Gideon58's Reviews

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Nixon
Oliver Stone, who won three Oscars for writing and directing Born on the 4th of July and for directing Platoon, was equally impressive as the director and co-screenwriter of Nixon, an ambitious and technically breathtaking look at our 37th POTUS that pulls no punches in its approach to the subject. Stone did something here I've never seen before...he has mounted a biopic where the subject is the hero and the villain.

This look at the rise and eventually ugly downfall of Richard Nixon begins as the Watergate burglars are arrested and the sharks are beginning to circle the political waters regarding Nixon's involvement in what happened. The film then flashes back to Nixon's troublesome childhood, which included toxic relationships with his very religious mother and his often abusive father. The film then returns to the 1970's where we see Nixon in full self-preservation mode as he tries to hide his involvement in Watergate, tries to keep his marriage to Pat viable, and tries to legitimize to Americans his inability to get America out of Vietnam.

The Oscar-nominated screenplay by Stone, Stephen J Rivele, and Christopher Wilkensen does attempt to cover so much territory here, resulting in the film's severe overlength. The primary problem for this reviewer was that the screentime devoted to Nixon's childhood should have provided some connection to the kind of person that Nixon was, but it never really does that. We even get occasional flashes to the past that are supposed to legitimate some of the things the guy does, especially concerning his marriage to Pat. The portion of the story of Dick's marriage to Pat was one of the film's strongest elements, revealing a marriage that was much more troubled than I ever imagined.

What was the most fascinating aspect of the story was Stone's approach to presenting Nixon onscreen. It's not just a birth to death chronicle, but Stone takes a lot of dramatic license, and that's all it can be, in bringing the Nixon he believed in to the screen. It's like Stone took a real life historical figure and crafted a fictional composite of who Stone thought this guy was, which made this film absolutely fascinating whenever Nixon is onscreen. Stone makes no bones about the fact that he thinks Nixon did not put a lot of effort into getting us out of Vietnam and that the buck stopped at Nixon where Watergate was concerned. Stone's collaboration with his actor implies that a lot of time Nixon was not aware of the ramifications of his actions and felt accountable for none of it. Watch how Stone portrays Nixon throwing an entire White House administration under the bus, resulting in Henry Kissinger being the only staffer at his decide when he realizes resignation is his only answer. Loved the answer provided by Howard Hunt when John Dean asks Hunt how he has the audacity to blackmail the President. It was the essence of Stone's Nixon in one line.

As he did a few years earlier with JFK, Stone, with a first rate assist from his film editing team, does a superb job of integrating his movie with archival footage, that really aided in taking us inside the important history being recreated here. Loved the footage of John Dean (David Hyde Pearce) being edited into the 1973 Watergate hearings.

Even with all the logistical nightmares involved here, Stone still manages to pull some powerhouse performances from a once in a lifetime cast. Sir Anthony Hopkins completely loses himself in the title role, a performance of power and pathos that, at times, almost evokes sympathy for the character, but doesn't and shouldn't that earned the actor his third Oscar nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor. Joan Allen's rich performance as Pat Nixon is easy to discount over Hopkins' thunder, but it is equally as effective earning her a Best Supporting Actress nomination. In addition to David Hyde Pearce as John Dean, there is also standout work from James Woods as HR Alderman, Powers Boothe as Alexander Haig, EG Marshall as John Mitchell, JT Walsh as John Ehrlichman, Ed Harris as Howard Hunt, Mary Steenburgen as Nixon's mother, and especially the late Paul Sorvino as Kissinger. And if you don't blink, you will be blown away by a brief and very effective appearance from the late Madeline Kahn as Martha Mitchell. Yes, it's longer than it needs to be, but Oliver Stone's delicate artistry makes it worth the time.



Me Time
Netflix has a swing and a miss with 2022's Me Time a juvenile and over the top buddy comedy from the creative force behind comedies like Why Him? and I Love You Man that might seem funnier than it is because Kevin Hart and Mark Wahlberg are the stars.

Hart and Wahlberg play Sonny and Huck, respectively, BFF's since childhood who have grown apart. Sonny is a stay at home dad married to a beautiful architect (Rebecca Hall) and father of two. Huck still thinks life is a big party and really hasn't changed in 20 years. Sonny's wife thinks he needs a break and takes off with the kids while Sonny reconnects with Huck, who has a Survivor type adventure planned for his 44th birthday.

Director and screenwriter John Hamburg has crafted a story that is an uneven combination of 1980's teen comedies and the buddy comedies that Will Ferrell, John C Reilly, and Adam Sandler made during the early 2000's. The film starts off with a nice scene that establishes the relationship between Sonny and Huck but we know we're in trouble when the movie flashes forward 20 years and it's revealed that Huck is in the same guy he was in the opening scene.

There were a couple of scenes and storyline moves that didn't make sense. Sonny's adventure in the jungle with Huck actually began with Sonny's eye-opening encounter with a mountain lion that was a little scary for a comedy, not to mention the fact that all of the party guests just stood there and watched it, not offering any kind of assistance. We also learn that Huck is in trouble with a loan shark named Stanley Berman (?) and Sonny's solution is to move the survivor party to Sonny's house? There's also a deadening subplot involving Sonny's son, who Sonny wants to be pianist but the kid wants to be a standup.

Hart and Wahlberg work very hard to make us like Sonny and Huck and Hall once again manages to create some chemistry with Hart, with whom she starred in the remake of About Last Night, but this one is just too all over the place to effectively engage the audience. Even hardcore fans of Hart will have a hard time with this one.



Needful Things
The 1993 thriller Needful Things has a lot going for it...some stylish direction, solid production values, and a really offbeat ensemble cast, but there's a problem keeping the film what it should have been...a screenplay that doesn't answer all the questions it asks.

Based on a book by Stephen King, this is the story of a small town called Castle Rock that is turned upside down by the arrival of Leland Gaunt, an elderly businessman who opens a shop called Needful Things, where selected citizens of Castle Rock find items to which they feel personal connections to and must have, but Gaunt only agrees to sell the items to the citizens in exchange for their pulling harmless pranks that get a lot more serious that by the time the film's half-over, a teenage boy has tried to commit suicide and two women are dead after being goaded into a fight.

Full disclosure, I have never read King's book that WD Reichter (Big Trouble in Little China) adapted into a screenplay that is pretty confusing for a majority of the running time because of the lack of backstory on this Gaunt character. Most likely there are details in King's book that would have cleared up a lot of this reviewer's confusion. We're confused by the citizens' connections to the item in his store...some are from their pasts, some are fantasies, some are secret desires, there was no consistency there. The other problem is, we do eventually figure out who Leland Gaunt is but we're given little insight into why...why here? Why these people? Why Castle Rock? Maybe it was supposed to be irrelevant but it nagged at this reviewer throughout making it difficult to invest in what was happening. There was also a lot of odd symbolism revolving around green apples that went right by this reviewer. Its attempts to inject humor into the proceedings never works either,

This film marked the feature length directing debut of Fraser Heston, son of Charlton Heston, who made his film debut playing his father's character as a child in The Ten Commandments and apparently the guy picked up a thing or two hanging out on his father's sets because this guy displays mad directorial skills, including a sharp eye with the camera that paints some staggering visuals for the viewer and an uncanny knack with the art of slow motion...watch that scene where the kid destroys the house with apples or the destruction of the church and of the shop during the over the top finale.

Heston assembled an interesting cast for his vision, getting standout work from the always reliable Ed Harris as the befuddled sheriff, Bonnie Bedelia as his girlfriend, and the powerhouse performance from the legendary Max Von Sydow as Leland Gaunt, that is the anchor upon which this film hangs. There's a lot to like here, but it doesn't always work and it's never boring.



Pollock
Ed Harris made his directorial debut, directing himself into his first Oscar nomination for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in 2000's Pollack, a dark and squirm-worthy look at 1940's abstract painter Jackson Pollack that doesn't take the traditional route of most biopics, demanding audience attention from jump thanks to a highly theatrical representation of facts and characters who are not always seen in the most flattering light.

The film follows an alcoholic Pollack struggling for acceptance while living with his brother and sister-in-law until a whirlwind named Lee Krasner comes into his life. Lee is an artist who gives up her own career and life to nurture Pollack's career and life, at least according to this screenplay. Lee's influence does manage to get Jackson's work noticed by renowned gallery owner Peggy Guggenheim, but it doesn't really change the alcoholic and allusive Pollack into what Lee wants. Lee manipulates Jackson into marriage and persuades him to move from New York to the Hamptons, thinking she can change him.

The screenplay by Barbara Turner. mother of actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, based on a pair of books about Pollack, is not the average birth to death chronicle of its subject. The story starts in the middle where the artist is not only in denial about his alcoholism, but some deeper issues as well. What fascinated me about this story is the way it becomes less and less about Pollack the artist than it did about this often toxic marriage to the often duplicitous Lee, who decides from the moment she meets the guy that she knows exactly how to mold him into what she wants. There's a terrific scene where Lee decides that they either get married or split up, when it's obvious there isn't a whole lot of love going on this relationship. The wedding itself doesn't even take place onscreen.

In addition to an up close and personal look at a seemingly doomed marriage, the film also rivets whenever it concentrates on Jackson on his own, creating his art. It reminded me of Georges Serat in the Broadway musical Sunday in the Park with George, the way Pollack becomes a hermit when he's painting, shutting out the world and, more importantly, criticism about his work. LOVED the scene where he is about to begin the mural for Mrs. Guggenheim where he constructs the huge blank canvas, pushes it up against the wall, and then just walks back and forth in front of the canvas, figuring out what it's going to be in his head before touching any paint.

Director Harris employs first rate production values to this production, including an incredible care and attention to period detail...loved that old fashioned toaster that Lee is observed using in one scene to prepare breakfast for Jackson. Big shout out to Kathryn Himoff's editing and Jeff Beal's sublime music as well.

Director Harris also put a lot of care into the performance of actor Harris and love that Harris' first lead actor nomination was from his own hands. Marcia Gay Harden commands the screen making Lee Krasner one of the most unlikable movie characters I have ever seen. I didn't like Lee, but I understood her and so did Harden, which is probably why the performance earned her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. The role is clearly a lead, but I imagine she was submitted as supporting because she had a better chance of winning in supporting than if she gone lead, going against Julia Roberts and Ellen Burstyn. Harris' wife, Amy Madigan, also offers one of her flashiest performances as Peggy Guggenheim.



Nope
It's better than Us but not as good as Get Out, but Jordan Peele does show some real style as a director with 2022's Nope. a visually arresting, but somewhat lumbering tale of the supernatural, that, like Peele's other work, offers sporadic suspense and immediate "boos", but features a plethora of story elements, set pieces, and characters that never seem to quite come together as intended.

Peele sets his story in the California desert this time where we meet a disparate group of people who find themselves in the midst of discovering something not of this earth that isn't seen for the first half of the film and for the second half can't be explained. The story focuses on a brother/sister pair of horse wranglers whose father might have died because of this entity, a former sitcom star who now runs a wild west sideshow, and a bulk store employee/techno geek.

Producer, director, and writer Jordan Peele puts a lot of effort into the look of this film, which he knocks out of the park. It's impressive that Peele keeps the reveal of this entity under such effective wraps for almost half the running time, but the exposition is poorly paced, producing several gaps in the film that provided drowsiness for this reviewer, but once we see the actually entity and the havoc it creates, the film begins to pick up to a final fifteen minutes that had this reviewer on the edge of his chair.

The opening scene is confusing and, like the opening scene of Get Out, didn't seem to have anything to do with the rest of film initially, but a connection is eventually made. When the connection is made, on the set of a sitcom called "Gordy's Home", it produces what is easily the most terrifying scene in the film, which actually had this reviewer jumping out of his chair. And as effective as the finale might have been, what happens to the characters did border on the cliche.

Oscar winner Daniel Kaluuya, reunited with his Get Out director Peele, underplays beautifully as the horse wrangler, though KeKe Palmer tends to grate on the nerves as his sister. Loved Oscar nominee Steven Yeun (MInari) as the sideshow owner, though if the truth be told, it's Peele's stylish directorial eye that is the real star here.



Walker (1987)
The charismatic performance by four time Oscar nominee Ed Harris keeps 1987's Walker, a pretentious and long-winded docudrama where the presentation makes it hard to believe that we're watching a true story.

Harris plays William Walker, a 19th Century mercenary who is chosen by an enigmatic millionaire to lead troops into Nicaragua to take it over so that said millionaire can take possession of the country. We watch Walker' often contradictory philosophies about war and slavery confuse his mostly voluntary army who blindly follow the leader into a war with which they have no personal investment.

The primary problem here is the fat-based screenplay by Rudy Wurlitzer, who wrote the 1971 classic Two Lane Blacktop, which like the Oliver Stone film Nixon, takes a true story and re-works it as a fictionalized version of history that makes for an interesting central character, but the presentation of the story is all over the place. There are scenes where we seem to be watching a legitimate biopic, other scenes where facts entertainment take priority over facts, not to mention scenes that play for shock value and unintentional giggles. It's a confusing cinematic trip because the title character is played with a straight face while we get nothing but the opposite from the rest of the film.

Walker is the first movie military hero who is seen leading his troops into battle without carrying a weapon and not getting shot. Are we really supposed to take that seriously? Director Alex Cox (Sid and Nancy)) does offer some style to the story with some serious overuse of slow motion; unfortunately it deadens the pacing of the movie, making it seem almost twice its length.

But no matter what stands in the movie's ay, the often explosive and surprisingly underplayed performance by Harris that makes the viewer want to stick it out. Familiar faces up along the way like Marlee Matlin, Rene Auberjunois, and Peter Boyle, but this is Harris' show and die hard fans will not be disappointed.



Funny Pages
Actor Owen Kline, son of Oscar winner Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, probably best known for playing Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney's younger son in The Squid and the Whale, makes an inauspicious feature length debut as a director and screenwriter with a hot mess of a film called Funny Pages, a prickly and ultimately deeply disturbing story that starts off promisingly, but eventually succumbs to a screenplay with plot holes you can drive a truck through, some really unappealing characters, and a truly grisly finale that comes out of nowhere.

The story is centered around Robert, a teenage artist who has a penchant for creating violent and sexually explicit comics, whose rejection of his cushy suburban life eventually finds him working for the lawyer who got him out of a sticky legal situation, a questionable living situation, and his immersion into the entire underworld comic book counterculture, which leads to a relationship with a nutty artist named Wallace who leads Robert down a very dark rabbit hole.

Kline does show some promise as a filmmaker here, but this story is just too weird and unappealing to offer genuine entertainment and I'm not putting the entire blame on Kline. There are large gaps of the story. particularly in the opening exposition, that are left out making the story difficult to follow. I suspect Kline's screenplay was forced to be seriously trimmed in order to get the film made and it really shows in the final product.

There are plot points and images in this film that redefine disturbing. Robert's artwork borders on tasteless and the whole situation of Robert's living arrangements just defies description that I don't want to spoil here. And the final descent into absolute madness that begins with Robert moving back into his parents' house just made no sense and seemed inserted for shock value.

Daniel Zolghadri gives a star-making performance as Robert, as does Matthew Maher as Wallace, but when this movie was over, I just felt like I needed a shower.



Johnny Guitar
Joan Crawford's powerhouse performance is the centerpiece of 1954's Johnny Guitar, a richly entertaining melodrama mounted on a western canvas, rich with colorful and three dimensional characters, guided by one of the greatest directors of the 1950's.

Crawford is spectacular as Vienna, the tough-as-nails owner of a saloon and gambling palace who finds herself implicated in a murder and a bank robbery, just as a man from her past named Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden) comes back into her life and commits himself to getting Vienna out of all the trouble she's in.

Yes, on the surface, this is a western, but take away the western setting and you have a good old fashioned soap opera, rich with all the elements you expect from the genre...murder, blackmail, a love triangle , and people accused of crimes they didn't. There is also a look at the effect of mob sensibility that reminded me a lot of there 1940 classic

Screenwriter Phillip Yordan (Detective Story and director Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without a Cause) have constructed an emotionally charged story here with a strong sexual undercurrent as two of the principal male characters have romantic pasts with Vienna. Love the scene where Vienna and Johnny lay out their romantic past before us in the first person. Also loved the softening of the Vienna character as the film progressed, which I didn't see coming. Our first glance of the character finds her in jeans, toting a gun, ready to take out anybody who crosses her. When she has been captured and being prepared to be hung for her crimes, she is wearing a gorgeous white gown, but that tough exterior is never completely buried.

Ray's direction is sharp and often imaginative, creating some striking cinematic picture, like those explosions in the mountain ranges when the bank robbers are making their escape, or that first shot of Vienna's saloon burning to the grounds. Don't be fooled because it's set in old west Arizona, the Queen of Melodrama Joan Crawford and is in her element, chewing the scenery to the nth degree without every going overboard. Sterling Hayden offers the strongest performance of his I've seen as the title character and Mercedes Macambridge is appropriately intense as Emma. There's also a flashy supporting turn from Ernest Borgnine, who, a year later, would win a Best Actor Oscar for Marty, but this is Crawford's show
and she never lets you forget it.



I owe that one a rewatch one of these days.

I've been putting it off for years and I don't know why...it was all kinds of fun and Crawford was awesome.



I've been putting it off for a years and I don't know why...it was all kinds of fun and Crawford was awesome.
I really liked it as well. I thought I remembered having a serious issue with it, but then realized reading your review that I was thinking of The Furies.

If you've seen The Furies, I'm talking about the
WARNING: spoilers below
fact that the main character's friend is lynched in a partly racially-motivated attack, and then at the end of the film she just, like, forgets about it and looks back fondly at the person who killed him.
.



It's time to have some fun
I've been putting it off for a years and I don't know why...it was all kinds of fun and Crawford was awesome.
I bet you put it off because it was a western. But like you said in your review of Johnny Guitar;
Yes, on the surface, this is a western, but take away the western setting and you have a good old fashioned soap opera, rich with all the elements you expect from the genre...murder, blackmail, a love triangle , and people accused of crimes they didn't.
which is often true of 1950s westerns as in the 1950s the old west was just a backdrop for the writers to explore changing modern issues that permeated the 1950s.

So if you see a western from the 1950s, especially mid to late 50s you might give it a watch as many of them are about much more than cowboys and gunfights.

Johnny Guitar
is one of the great 'western' films of the 1950s another is:
The Big Country (1958)



Emily the Criminal
Aubrey Plaza, probably best known for her role on the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation, gets a chance to take center stage and nails it, in a surprisingly gritty indie crime drama called Emily the Criminal that, even with a rookie director/screenwriter behind it, had this reviewer's stomach in knots for most of the running time.

Plaza loses herself in the title role, a young woman who works as a caterer, but because of her criminal history, is unable to get a job that will help her get out from under $70,000 in student loan debt. Emily sees a way out of the debt when she becomes involved with a credit card scam, that gets her involved with a lot of very dangerous LA lowlifes, but the financial lure of what she's doing and the unexpected draw to the man behind the scheme draw her deeper in danger.

Director and screenwriter John Patton Ford has created a story that, on the surface, takes kind of a predictable path, but we don't mind because we love Emily from jump and want to see things get better for her. Once she gets past that first job (love watching the credit card machine, waiting for it to approve her first bogus purchase), we think she might be OK. When it's revealed that the paycheck for her first job is $200 and the second is $2000, we know this can't be good, but we watch and hold our collective breath. Twenty years ago, the role of Emily would have been played by Jodie Foster, if that gives you any insight into the character.

It was very easy to enjoy the slow burn of the relationship between Emily and Youcef, which had a sexual heat that hits its fever pitch about halfway through the film but never becomes the focus of the film. When we see Youcef set up Emily and give her very specific instructions and she ignores two of them, we know there's trouble coming and we're not sure how it will end for her.

Plaza commands the screen as the title character and she is well-matched by Theo Rossi as Youcef. There's also a fabulous cameo from Gina Gershon in one of the film's best scenes.
The film features solid production values for an indie and Ford's direction really makes the audience care about this terrific title character.



The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio
The performances by Oscar winner Julianne Moore and three time Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson are the anchor of a deliciously entertaining, fact-based story from 2005 called The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, a handsomely mounted, seamless blend of black comedy and family drama that, if caught in the right mood, will definitely leave a lump in the throat,

Moore and Harrelson play Evelyn and Kelly Ryan, the struggling parents of 10 kids trying to keep the kids fed and the bills paid. Kelly works as a machinist, but blows most of his salary on whiskey. Obviously, with 10 kids to care for, Evelyn is a stay at home, but she does have a passion for entering slogan writing contests and develops an actual talent at it that almost makes her the family's primary breadwinner, despite Kelly's growing resentment as being usurped as the head of the household.

The screenplay by Jane Anderson (Olive Kittridge; How to Make an American Quilt) was adapted by a book written by one of the real life Ryan kids. Anderson is in the director's chair for this as well, and her passion for bringing the Ryan's story to the screen is evident in every frame.. Anderson always lets us know we're watching a movie by having Evelyn and narrate the movie while moving around the action of the movie, inserting herself as Anderson deems appropriate. Anderson also nails the look of the movie and its attention to period detail, beautifully bringing to life the 1950's in terms of settings, costumes, and music. I was especially impressed with her fictional recreations of 1950's television commercials, which were perfection.

What really makes this movie simmer is this enigmatic marriage of Evelyn and Kelly. Evelyn is completely devoted to her family and understands her lot in her life as a woman of the 1950's, but she's screaming on the inside. Her character reminded me a lot of Moore's character in The Hours and Kate Winslet's character in Revolutionary Road. Kelly consistently refuses to step up as a husband and father, but can't stand it when it's Evelyn who really starts taking care of business. Harrelson's character reminded me of his character in The Glass Castle, though his jarring mood swings here seem a little unmotivated at times.

Anderson's focused and sensitive direction make us really care about this family and evokes genuine fright when they are in danger of losing everything. Moore and Harrelson are both Oscar-worthy here, especially Moore, in one of her most enchanting performances. Also loved Laure Dern as a fellow jingle writer and Simon Reynolds as Bob the Milkman. A lovely little movie that is appointment for viewing for Moore and Harrelson fans.



Honk for Jesus Save Your Soul
Another film short remade as a full-length feature, 2022's Honk for Jesus Save Your Soul is a dark and edgy satire centered on an ugly variation of a real story that loses its satirical edge about halfway through, becoming quite disturbing, but watchable thanks to a pair of remarkable lead performances.

Reverend Lee-Curtis Childs and his wife Trinite were the power behind a megachurch that was closed down because of the Reverend's financial and sexual misdeeds. Rev. and Mrs. Childs are trying to start over and re-open their church, but finding it difficult due to a competing megachurch and the doubts among the 25,000 congregants and Mrs. Childs, that Rev. Curtis has really changed.

Director and screenwriter Adamma Ebo has taken on some really prickly subject matter here. Rev. and Mrs. Childs' story, on the surface, seems to be a look at Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker in blackface, which is acceptable as the film begins because it begins in the form of a "mockumentary" like This is Spinal Tap where the couple are crafting the re-opening of their church in front of a documentary camera, but as the the re-opening is being threatened by another megachurch and continued repercussions of Rev. Childs' behavior, the film's mocking veneer is slowly stripped away to reveal the damage done to the Childs' marriage that the re-opening of their church can never really heal.

The film offers laughs initially, though they are nervous ones. Eventually, the laughs diminish as we watch former congregants curse out the Childs, the competing church forcing them to change the date of their reopening, and Rev. Childs having to confront his past deeds that are not as far in the past as he thought. Worst of all, we not only have to watch Rev. Childs demean his devoted wife, but never really be accountable for the actions that brought them to where they are in the first place. The sight of the Childs standing on the side of the road with a sign and a megaphone asking passing motorists to honk for Jesus were meant for grins, but just bordered on pathetic. There are a couple of scenes in the final third of the film that are extremely disturbing.

Ebo made the most of her budget, evidenced in lavish settings and costumes, but what made this movie worth sitting through were the powerhouse performances by Emmy winner Sterling K Brown (This is Us) and Rebecca Hall as Rev. and Mrs. Childs. The chemistry between the actors was simultaneously warm and fraught with incredible tension throughout, making the viewer really really like them or really really hate them, evidenced in a provocative sex scene that defies description and illustrated how broken this couple really was. It's not a pretty movie, but the stars make it worth checking out.



The Ridiculous 6
Adam Sandler and Netflix try the Blazing Saddles route with a 2015 misfire called The Ridiculous 6, a handsomely mounted, but fatally overlong western satire that nails the western but just doesn't bring the satire.

Sandler plays Tommy, a white man who was raised by Indians, who is briefly reunited with his father before the guy gets kidnapped. As he begins his quest to rescue his father, he learns that he has five half-brothers, who eagerly join him to rescue the father they've never met.

First of all, I have to say I love the look of this film. There is some gorgeous cinematography by Dean Semler that creates a breathtaking canvas for this story, but the story is the problem here. The screenplay co-written by Sandler and Tim Herlihy (The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy) is told with too straight a face for a satire, not to mention an extremely leisurely pace that contributes the film being a lot longer than it needs to be.

Ironically, the funnies scenes in the film have nothing to do with the primary plot. The scene where Tommy and his brothers encounter Abner Doubleday, brilliantly played by John Turturro, the scene where half-brother Danny (Luke Wilson) indirectly causes Lincoln's assassination, the song in front of the campfire, and the poker game featuring Mark Twain and Wyatt Earp are pretty funny, but have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie.

Director Frank Coraci, who also directed Sandler in The Waterboy and Click doesn't seem to understand the rapid-fire pacing that satire requires...the jokes and bits have to come in quick succession so if one doesn't work, the next comes so quickly that the viewer doesn't notice. There are some funny bits that he sets up but he lets them hang in the cinematic air too long before they pay off, especially the wink to Home Alone, where he almost lost us.

Sandler has gathered an impressive all-star cast, including some of his regular rep company members to help pull this off. There is standout work by Terry Crews as half brother Chico, Steve Buscemi as a crazy doctor, Chris Parnell as a bank manager, Chris Kattan as John Wilkes Booth, Steve Zahn as a nutty bad guy, Vanilla Ice as Mark Twain, and country singer Blake Shelton as Wyatt Earp. Jorge Garcia's caveman and Taylor Lautner's semi-retarded Lil' Pete grow tiresome very quickly though. There is a fabulous, Oscar-worthy turn by Nick Nolte as the boys' father that alone is worth the price of admission. Sandler gets an "A" for effort here, but this is just too safe and too long.



Time Pirates
Take Time Bandits, throw in a little Back to the Future, The Princess Bride, and add a Scooby Doo cartoon for a dash of flavor and you have 2022's Time Pirates, a big budget blend of swashbuckling action, music, animation, and fantasy that, despite all of its action and spectacle, seems to have an underlying theme about the power of rock and roll.

This is the story of a TikTok rock group called SM6 who are in the process of shooting a video aboard an actual pirate ship. While on a take five, members of the group find a dust-covered book and half of a treasure map. George, one of the group members, has just written the lyrics for a new song, which happen to contain a magic spell that transport the group back to the 17th century where the ship was occupied by a Captain Miles Cooper, who was engaged in a battle for the treasure with the legendary Blackbeard. The group learns that the only way they can get back to 2022 is to find the treasure, which involves defeating Blackbeard with the assistance of Captain Cooper and a couple of lady pirates named Anne Bonny and Beckett.

This film seems to owe its origins to Time Bandits (a film I've never seen), but screenwriter Marc Gottlieb has definitely done a respectful updating of the story, making it totally accessible for the cherished 18-34 demographic, but has also kept all the elements of a classic swashbuckler at the forefront of the action. Gottlieb doesn't spend a lot of time having these kids figure out what they have to do, but he inserts an element into the story we initially don't see coming. Every time the kids get in a tight spot, they play one of their songs and it gets them out of whatever current tight spot they're in. Love their first musical interlude. in a 17th century tavern where the only musical instruments present are a couple of old fashion lutes and lyres, but once they begin playing, we get a 2022 studio sound.

Yes, if you're looking for a movie steeped in any kind of realism, forget about it. But if you're looking for some non-think entertainment mounted on a grand scale, you've come to the right movie. I loved that whenever it was time to save themselves with their music, their instruments just magically appeared. The fish out of water elements of the story worked too, like when the kids taught Cooper and Anne how to play the card game Go Fish, or when they taught them how to do a high five. Also loved the characterization of Blackbeard, who was stressed out and slightly neurotic, crumbling under the pressure of being a pirate. he reminded me of Robert De Niro's character in Analyze This.

Director Anthony C. Ferrante has put a lot of care into the canvas upon which this lavish epic is mounted. The film features first rate cinematography, editing, sound, and some spectacular visual effects. The group SM6 apparently is a real group because all the members have the same last name. No star gazing here, but I did enjoy Channing Tatum look-alike Jack Pearson as Miles Cooper, Angela Cole as Anne Bonny, and especially Richard Grieco, who stole every scene he had in the movie as Blackbeard. Don't think about it, just lay back and enjoy.



Love is Strange
2014's Love is Strange is a sweet and sad drama about a lovely couple torn apart by circumstance that, despite some self-indulgence direction, is completely riveting thanks to the lead performances by two of the best actors in the business.

John Lithgow and Alfred Molina star as Ben and George, respectively. Ben is an artist and George is a music teacher who have been lovers for 40 years and have lived in the same Manhattan apartment for 20. As the film opens, Ben and George are finally getting married, but this move finds George losing his job. Financial restraints force Ben and George to sell their apartment, rendering them homeless. With no other options, Ben must move in with his nephew Elliott, his wife Kate, and their son Joey whole George moves in with a pair of gay cops who live downstairs in their building.

Director and screenwriter Ira Sachs does score here on a number of levels. He has created a love story where the central characters are not only well over the age of 21 but are also gay. The story has us fall in love with Ben and George five minutes into the movie and then they are physically separated about ten minutes later. The story then makes some prickly moves as Ben's presence in his nephew's house is causing all kinds of tension because his wife and son have to deal with him most of the time. Meanwhile, George is working tirelessly to make new living arrangements for them and finding doors closing everywhere they turn.

Yes, I would have liked to have seen Lithgow and Molina spend more time onscreen together, but the story really isn't about their love, which is made clear almost immediately. The movie is about how their separation affects the people who are trying to help them. The change that Ben's presence brings to Kate from the beginning of the movie to the end is not pretty, but it is achingly real, not to mention Joey, who is unable to deal with his 71 year old granduncle sleeping in the bunk bed below him.

Sachs brings a great deal of sensitivity to the story, but his direction is a little self-indulgent, allowing certain scenes to play longer than they should. Fortunately, Lithgow and Molina are so good we tend to forgive the minor problems with the film and cherish every moment they're onscreen together. They do receive solid support from Darren Burrows as Elliott, Oscar winner Marisa Tomei as Kate, Charlie Tahan as Joey and Eric Tabad as Joey's BFF Vlad. A lovely little film that completely enveloped this reviewer, though I will confess, I don't really understand the title.