walk shirtless.

Just when we think we're getting some sort of cinema verite regarding the trials and tribulations of being a model, the story shifts to Carl and Yaya's relationship, which reaches crisis mode when Yaya tries to pay for dinner and her credit card is rejected. Carl wants credit for paying for dinner and Yaya wants credit for trying. Carl and Yaya are then whisked off on a luxury cruise where most of the guests get ill at the Captain's dinner and before you know it, the cruiser goes down and selected crew d guest find themselves stranded on a deserted island.

I just don't get what Ostlund was doing here because every time the film starts to get interesting and we feel like we know what's going. it just stops and makes an abrupt detour to a new plot line. Everyone at the Captain's dinner literally starts throwing up everywhere (a scene that went on WAY too long) and why it happened is never addressed. The wait for a connection to the separate journeys this movie makes was as futile and pointless as this movie was. This movie, like last year's Drive My Car are primary arguments for the Academy going back to five nominees for Best Picture.

To Leslie
Andrea Riseborough is the executive producer and star of 2022's To Leslie, a gritty and intense family drama that has a problematic screenplay but is so well-directed and well-acted that we almost buy what is being sold here, thanks primarily to a solid performance from Riseborough that has earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

Leslie is a hard drinking party girl and single mother who won $190,000.00 in the lottery and drank and snorted it away as quick as she won it. The movie then flashes forward six years where we find Leslie, penniless and destitute. After being rejected by her now grown son and other family, Leslie returns to her hometown and may have found some form of redemption when she gets hired as a maid at a rundown motel.

Screenwriter Ryan Binaco does deserve credit for his creation of this central character, who is rooted in realism to the point that a lot of us know someone like Leslie. She has a myriad of problems that she is in denial about it and blames all her troubles on someone else. She is observed walking around bars throwing herself at men and standing in front of liquor stores waiting for someone to buy her a beer. And when they do buy her a beer and expect something in return, she acts shocked and disgusted.

It's once she gets to the hotel that the story begins to lose me. She's discovered by the motel owners sleeping behind the property and their first impulse is to give her a job? Not only does she get a job, she is given a $50 advance before she even begins work. Of course, she's a terrible maid and somehow manages not only to talk hotel boss Sweeney into not firing her, but the guy actually falls in love with her. The hard to swallow plot had to be conceived by executive producer Riseborough in order to protect this interesting but pathetic character who, in reality, would have ended up in jail, in rehab, or dead.

No matter how improbable Leslie's journey is in this movie, the viewer remains invested because of Riseborough's raw performance that reaches past the screen and slaps the viewer in the face. The early scenes with Leslie and her son are beautifully squirm-worthy, as are some later reunions with people who knew Leslie before the lottery. I understand Riseborough' nomination, though I'm not sure she deserved to be nominated over Danielle Deadwyler for Till. It's a solid performance and she gets solid support from Owen Teague as James, Marc Maron as Sweeney, Andre Royo as Royal, and Oscar winner Allison Janney as Nancy. Fans of the Charlize Theron film Monster will have a head start here.

Marked Woman
A gutsy performance by Bette Davis in the title role is the primary attraction of a 1937 noir-ish crime drama called Marked Woman worth a look.

Davis effectively chews the scenery as Mary Dwight, a "hostess' at a fancy nightclub called Club Intimate, which has just obtained a new owner in the name of a ruthless gangster named Johnny Vanning. Vanning assigns Mary to entertain an important guest of his who turns up dead the next morning after spending the night with Mary. Then Mary's kid sister, Betty turns up, who doesn't know what Mary does for a living and it's not long before Betty finds herself in danger, thanks to Vanning as well.

There are some slightly dated elements to the screenplay by Robert Rossen (The Hustler) and Abem Finkel (Jezebel), mostly involving legal procedures that might ignite a chuckle. There's a scene after Mary has been arrested for this guy's murder where she storms into the DA's office asking when she's going to be released. In real life, a prisoner would not be allowed to leave her cell and march into the DA's office. Also, a couple of the objections that are raised during the trial would be laughed out of a real courtroom or a contemporary movie courtroom.

But when this movie gets stuff right, it really gets it right. We get the feeling that prostitution (of course it couldn't be referred to as such in 1937) as being trapped in a cage. Mary and her co-workers secretly want a way out, but they just can't find one. We also see this Vanning character as a pimp who considers these women his possessions who are instructed who to entertain and that the customer always gets what he wants. We see that this life has toughened Mary but her softer side comes out with the arrival of her sister. She's not only interested in preserving the way her sister idolizes but she wants to keep her out of danger as well. And what happens to Mary when she decides to testify against Vanning is not pretty.

Lloyd Bacon's direction is taut and gets first rate performances from most of the cast. Davis is fire and ice as Mary and Humphrey Bogart is effective as the hot shot DA trying to help Mary and bring Vanning down. Eduardo Ciannelli is a little on the wooden side as Vanning though. Someone like Cagney or George Raft might have been more appropriate in the role, but the film's limited budget probably prevented an A-lister from being cast in the role. but Davis and Bogart still manage to make this a pretty smooth ride.

2022's Causeway, is a bittersweet dual character study made watchable thanks to a pair of charismatic performances from the leads.

Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence stars as Lyndsey, a soldier who was sent home from Afghanistan after a traumatic brain injury. She is healing nicely, but not quick enough for Lyndsey who feels lost back in her hometown and wants more than anything to return to Afghanistan. Lyndsey works hard to get a doctor to sign off on her return to the war while she begins a tentative friendship with a lonely mechanic named James who lost his leg in a car accident.

It's hard to believe that three writers are credited with this thin screenplay that unfolds very slowly and keeps us guessing as to what this film is going to be about. At first it seems like we're looking at Lyndsey trying to adjust to being home. Then it looks like it's about her battle with this doctor to let her return to Afghanistan, but eventually the story settles on the relationship between Lyndsey and James that initially appears to be part of the film's periphery, but by the time we reach the final third of the film, the relationship is center stage,

And that's where the main problem with this film lies. The strength and primary attraction of this film is this lovely relationship between Lyndsey and James. There is a viable chemistry between these two characters that, surprisingly, is not sexual. It's two lonely people finding and denying a friendship that they both desperately crave. It's lovely watching James walk on eggshells with Lyndsey and her being so appreciative of it though deeming it unnecessary. The slow and inviting dance that happens between these characters reminded me of the final third of Moonlight with adult Chirone and Kevin where we feel something coming and are hanging on waiting for it to happen, but instead of what happens in Moonlight, Lyndsey says the wrong thing and we're sure it's over.

There's some risky stuff here that I liked. I liked that Lyndsey was white and James was black. I liked that James was not played by a gorgeous supermodel. I liked that everything that happened between Lyndsey and James was their doing, no interference from outside forces like family and friends. I just wish it didn't take so long into the story to come to fruition. We spend a good 15 minutes of screentime watching Lyndsey riding various busses to get home. About halfway through, we get five minutes of shots of pools that Lyndsey cleans and then we see her jump in. It was lovely photography, but the only point saw to it was to pad the running time.

Director Lila Neugebauer could have provided a little more pace to the story but she did get terrific performances from her stars. Lawrence still knows how to command a screen with less than stellar material to work with. Bryan Tyree Henry, who was so good earlier this year in Bullet Train, is so charismatic as James that his performance has earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Also enjoyed Stephen McKinley Henderson as Lyndsey's doctor and the underrated Linda Emond as Lyndsey's mom. A great story is told here, but it doesn't begin until the final third of the film.

Panama Hattie
MGM didn't put a lot of effort into Panama Hattie, the 1942 film version of the Broadway musical that starred Ethel Merman, that, outside of a couple of terrific musical numbers, doesn't offer a lot in terms of genuine entertainment.

Ann Southern inherits Merman's role for the film version, a nightclub singer in Central America, who is excited about the arrival of her fiancee, Dick (Dan Dailey), but finds competition for his affection in the former of a snooty admiral's daughter (Marsha Hunt) and Dick's young daughter. Three sailors (Red Skelton, Rags Ragland. Ben Blue). who are old friends with Hattie, try to help Hattie with Dick while dealing with some alleged spies. Hattie's best friend, Flo (Virginia O'Brien) is also aggressively chasing a stuffy butler (Alan Mowbray) who is taking care of Dick's daughter.

The Broadway musical upon which this film is based opened in October of 1940 and ran for an unimpressive 501 performances, but apparently someone with some juice at MGM saw the potential for a musical giant. Unfortunately, potential from the Broadway stage doesn't guarantee success on the movie screen. A lot of the appeal with the stage musical had to come from Ethel Merman's performance in the title role, because Ann Southern's lackluster performance in the title role never really connects with the audience, The razor thin plot, which includes a really silly subplot about the three sailors chasing spies that comes out of nowhere, doesn't help either.

The score by Cole Porter has been severely tampered with, which doesn't help matters. Songs have been inexplicably added to the score written by EY Harburg and Burton Lane , who wrote Finian's Rainbow, and Roger Edens, among others. Though guest star Lena Horne does get to shine on the Cole Porter classic "Just One of those Things." We also have The Berry Brothers, a trio of dancing brothers who never made the splash that the Nicholas Brothers made in the movies, but were just as talented and when the Berrys and Horne get together for a number called "The Sping", they give us the film's best musical number. Sour-faced Virginia O'Brien did make the most of "At the Savoy" and "Fresh as a Daisy" as well.

Disappointed that one of Hollywood's best song and dance men, Dan Dailey, was not allowed a single musical moment in the film. And like a lot of MGM musicals, this is another film that was set in a foreign country but it was more than obvious that the filming never left an MGM soundstage. Southern works very hard in the title role, but she's no Merman and Red Skelton has rarely been this unfunny. The best thing about this musical is that it ran under ninety minutes.

Despite lovely performances from the leads, 2022's Aftersun is a confusing and slightly pretentious look at a father/daughter relationship that makes the audience work too hard at looking for something that never happens because the film seems to be too personal for the filmmaker to make a real connection with the viewer.

This is the story of a pre-teen named Sophie who is looking back on a very special vacation that she took with her father 20 years prior to the beginning of this film, which supposedly finds Sophie reconciling the father she knew with the man he really was.

Director and screenwriter Charlotte Wells has crafted a story that feels terribly personal, personal to the point that a cinematic wall comes up between the film and the audience. Never felt like Wells' intentions came through a lot of father/daughter bonding scenes that we keep thinking are going to build to some huge reveal about Sophie and her father that never happens. Initially, I theorized that this was about Sophie's unhappiness about her parents not being together anymore, but then we get a scene where Sophie asks her dad, Calum, why does he say he loves Sophie's mother if they're not together anymore.

My next theory was that Calum, was dying or had recently died and this is what triggered Sophie's look back at this vacation because Calum works very hard throughout the film giviing Sophie his full attention and doing whatever she wanted. Calum's complete attention to Sophie almost has an incestuous quality to it, due to Calum's complete lack of socialization with adults. Calum is a young and very attractive man who should have been swimming in female attention but Sophie seems to be the only person in his life who matters. Then, for some reason at the beginning of the third act, he refuses to do a karaoke duet with her that separates the two for the first time in the movie. We also get shots of him running alone on the beach at night as well as a scene of him weeping uncontrollably which goes by with no explanation. I also found the hand-held camera, giving us the home movie effect, very annoying.

The opening credits imply that this film is British, but the actors sound Australian and the movie was filmed in Turkey. Frankie Corio is adorable as Sophie and Paul Mescal, whose eyes one can get lost in, is so charismatic as Sophie's father that his performance has earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination. As good as Mescal and Corio are, I just couldn't figure out what this movie was about.

A system of cells interlinked

Here is how I interpreted the film:

WARNING: "Aftersun" spoilers below
Calum is a manic depressive and also suicidal - he didn't go running on the beach, he walked into the sea, which is why Sophie finds him passed out nude on the bed in the morning, as he must have managed to pull himself out before totally letting himself drown. I think this, and the lost in the dark room with the flashing lights scenes are allegory for Calum being lost in darkness with only his relationship with Sophie as a tether keeping him holding on to life.

Sophie's monologue about her feeling down, and her bones not working etc., along with the flashes of her in the dark room, led me to believe she does and will suffer from the same bouts of depression, and the father then realizes this, which leads to his breakdown in the hotel room. I think the final scene at the end, after Sophie boards the plane, and the father walks through the doors into the dark room, signifies him finally succumbing to his depression.

The adjoining sequence with the flowing pan around the room is Sophie finishing up watching all the video footage of their vacation together, most likely on her birthday, with her still trying to reconcile his death.

Sad stuff, and in my opinion, brilliantly done.

"There’s absolutely no doubt you can be slightly better tomorrow than you are today." - JBP

With Avatar: The Way of Water being a Best Picture nominee this year, I figured there was no point in watching that until I watched the first film. A 2009 Best Picture nominee, Avatar is a groundbreaking, intoxicating, breathtaking action fantasy that, for this reviewer, redefines the science fiction genre, rich with cinematic pyrotechnics unlike anything I have ever seen, utilized to tell a story which initially seems to present one underlying theme, but a different one quietly bubbles to the surface when we're not looking.

After his brother is killed, a paraplegic marine named Jake Sully volunteers to take his place in a mission on a moon called Pandora. Jake's mission is to gather information for a corporate organization who, in exchange for his help, have offered to restore the use of his legs. With virtually no training, Jake is placed in a pod, which transports him to the alternate universe of Pandora where the humans, known as Avatars, have blue faces, yellow eyes, Spock ears, and tails. With the help of a bad ass female Avatar named Neytiri, Jake finds himself in the middle of what appears to be some kind of civil war on Pandora, but when he finds out what's really going on, realizes he can't complete his mission because he may have found a new life and home on Pandora.

With films like The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, and Titanic under his belt, I didn't think there were any more cinematic mountains that mad genius and "king of the world" James Cameron could climb but he proved me wrong. They say the secret of making a great movie all starts with a great story and Cameron has crafted a story that starts so quietly centering on a tragic but likable hero drawn into something that not only grows to gargantuan proportions, but surrounds our hero with several black hats and white hats that are initially hard to discern from each other, but once he does, he does what he has to do with unabashed enthusiasm, courage, and a deadly sense of humor...he reminded me of an intergalactic John McLane.

Loved the way Jake's transition into an Avatar smoothly brings him into the Avatar world and just when he's in the thick of things, we are taken right back to the pod where he is pulled out and given instructions about what he did wrong while back in Avatar world, he is being taught their language and about the battle they are fighting. It's initially maddening for Jake and the viewer because he never gets straight answers from anyone on either side of the mission about what he's doing. Did love when he first morphs into an Avatar, his joy at having the use of his legs again and starts running and keeps running until he has to pulled back to the pod and we're again reminded that Jake can't walk. Loved Jake and Neytiri's first kiss too.

Cameron's meticulous craftsmanship in mounting the Pandora canvas, is a seamless blend of CGI effects and logic defying production design. The film is rich with incredible set pieces, a lot of which seemed to be inspired by set pieces from previous Cameron films. The forests of Pandora have a haunting quality that makes them seem to come alive and be part of the story. The non-human creatures of Pandora are an uncanny mix of real animals whose appearance seems to be altered versions of real animals and creatures specific to the Avatars that defy description. Love at one point when Neytiri tells Jake he must get control of a particular creature and Neytiri says he'll know the time is right when the creature tries to kill him. Also loved the floating mountains of Pandora...only James Cameron would find a way to make mountains float in mid air.

This film was nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Picture, and won well-deserved statues for cinematography, art direction, and visual effects. Cameron's cast serves his story, anchored by Sam Worthington's exuberant and sincere Jake Sully. There is also standout work from Zoe Saldana as Neytiri, Giovanni Ribisi as Selfridge, Sigourney Weaver as Grace, Michelle Rodrigues as Trudy, and especially Stephen Lang as Colonel Quaritch. A spellbinding cinematic experience. Can't wait to watch the sequel and am SO glad I watched this first. Fastest three hours of my life.

Babylon (2022)
Hollywood wunderkind Damien Chazelle (Whiplash; La La Land) seems to be a stranger in a strange land with Babylon, an overblown and uncompromising look at Hollywood in the 1920's that finds Chazelle a little more invested in shocking, repelling, and confusing his audiences than entertaining them, providing about two thirds of a really incredible film experience.

Hollywood's transition to talkies is the canvas upon which this tale regarding the roles of sexual debauchery and studio head machinations that controlled Hollywood during a time of shaky transition in Hollywood is mounted. The story is told essentially through the eyes of four characters: Jack Conrad is a hard-drinking, womanizing silent matinee idol who is unable to make the transition from silent to talk; Manny Torres is a young Latino hustler who wants to be in the movie business, not really caring what facet of the business it is; Nellie LeRoy is a sexual wildcat who wants to be a movie star more than anything who achieves the fame she desires, but throws it away just as quickly, with a strong assist from cocaine addiction; Harry Palmer is a black trumpet player who goes from studio musician to a musical star in his own right but is thrown by the way people of color are treated in Hollywood.

Chazelle is definitely out of his comfort zone here, trying to present a thorough overlay of Hollywood from several angles, but his screenplay tries to cover a little too much territory, territory that I'm not sure Chazelle is really familiar with. The opening scenes of Torres and other characters being drowned in elephant feces, followed by the elephant making an unbilled appearance at a wild Hollywood party/orgy where we meet the other three central characters. This party scene ended up being the primary marketing tool for this movie, but this twenty-minute scene segues into a more straight-faced and melodramatic look at the effect that a changing Hollywood has on these four main characters.
and equally

This unknown Latino becoming a major studio executive before the halfway point in the movie never rings true, nor does Nellie LeRoy's meteoric rise to success and equally meteoric fall. Didn't really buy the underdeveloped story of Harry Palmer's disdain about being asked to wear blackface because most black actors at this time were playing maids and limo drivers and would have killed for the career that Harry Palmer had. Manny's infatuation with the self-centered Nellie didn't really make sense nor did his obsession with helping and protecting her. The only completely satisfying story was Jack Conrad's...a sad and more serious turn on Gene Kelly's Don Lockwood that provided the film's most endearing story. Research revealed that the Jack Conrad character was loosely based on 30's matinee idol John Gilbert, best known for the films he made with Greta Garbo.

Chazelle also seems a little obsessed with shocking his audiences with several moments that seemed to have been inserted purely for the purpose of shock values and adding to the film's severe overlength: In addition to the elephant feces, we get Nellie battling a rattle snake on the beach and Nellie's constant retakes of a scene leading to a genuine tragedy or her vomiting in the face of a party's host? Nellie's sad descent back to the bottom leads the audience down a predictable path and putting Manny in danger he didn't deserve. And Chazelle's pretentious finale, attempting to connect the events in this film to present day pop culture made for an unnecessarily long conclusion to a very long movie.

Chazelle's hand-picked cast was a big asset though. Margot Robbie really sinks her teeth into the part of Nellie LeRoy, delivering a slightly over the top but explosive performance that commands the screen, Newcomer Diego Calva, who reminded me of a young Antonio Banderas, displayed real promise as Manny. Also loved Jean Smart as a snooty gossip columnist, Lukas Haas as a romance-challenged producer, Flea as a manipulative studio exec, Eric Roberts as Nellie's father, a character that actually reminded me of Roberts' most famous character, Paul Snider in Star 80, PJ Byrne as a high strung assistant director and an actress I've never heard of named Olivia Hamilton was hysterical as a bitchy female movie director. Towering above all of them though was Oscar winner Brad Pitt, who is dazzling yet understated as Jack Conrad, a performance that had me falling out of my chair with laughter one minute and fighting tears the next. Pitt offers one of his top five performances him in that scene where he's watching the rushes of his first talkie or when he's trying to explain Hollywood to Manny. Pitt's performance alone makes this movie worth watching, but as a complete film experience, Chazelle doesn't top his work in La La Land or even First Man. The film has been nominated for three Oscars for Production Design, Original Score, and costumes, though I have to question if a lot of the wardrobe choices for Margot Robbie were authentically 1920's. I think Tom Ross' editing was worthy of a nomination. Chazelle definitely deserves an "A" for intentions.

Robin Hood (1973)
The story first hit the big screen way back in 1938 and made an official movie star out of an actor named Errol Flynn. Disney Studios scored with their 1973 animated version of Robin Hood.

Of course since it's Disney, all of these well known characters are now animals. The title character is a slick and charming fox (voiced by Brian Bedford) who robs from the rich and gives to the poor, with the aid of his pal, a bear named Little John (voiced by Phil Harris), who bears more than a passing resemblance to Baloo in Jungle Book. Robin makes the mistake of stealing from the kingdom's leader, an evil and miserly lion named Prince John (brilliantly voiced by Peter Ustinov) who, when things aren't going his way, sucks his thumb. Of course, the war between Robin and John interferes with his romance with his childhood sweetheart, a pretty young fox named Maid Marian.

This reviewer hasn't had much exposure to this story. Haven't seen the Errol Flynn classic, hell, I haven't even see Robin Hood Men in Tights. I have seen the Rat Pack's 1964 take on the story called Robin and the Seven Hoods. I did find this take on the story a lot of fun. This Robin is a total charmer who is brave, skilled, and best of all, humble. For some reason, I expected this character to be arrogant, but he wasn't. I also loved that he spent a lot of the screen time in various disguises. Love when he gets busted at the archery tournament. Also loved the outright brass of just plucking Baloo from Jungle Book and making him Little John.

Country singer Roger Miller contributes to the pleasant musical score and also provides the voice for the narrator, a guitar playing rooster named Allen-A-Dale. The musical highlights include :"The Phony King of England", "Fight On", "Ooh-de-Lally", and "Not in Nottingham/"

There is other strong voice work by Terry-Thomas as John's snake assistant, Sir Hiss, Andy Devine as Friar Tuck (who actually looks like Devine), and Monica Evans and Carole Shelley as Maid Marian and her lady in waiting, a chicken named Lady Kluck. Evans and Shelley also voiced a pair of geese in The Aristocats, but are best known for -playing the Pidgeon Sisters in The Odd Couple, but Ustinov effortlessly steals the show as the whiny Prince John. This movie was all kinds of fun.

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody
Despite elegant visual and musical trappings, earnest direction, and some strong performances, the 2022 musical biopic Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody suffers from the same problem that the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect suffered from: when it comes down to it, it's just another biopic and, frankly, the subject deserves better. And of course, it goes on forever.

The film follows the typical biographical route, starting with Whitney's humble beginnings as a church soloist being bullied by her mother, Cissy Houston, to her signing with Arista records, where she met her mentor, Clive Davis and her stormy relationships with Robyn Crawford and Bobby Brown.
Screenwriter Anthony McCarten (Bohemian Rhapsody) impresses by placing a couple of things in Whitney's life directly in the spotlight, one of which was definitely news to me. I liked that Robyn Crawford was introduced as the first real love of Whitney's life, long before Bobby Brown and the tension between the two of them, battling to be #1 in Whitney's life, was was Whitney's refusal to take sides in the battle. The screenplay also doesn't shy away from the theory that Whitney and her music weren't "black" enough. The film even lets us know that a lot of Whitney's career was controlled by her father, who was also robbing her blind.

Director Kasi Lemons (Harriet) shows a lot of love for the subject, though she might be a little overprotective of her. The opening scenes of her signing with Arista Records portray Whitney as being a little too trusting of people than Whitney probably was. Her quizzing Clive Davis about what it was like to go to Harvard just didn't ring true. Neither did her declaration that she liked all kinds of music. The scenes of Clive and Whitney testing songs were kind of silly. On the other hand, any scene revolving around the turbulent marriage of Bobby and Whitney crackled with tension.

Lemons has mounted Whitney's story on an inviting canvas and makes some interesting casting choices. Naomi Ackie works very hard at bringing Whitney to life and really seems to understand her. I was anxious to see what they were going to regarding Whitney's voice. Like Judy and Barbra, Whitney's instrument was one of a kind and impossible to duplicate, so I will just say that Whitney's voice is used on some of the musical segments and Ackie sings on others,. I'll let you figure out which voice is in what scene. This becomes pretty simple though because Ackie's lip-synching isn't very good.

Ashton Sanders (Moonlight) was absolutely superb as Bobby Brown, as were Stanley Tucci as Clive Davis, and Tamara Tunie as Cissy Houston. The film seems to be a pretty accurate overlay of Houston's life, but in terms of entertainment value, nothing special.

I loved the animated Robin Hood as a kid and watched it all the time. Great music. I learned to play most of the songs on the guitar from a Disney songbook, LOL.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks
After the unprecedented success of the 1964 Best Picture nominee Mary Poppins. Walt Disney Studios made several attempts to duplicate the success of the instant classic. They came pretty damn close with 1971's Bedknobs and Broomsticks, another exquisitely mounted combination of live action, animation, and music that provides the same kind of enchanting entertainment that Mary Poppins did.

The setting is England just before the outbreak of WWII where we meet Miss Price (Angela Lansbury), an apprentice witch who has been assigned temporary custody of three young children while learning that the final lesson of her witch training is not coming, which contains a particular spell which she has been waiting to learn. With the help of the children, Miss Price learns that her witchcraft course was being offered by a phony street entertainer named Emilius Brown (David Tomlinson). Miss Price, Mr. Brown. and the three children travel on a magical bed to search for the second half of the spell that Miss Price took the witchcraft course for in the first place.

The screenplay is a little more complex than need be, but it does provide the same kind of magical and often logic defying story that Mary Poppins did. This is of no surprise since Bill Walsh, screenwriter for Mary Poppins also provided the screenplay for this story. I was surprised that Miss Price was taking a course to becoming a witch because I always assumed a person was either born a witch or wasn't. The idea that one could be taught to be a witch was a surprise but this becomes irrelevant pretty quickly. It was amusing that by the time Miss Price got to her last missing lesson, the only power she had obtained until then was the ability to turn human beings into rabbits.

The viewer is simultaneously confused and intrigued when the first leg of Miss Price's journey leads her to a book where the final page with the spell has been torn out. This leads Miss Price, Mr. Brown, and the children on a journey that leads to an animated underwater adventure with singing codfish and an above ground animated soccer game led by a an eccentric lion king, which found Mr. Brown serving as referee. The entire soccer game sequence had this reviewer on the floor with laughter. I also loved the tentative relationship that blooms between Miss Price and Mr. Brown, which never becomes full blown romance but makes a believable transition as the story progressed. Also loved the reveal, which we are forced to wait for, as to why Miss Price wants to be a witch.

The film features another terrific song score from Richard M and Robert B Sherman, who did the score for Mary Poppins. Highlights included "The Age of Not Believing" (which received a Best Original Song Oscar nomination), "Eglantine, Don't Let Me Down", "A Step in the Right Direction" and especially "The Beautiful Briny", which effectively combines elements of songs from Mary Poppins.

Robert Stevenson, who was nominated for an Oscar for directing Mary Poppins, was also in the director's chair here and Cotton Warburton, who won an Oscar for editing Mary Poppins, was also the film editor for this movie. The film was nominated for four Oscars and won the Oscar for its terrific visual effects. Lansbury is absolutely enchanting, as always, and David Tomlinson shines in a role more flawed than his George Banks, but way more heart than his villain Thorndyke in The Love Bug. It's no Mary Poppins, but if you loved that film, you'll love this one too.

Empire of Light
Despite a spotty screenplay and slightly sluggish direction, a bittersweet romantic drama and character study called Empire of Light remains watchable thanks to its unique canvas and some powerhouse performances from the leads.

The setting for this 2022 film is a British seaside community circa 1980. Oscar winner Olivia Colman plays Hillary, a lonely woman on the cusp of spinsterhood, who works at a movie theater and takes ballroom dancing lessons. Hillary is also being used sexually by her married boss (Oscar winner Colin Firth). She is also the only employee at the movie theater who never sneaks into the theater to watch some of the movies. It slowly comes to light that there are some medical and emotional issues in Hillary's past that have had a severe effect on her present. Things begin to look up for Hillary when she finds herself drawn to a new employee, a sensitive young black man named Stephen.

Sam Mendes, who won an Oscar for directing 1999's Oscar winner for Best Picture, American Beauty, wrote and directed this film that scores immediate points for the unique canvas upon which this story unfolds. This is the first film this reviewer has seen where the primary setting is a movie theater and most of the characters are employees of the theater. The last time I saw a movie character working as a projectionist was Tyler Durden in Fight Club, though if the truth be told, the film that this most reminded me of is The Way We Were, where we are brought a romance that probably would only happen in a movie, but we are firmly behind it, even though we can see that the relationship is probably doomed.

Mendes allows this movie to move at a snail's pace, allowing scenes to play out much longer than they should and some scenes just get in the way of this potentially compelling romance. There's a scene with Stephen and the theater's projectionist (beautifully played by Toby Jones) that definitely slows the film down as do several private moments with Hillary that seem to be leading somewhere but don't. The potential romance also gets muddied by a racist subplot that results in a shockingly violent incident during the final act that seems to come out of nowhere. It's equally disturbing when Hillary's backstory simmers to the surface offering some bizarre behavior from the character, especially the sudden change in a scene where Hillary and Stephen are at the beach building a sand castle. The scene that Hillary makes at the theater's premiere of Chariot of Fire also redefines squirm worthy.

However, when this film concentrates on the totally unexpected relationship between Hillary and Stephen, it is totally watchable. Love the first time they make love (beautifully filmed in silhouette) or watching the fireworks from the roof of the movie theater. These scenes completely lure the viewer into considering the possibility of true happiness between these two people. I did love the finale where Hillary asks the projectionist to show her a movie, any movie, and LOVED the movie he chose to show Hillary.

The movie is beautifully photographed, earning veteran Roger Deakins the film's only Oscar nomination for cinematography. Despite the somewhat aggravating story, we remain invested in the proceedings because of the performances of the stars. Olivia Colman is explosive, unpredictable, and often heartbreaking as the severely broken her in that scene where the police break into her apartment to return her to the hospital. A young actor named Michael Ward lights up the screen as Stephen, a performance that reminded me of a young Sidney Poitier and had been gaining him some serious Oscar buzz for Best Supporting Actor and I could have definitely seen him being nominated instead of Judd Hirsch's sentimental nomination. The road these principal characters travel in this film is troublesome, but Colman and Ward make the viewer care.

Phone Booth
It doesn't quite measure up to his masterpiece Falling Down, but the late Joel Schumacher has crafted an improbable and claustrophobic little nail-biter called Phone Booth that manages to rivet the viewer to the screen as long as they don't think about it too much.

The 2002 film stars Colin Farrell as Stu Shepherd, a slick-talking, smart-ass show business publicist who has several irons in the fire, but takes the time to get off his cell phone so that he can enter a phone booth, take off his wedding ring, so that he can call his ew girlfriend, presumably so his wife doesn't discover the call on his cell. After completing the call, Stu starts to leave the booth and it immediately starts ringing. For some reason, he decide to answer it and finds himself talking to someone who seems to know everything about his life and for some reason, wants Stu to confess to his wife that he is cheating on her. In order to make sure Stu takes him seriously, the caller actually murders someone and makes sure the police and everyone else thinks he did it.

Screenwriter Larry Cohen is to be credited for setting the story in a time when the entire communications industry was in a serious state of flux. In 2002, cellular phones were still kind of a novelty, something reserved for the rich, powerful, and most importantly, self-absorbed. Land lines and phone booths were still around but they were beginning to disappear, but as we learn at the beginning of this film, this phone booth located at the corner of 53rd and 8th in Manhattan, is one of the few for miles around, supposedly legitimizing the presence of a pimp and his girls using the phone to run their business, which initially comes off as stupid, but gets serious pretty quickly. The screenplay leaves a lot of unanswered questions and I think this is because a lot of them don't have answers. We never learn exactly who this caller is or how or why he does this, but from what he asks of Stu, it's likely that he's not a stranger, but we're never told for sure.

Where the film really scores is in the often inventive and overheated direction by Schumacher that gives the film an importance that it might not really deserve. Schumacher's variation on the split screen film technique is, at times, distracting, but it forces complete viewer attention because we just don't see a simple phone call bringing police and SWAT, but effortlessly keeping them perplexed and at a safe distance. The over the phone cat and mouse eventually reaches a fever pitch; however, the ending left a bad taste in the mouth.

Colin Ferrell's overheated performance perfectly fits the story and he is matched perfectly by Keifer Sutherland, who is nothing short of superb as the menacing and dangerous caller. Forest Whitaker scores as the perplexed police office trying to figure out what's going on, as well as Richard T. Jones as a cop and Rahda Mitchell as Stu's wife. There's fun to be had here as long as you don't take it too seriously.

Lovely! Some of my all-time favorites are here. So glad to see the reviews!

All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)
A 2023 Oscar nominee for Best Picture and Best International Film, 2022's All Quiet on the Western Front is the fourth screen adaptation of the classic novel by Erich Maria Remarque that documents the ugliness of World War I through an emotionally charged motion picture experience when it stays on the battlefield.

The story opens with a wide-eyed German teenager named Paul who enlists in the German army with his best friends Albert and Muller, pumped to serve their country in World War I, but as the story progresses, it whittles down to a look at the war through Paul's eyes.

Initial reticence occurred for this reviewer when it's revealed that the Oscar-nominated adapted screenplay is in German without subtitles, but a lot of my discomfort with this vanquished as I found the exquisite attention director Edward Berger put into the visuals provided here as well as the emotion of what these soldiers experience made it pretty easy to understand exactly what was going on when the story was on the actual battlefields. It was when the story moved from the battlefield to the strategizing of the military leaders where the film seems to shut out the viewer who doesn't comprehend German. The one exception to this was the scene where Germany and France sign the armistice, where what was going on was crystal clear.

Loved the opening scene where the young would e soldiers are being instructed by a leader and the camera pans across the anxious young faces who are thrilled to be going into this very ugly and dangerous war. The way they listened to the opening speech and the way they responded with thunderous cheers was a little squirm-worthy, making it obvious that these kids didn't have a clue what they were getting into. Yes, I used the word kids because I've noticed in the last couple of war films that I've seen that most of the soldiers are in their teens.

The scenes on the battlefield provide the carnage that one would expect, but the most effective scenes of battle were the one on one encounters between two soldiers that take the movie out of those underground bunkers, often producing an actual movie within the movie. Especially moving was an encounter that Paul has with an enemy soldier where he stabs him several times but he refuses to die. He then finds pictures of the soldier's family on him and it's almost implied that he might have even known this guy before the war.

Berger's attention to the look of this film is spectacular. The settings for this story are all bathed in serious gray and mud tones. And just as Sam Mendes did in 1917, there is extraordinary use of the tracking shot as the soldiers are followed through the underground bunkers that initially appear to be sanctuary for the soldiers, but as the film progresses, e learn there is no such thing as sanctuary in war. The film also reminds us how precious normal human functions like eating and sleeping get short shrift when you're a soldier. There are scenes of soldiers drinking muddy water like it's champagne.

In addition to the Best Picture, International Film, and adapted screenplay nominations. the film has earned six other Oscar nominations, including production design, visual effects, sound, and the wonderful musical score that doesn't frame every second of the movie, but served it in unique fashion. Didn't understand a single word said onscreen in this film, but was still riveted to the screen.

My theory that the iconic Judy Holliday never made a bad movie is once again confirmed with a 1954 romantic comedy called Phfft!, a sparkling, if predictable romantic comedy that reunites Holliday with her It Should Happen to You co-star, Jack Lemmon, providing plenty of laughs and grins along the way.

Holliday and Lemmon play Nina and Bob Tracey who have been married for eight years, but something is missing in the marriage and they impulsively decide to divorce. They both attempt to move on, Bob getting assistance from his womanizing BFF Charlie and Nina getting assistance from her mother. We realize it immediately, but it takes Bob and Nina a lot longer to realize they're still in love with each other.

Judy Holliday blindsided Bette Davis and Gloria Swanson by winning the 1950 Oscar for Best Actress for playing the quintessential dumb blonde Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday, but Holliday was anything but. She was very careful making sure her choices of film roles were not just rehashes of Billie Dawn and this film is no exception. The predictability of the story is tolerable thanks to an intelligent and adult screenplay by George Axelrod (Breakfast at Tiffany's) that does have a slightly sexist leaning to it...several times in the film it is implied that Nina believes her life is worthless without a man in it, despite a very successful career at NBC as a soap opera writer. Even though we're halfway through the final act before Nina actually admits her feeling about Bob, we don't really mind the wait because Nina is so smart and funny and we know she's smart enough to figure out what we figured out about fifteen minutes into the movie.

There is one funny scene after another here. Loved Nina's date with the slimy soap opera star whose agenda we don't see coming at all. We see them both take dance lessons and Bob grow a mustache. Bob's blind date with the ditzy Janis (Kim Novak) provides big laughs as well as Bob and Nina's dance floor duel in a fancy nightclub where both Holliday and Lemmon prove to be very light on their feet. Also loved the brief flashback to Bob and Nina's first meeting where she looks at him like a steak smothered in onions.

Director Mark Robson (Peyton Place) brings a perfect lightness to the proceedings that never gets in the way of this terrific cast, especially Holliday, who, as always, completely loses herself in a role where we are never in doubt of what the character is thinking even if she isn't. Lemmon's energetic Bob is a lot of fun, reminding me a lot of a future Lemmon character, Felix Unger in The Odd Couple. Jack Carson brings just the right smarm to Charlie and even though Charlie is smarmy, it's OK because Charlie realizes it. Kim Novak is bubbly effervescence as Janis, a role that felt like it was written for Marilyn Monroe but Novak makes it work. Further testament as to the gift movie fans lost in 1960 when we lost Judy Holliday.