Gideon58's Reviews

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Dumb and Dumber
Peter and Bobby Ferrelly, the creative forces behind films like There's Something About Mary and Shallow Hal had one of their biggest box office smashes in 1994's Dumb and Dumber, an over the top road trip buddy comedy that does provide laughs as long as you don't think about it too much.

The comedy stars Jim Carrey as Lloyd, a not too bright limo driver from Providence who drives a beautiful girl named Mary Swanson (Lauren Holly) to the airport, who is enroute to Aspen. While pulling away from the front of the airport, Lloyd notices Mary leaving a briefcase in the middle of the airport, which actually contains the ransom for her kidnapped husband. Before the kidnappers can pick it up, Lloyd manages to pick it up first and convinces his best friend, Harry (Jeff Daniels) to accompany him to Aspen so he can return the briefcase to Mary.

This is pretty typical Ferrelly brothers material on the surface, predictable and silly comic situations accentuated by a lot of gross out bathroom humor and over the top sight gags adding up to a movie that is about thirty minutes longer than it needs to be. This one is given a bit of a boost with the casting of Carrey and Daniels in the starring roles, a master of physical comedy and an extremely versatile actor who create a one of a kind chemistry that we don't see coming, but we do allow the chemistry to allow us to overlook how silly this movie is.

As much as tried to let them slide, there were more than a couple of things that happen in tis movie that didn't make a lot of sense. First of all, what kind of kidnappers request that the ransom money be left for them right in the middle of the floor of a busy airport? Also, when Lloyd is leaving the airport and he notices Mary placing the suitcase on the ground, I really don't think there is anyway that Lloyd could actually see all that while driving outside the terminal and then park the car, go inside the terminal and actually beat the kidnappers to the briefcase? Seriously? Then they thought it was all right to spend the money in the briefcase as long as they left IOU's in the case? They were unemployed when they left Providence, how did they expect to replace the money? Thus the title of the movie, I suppose.

Despite all of this, there are laughs to be found here: The opening scene with Carrey and Holly was very funny as was the restaurant encounter with the psycho Sea Bass, the pretty woman makeover that concluded with Lloyd in that gorgeous orange tux, and every moment Charles Dance had on the screen as the kidnapper. Carrey and Daniels are an unexpectedly well-oiled machine and it was also great to see Teri Garr as Holly's stepmother and Mike Starr as Dance's muscle. I'm pretty sure that was James Franco making a cameo at the end of the movie. It's not as funny as its reputation, but there are laughs to be found out.



The Hill (2023)
Despite some solid performances, 2023's The Hill is a corny and predictable fact-based sports drama that suffers from sluggish direction and a syrupy and sentimental screenplay that makes the film seem seven hours long.

This is the story of Rickey Hill, a young man who was born with a degenerative spinal disease that had him in leg braces for most of his childhood, but apparently this never quashed his desire to play major league baseball, despite strong objections from his dad, Reverend James Hill. The film follows Rickey as we watch him leave his leg braces behind him and begin a serious pursuit of a career in professional baseball. Unfortunately, another injury to one of his ankles may keep him from playing and possibly walking.

It's pretty obvious that three writers are credited with this film because it is overly busy and moves at a snails pace. There is almost ten minutes of screen time devoted to Reverend Hill requesting that two members of his congregation stop smoking and chewing tobacco in church, which totally blew me away. I have never in my life or in a movie, seen someone smoking or chewing tobacco in church. And the tobacco chewer was a woman! Then we have the family with their car packed like the Beverly Hillbillies, break down on the side of the road and get a ride to a town that coincidentally needs a minister. We learn right away that Reverend Hill doesn't want Rickey to play baseball but we have to wait almost to the end of the movie to find out why Rickey is so scared of his father that he is initially observed practicing batting with a stick for a bat and rocks for a ball.

Actor turned director Jeff Celentano does show some knowledge of mounting a sports drama even if said knowledge isn't terribly imaginative. The trick of Rickey always getting two strikes before hitting the ball and the slow motion when the pitcher throws that third pitch...it just took any suspense out of what was happening. It also seemed calculated and convenient that the three child actors playing Ricky and his siblings are replaced at almost the exact halfway point in the film. Celentano also should have spent a little time with his screenwriters trying to consolidate this story because it had no business being 2 hours and six minutes long.

There are some strong performances that almost make it worth sitting through. Dennis Quaid is excellent as Reverend Hill as was Colin Ford as 17 year old Rickey (though he looked 27). Also loved Bonnie Bedelia as Grandma and there's a classy cameo by 85 year old Hollywood vet Scott Glenn as professional scout Red Murff. Sadly, the film takes so long to get to Rickey's tryout for the pros that we have to wait for a prologue to learn exactly what happened to Rickey. Unless you have a real hard on for Dennis Quaid, give this one a pass.



The Magnificent Ambersons
Orson Welles followed his triumphant instant classic Citizen Kane with a dark and riveting melodrama called The Magnificent Ambersons that took an up close look at class struggle and star-crossed love with the aid of some innovative storytelling techniques that were probably considered groundbreaking in 1942.

Welles is billed as co-director and co-screenwriter of this look at a wealthy family in a small town who are the fodder of gossip as their every move is scrutinized during this period of change in the world of transportation, where the country is in the process of going horseless, a concept many consider evil and the end of civilization as they know it. Eugene Morgan is a penniless man who is in love with Amberson matriarch Isabell, but is driven out of town through the machinations of Isabell's son George and her sister, Fanny. Morgan does return to town though, a big shot in the automotive industry but his attempts to reconnect with Isabell are still thwarted by George, who even puts his romance with Morgan's daughter, on the back burner in order to protect his mother.

The screenplay by Welles and Joseph Cotten (though Cotten doesn't get credit on screen) is based on a novel by Booth Tarkington that uses a couple of screen story techniques and puts a spin on them. Exposition for this story is effectively provided through Welles' narration and commentary from minor characters who initially gather in front of the Amberson mansion and then pop in off and on, offering insights into this important family and making it clear that the citizens of this town monitor every single thing that the Ambersons do, somewhat akin to the Kennedys. This is also the first film I've seen where the closing credits are done on the audio by the director.

Once the lay of the cinematic land has been set up for us, we get a voyeuristic look at some family dynamics that do have a familiar flavor, though there is a flavor of distaste to what we're watching that makes us think we're definitely missing, the same darkness that Welles provided to Citizen Kane. George's obsession with keeping his mother away from Morgan was creepy and incomprehensible. The truly bold cinephile might find an incestuous component to the relationship between George and his mother, but nothing overt. It was something akin to the alleged gay relationship that Hitchcock implies between John Dall and Farley Granger in Rope.

According to the IMDB, four minutes were cut out of the original print of this film, but it sure felt like more than that to me because a lot of the transitions from scene to scene seemed very abrupt but didn't deter a but from Welles' atmospheric direction. Joseph Cotten lights up the screen as Eugene and Dolores Costello is luminous as Isabell. She would only make one more film after this one. Tim Holt was a little one-note in the pivotal role of George but Anne Baxter sparkles as Lucy Morgan and Agnes Moorhead almost steals the movie as Aunt fanny, a performance that earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The film received three other nominations, including Best Picture. It's not as good as Citizen Kane, but this one has Welles' creative hand all over it.



Stranger in my Own Skin
2023's Stranger in My Own Skin is a pretentious and slightly dull look at a punk rock legend whose career has simultaneously been guided and destroyed by his heroine addiction.

This is the story of singer/songwriter Pete Doherty, who was the front band behind two different groups but was into his own worst enemy his addiction. The film, which was filmed over a period of 10 years by director and co-screenwriter Katia de Vidas, documents Doherty's military-influenced childhood through his intense relationship with two different bands, and his half-hearted attempts at rehabilitation.

The film starts very strangely with us watching Doherty being fitted for a plaster of cast of his body and we get a brief shot of it when it's completed but are never really told what it's for. The film then flashes back to his childhood, which reminded me a lot of the Kenneth Branaugh drama Belfast to his meteoric rise to the top of the punk genre, but the film is unapologetic in its depiction of an addict...the guy vacillates from scene to scene saying that heroine makes him a better musician and then saying that if he doesn't stop, it will destroy his life. At one point, he is revealed to be in so much legal trouble, the courts have ordered him to have a heroine blocker transplanted into his body or go to jail.

The main problem with this film is the appeal of the subject. Maybe my feelings I colored by the fact that I had never even heard of this guy before viewing this film. The man clearly has a following, documented by the sold-out crowds he is observed performing for, but as the subject of a documentary, this guy is not exactly viewer friendly. There's only about 15-20 minutes in the film where he appears sober, he looks dirty like he hasn't bathed in a week and I understand the desire to presented an unfiltered biography of the man, but I can't see this film appealing to anyone who has never been in a Pete Doherty mosh pit.

DeVitas clearly has mad love for this guy and is hoping that her love for the man will reach people who have never heard of Pete Doherty, but I just don't see that happening. As the film concludes, we learn the guy is clean of cocaine and heroine, but it's clear the man is not working any kind of program and a relapse is an inevitability. A reunion with his dad near the end of the film is kind of sweet. This is the longest 90-minute film I have ever seen.



Where the Boys Are (1960)
For a movie that is over 60 years old, the teen comedy based on a hit Connie Francis song, Where's the Boys Are, holds up pretty well, providing a lot more entertainment than expected.

The movie is about four college girls in the frozen wastelands of the Midwest looking forward to their Easter break trip to Fort Lauderdale. Merritt (Dolores Hart) is a student who has expressed liberated ideas about sex in school but is not so sure when she meets handsome playboy Ryder Smith (George Hamilton); Tuggle (Paula Prentiss) has marriage on the brain but the aimless goofball named TV (Jim Hutton) not so much; Melanie (Yvette Mimeux) is a painfully shy girl looking forward to exploring her sexual freedom and Angie (Connie Francis) just wants a boy, any boy, to notice her and is thrilled when she attracts the attention of a nearsighted jazz musician (Frank Gorshin).

The screenplay by George Wells, who won an Oscar for the screenplay to Designing Woman and Glendon Swarthout, author of Bless the Beasts and Children is surprisingly efficient in the way it sets up backstory, brings the girls to Florida, and provides well-balanced screen time for all four girls. I had to chuckle that Merritt and Melanie are first observed taking a course called Love and Courtship, where Merritt first offers her "shocking" views about sex before marriage. Loved Chill Wills' monologue as chief of police to his officers about what is going to happen in the next two weeks. The word "sex" comes up more than once during the course of this film but because it's teenagers in Florida we're not going to see anything onscreen, though the story does eventually hint at one of the girls being sexually assaulted.

Director Henry Levin, whose credits include the third and fourth Matt Helm movies, provides a nice blend of breeziness, sensitivity, and slapstick to the proceedings. Loved the scene in the restaurant with the underground water tank. This would be Dolores Hart's final screen appearance before leaving Hollywood for good to become a nun, but she does try to create some chemistry with a rather wooden Hamilton. The real acting honors here go to Hutton, Mimeux, and especially Prentiss as the wisecracking Tuggle. Mention should also be made of fabulous cameos by Barbara Nichols and Vitto Scotti. This film spawned several rip-offs and imitations, and probably inspired the Frankie and Annette Beach Party movies as well. Remade in 1984.



Shirley (2024)
Despite a superb performance from Oscar winner Regina King in the starring role, 2024's Shirley, is still a long-winded and somewhat sanitized look at Shirley Chisholm and her 1972 campaign for POTUS, the first ever by a black woman.

The Netflix production begins with Chisholm's election to Congress and being immediately dissatisfied with her freshman congressman assignment to the agriculture committee, the last place she wanted to be, prompting her to put her hat in the ring in 1972, refusing to make an issue out of the fact that even though she was the first black female to do this, she was not doing this for blacks, she was not doing this for women, she was doing this to get Richard Nixon out of the White House.

Director and screenwriter John Ridley, who wrote the screenplay for 12 Years a Slave, shows a lot of respect for his subject here, perhaps a little too much respect. The woman is painted as a saint who refuses to take any shortcuts or play any political games in order to achieve her goals. On the other hand, she is observed picking a close-knit group of advisors and often ignoring their advice. It's hard to believe that Chisholm didn't care that visiting George Wallace after he was shot would do irreparable damage to her campaign. The primary problem with Ridley's screenplay is that we never hear anyone in this story say the one thing that is never actually verbalized here and that is that in 1972, there was no way a black woman was going to be elected President.

Ridley's screenplay adds elements to the story that bring an unnecessary level of melodrama to the story. We are provided clues from jump that Shirley's husband was against this campaign from jump. According to this film, he was just getting used to his wife being a congresswoman and had no interest in being First Lady. The story of Shirley being rejected by her sister (played by King's real life, sister Reina), because when their father died he left all his money to Shirley, just seem to pad running time. And Sis' sudden change of heart as the Democratic National Convention approached just didn't ring true.

As she always does, Regina King completely immerses herself into this role, almost winning her battle with the screenplay. The late Lance Reddick is excellent as Shirley's advisor Wesley. According to the IMDB, this was Reddick's last released work but he has three other projects he completed before his death. It was nice to see Terrence Howard who I haven't seen in awhile, as Arthur, whose only purpose in Shirley's campaign seemed to be making sure she had her McDonald's every day, but the epilogue revealed that Arthur eventually became Shirley's second husband. I also believe Ridley should have put a little more thought into the title of the film. Four years ago, a film about writer Shirley Jackson called Shirley was released and it could really affect people finding this film, which I might have titled Mrs Chisholm.



Blood Simple
Joel and Ethan Cohen put themselves on the Hollywood map with an undeniably stylish and cleverly mounted noir-ish tale of lust, blackmail, greed, and murder from 1984 called Blood Simple whose real beauty lies in its simplicity.

The story, on the surface is, quite simple: Marty is the wealthy owner of a Texas bar who suspects that his wife, Abby, is having an affair with one of his employees, Ray. He hires a sleazy private detective to get the goods on Abby and Ray and when he does, Marty is unable to deal with what he has learned that he decides to have Abby and Ray murdered, which sets off a bizarre series of incidents that we don't see coming.

Joel and Ethan Cohen's deceptively simple screenplay is so deft in its execution we don't even initially realize what the Cohens are doing. Remember in the old Peter Falk series Columbo how each episode would begin with us witnessing the crime in its entirety and then we would watch Columbo try to piece the crime together? Well, that's what happens here. We see the crime, or to be more specific, crimes being committed so that we know exactly what's going on but none of the characters onscreen have the whole story and because of that, they all go into self-preservation mode because they don't have the whole story and everybody in the movie makes a lot of dumb moves in the name of self preservation that aren't really necessary. The viewer is the only part of the movie experience who has the whole story.

As we start yelling at the screen because we want to fill in the characters on what they do and how a lot of the moves they are making are unnecessary, we find ourselves distracted by some clever directorial techniques that, despite us being the only ones equipped with all the facts, there is an often Hitchcock-calibre suspense created as we watch and hope that these people don't incriminate themselves in order to protect themselves. We see a character discover a dead body and make the decision to get rid of the body in order to protect himself, but all he does is dig an even deeper hole for himself.

As always, the Cohens apply first rate production values to make their story leap off the screen, including stunning cinematography, editing, and dizzying camerawork that almost gets us too close to what's going on. Dan Hedaya is bone-chilling as Marty and John Getz offers the best performance of his meh movie career as the not so bright Ray. Frances McDormand, the real life Mrs. Joel Cohen, as the woman at the center of this mess, but the film is effortlessly stolen by that late M Emmett Walsh as the nasty private investigator. It's easy to see why this film made Hollywood sit up and take notice of the Cohen Brothers.



House Party (2023)
Even though remakes are rarely a good idea, it's understandable to consider remaking a classic, hoping against hope to bring something fresh to the piece, but I just don't understand the impulses that make filmmakers want to remake a crappy movie, evidenced in the 2023 remake of House Party, one of the dumbest movies I've seen in awhile.

Kevin and Damone are a pair of financially-strapped losers who work for a Los Angeles housecleaning service. In the middle of their latest assignment cleaning a mansion, they receive a call and learn they have been fired because they were spotted by security cameras smoking weed on the job. Before they leave the house, they discover the house belongs to NBA superstar Lebron James. Instead of getting out of there as fast as they can. the guys decide that the answer to all their problems is to throw a house party in James' house and then use part of the money they make to hire a cleaning service to clean up the house before Lebron returns to town.

Donald Glover's brother Stephen and Jamal Olori, who were both writers on Donald's show Atlanta, are the culprits behind this ridiculous story that they thought they could dress up with an upgrade in location from the original film and a dash of star power in the form of Lebron James. I must admit that James was behind the single moment in the film that found me laughing out loud. Kevin and Damone discover James' trophy room which contains a hologram of the basketball star that offers self-affirmations to him every day including one that says, "Everyone says you were great in Trainwreck...Vincent Canby of the New York Times said you were the best thing in the movie."

Other than that, this movie offers scene after scene of stuff that didn't make sense or was just too stupid to be funny. They were going to hire people to clean up after the party? Wouldn't the cost of that wipe out most of the money they made? The told the DJ they hired that he couldn't drink but it was all right to smoke weed? They asked a heroine addict to guard Lebron's trophy room? Damon invites his girlfriend to the party, the girlfriend who works for the cleaning service that fired them. The neighbor's koala bear gets into the party and it is decided it is a good idea to get the animal stoned. And when Lebron comes home early and wants to throw Kevin and Damone in jail, Kevin decides his only way out of it is to challenge Lebron to a one on one basketball game?

Jacob Latimore and Tosin Cole attempt to pump so likability into Kevin and Damone, but it's hard to stay invested in the two stupidest screen characters since Lloyd and Harry in Dumb and Dumber. James does indeed inject a little life into the proceedings when he appears during the final third of the film, but we're pretty much checked out by then. There is an obligatory cameo from the stars of the original 1990 film, Kid and Play.



Ricochet
Despite the presence of Denzel Washington and John Lithgow in the starring roles, a 1991 crime drama called Ricochet falters thanks to a swiss cheese screenplay and overheated direction.

Denzel Washington plays Nicholas Styles, a former beat cop who was responsible for putting away a slightly insane drug dealer named Earl Talbot Blake (Lithgow) behind bars. Many years later, Styles has graduated from law school and is now the DA, while Earl Talbot Blake has managed to break out of jail without anyone noticing and has sworn revenge on Styles.

Can't believe it actually took three writers to come up with this convoluted story that just strain credibility with each scene. Couldn't figure out why Styles wasn't immediately informed when Styles had escaped, giving him plenty of time to have him grabbed and held prisoner at the bottom of an empty swimming pool and that's another thing...where was this swimming pool and how was a freshly out of jail drug dealer able to get access to it? And during the over-the-top finale, none of the police officers present noticed escaped convict Blake standing right in front of the tower screaming at Styles?

As Talbot begins his plan to methodically destroy Styles' life, no one he works for even considers the fact that he might be being framed and the scenes of Blake plying Styles with drugs and alcohol and then sitting a nude hooker on top of him and taking pictures of him were just as laughable. The only thing that was more laughable was Styles trying to explain the frame up and realizing he's not getting anywhere. If it weren't for the fact that Denzel Washington was playing this character, a lot of what happens to Styles borders on laughable.

Russell Mulcahy's direction is frenzied and scattered, making it rather exhausting one scene and trying not to giggle the next. Washington and Lithgow are pros who almost win their battle with the screenplay and they do get help from Kevin Pollak, Ice-T, Lindsey Wagner, John Amos, and John Cothran, but this is for hardcore Denzel fans only...if the truth be told, hardcore Denzel fans will just watch Training Day again.



Lousy Carter
A terrific performance by a Hollywood veteran playing a very likeable character is the most appealing part of 2024's Lousy Carter, a weird and quirky black comedy/character study that works a little bit too hard at being quirky and is rich with really unlikable supporting characters.

The title character is a 40 year old college professor who is teaching a graduate course about The Great Gatsby, trying to complete some kind of animated tribute to Vladimir Nabokov, caring for his ailing mother, aggravated by a student in his class who he's having trouble reading, is having an affair with his best friend's wife, and has just learned that he has about five months to live.

This film is the brainchild of a somewhat experienced director and screenwriter named Bob Byington, who is really trying to find a voice as a filmmaker but apparently has decided someone else's voice until he discovers his own and that voice seems to be Woody Allen. This story has the bizarre and loopy sensibility as some of Woody's more out there work like Alice and Irrational Man. Byington has provided us with a central character who is actually likable and easy to relate to, but everything in Lousy Carter's orbit is just ridiculous and hard to believe.

This character is afforded no respect through out its mercifully brief running time. Right after he is told he is dying, the receptionist reminds him as he's going out the door that he has a balance over $6000 that he needs to take care of immediately. His alleged best friend, Kaminsky, never gives him a straight answer to a question and doesn't crack a smile throughout the entire film. Byington also actually gives Lousy's therapist a German accent so he sounds like Sigmund Freud, which just wreaked of cliche. His wife is just using Lousy to wake up her husband. One of his students, Gail, accuses him of being a pediphile and when she learns of his mother's death, insists on going to the funeral because she loves going to funerals, People loving to go to funerals is about as stupid as people being afraid of clowns. And having the funeral in a bowling alley wasn't as funny as it was meant to be either.

I was drawn to this film because of the casting of David Krumholz in the title role. Krumholtz has been in the business since he was a child, making his film debut in the 1993 Michael J Fox comedy Life with Mikey, and though he has worked steadily since, most people don't know him by name, but he is a talented actor and he does make this film worth a look. So does Martin Starr as the stone-faced Kaminsky, but the best thing about this film is that it clocks in under ninety minutes.



Bridget Jones's Diary
Though there's a definite air of predictability around it, 2001's Bridget Jones's Diary is a classic chick flick with a British accent that provides solid entertainment, even though it takes a minute to get going and is a little slow wrapping things up.

The title character is a thirty-two year old employee of a publishing firm who feels she's overweight and needs to stop smoking. Bridget has been secretly crushing on her boss, Daniel Cleaver, for awhile and, as the film begins, she is slowly drifting into an affair with the man but is totally oblivious to the fact that the man is using her for sex and is not interested in anything resembling an actual relationship. Around the same time she and Daniel begin their affair, Bridget is reunited with an attorney named Mark Darcy, who she hasn't seen since they were children and has a past with Daniel as well.

The screenplay is based on a best selling novel by Helen Fielding that initially presents Bridget as a British re-working of Carrie Bradshaw. Even the narration presented in the form of Bridget's diary, bears a strong resemblance to Carrie's narration to Sex and the City, but as the narration takes a backstage to the romantic triangle that emerges here, the story becomes a lot more interesting, even if it really makes us work really hard for the happy ending that we just know has to come at some point. The in your face style of the triangle actually leads to a beautifully shot and staged physical altercation between the men that demands viewer attention, but leads to an extra ending that wasn't really necessary.

Renee Zellweger received her first Oscar nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress for her sparkling performance in the title role (she lost the statue to Halle Berry for Monster's Ball). Admittedly, as the film began, I couldn't help but wonder why an English actress wasn't cast in this role. As a matter of fact, for the first twenty minutes or so, I kept picturing Emily Blunt in the role, but Zellweger nails the accent and makes the role hers and by the halfway point, I couldn't imagine anyone else in the role.

Hugh Grant adds just the right layer of smarm to his accustomed sexy charm with his Daniel and Colin Firth's performance as Mark is a textbook example of "less is more" acting. The romantic tension he creates with Zellweger without barely cracking a smile for most of the running time cannot be denied. Gemma Jones steals a few scenes as Bridget's mother as does Jim Broadbent, who won the supporting actor Oscar the same year for Ed, as her dad. The tacked on ending which features a half naked Bridget running through London streets during a snowstorm, is a bit corny, but for the most part, this is appointment viewing for chick flick fans.



Argylle
The director of Lock Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels attempts to reinvent the Bond action action movie with 2024's Argylle, an action thriller that is stupid with state of the art production values, but like last year's Best Picture winner Everything Everywhere All at Once eventually falters thanks to an overly complex script and severe overlength.

The film stars Bryce Dallas Howard as Elly Conway, a spinsterish writer who has written four spy novels about a fictional spy named Argylle (Henry Cavill). At the end of the fourth book, it is revealed that Argylle and his partner have gone rogue, while it is simultaneously revealed that everything that happened in the first four books mirrors in real life and Elly encounters a spy named Aidan Wilde (Oscar winner Sam Rockwell), who is seeking Elly's assistant in searching her a mind what to do next because Aidan is the real life counterpart of Argylle.

Screenwriter Jason Fuchs, who also appears in the film, has provided us with a headache-inducing story that confuses and aggravates for the first ninety minutes, providing little for the viewer to cling to. There are clues provided along the way to help us figure out what's going on, but we don't know they're clues as they zip across the screen at such lightening speed and when they connect to later scenes in the film, they don't register at all. The screenwriter does effectively set up the relationship between Elly and Aiden to the point that the relationship is carrying the story and then rips them apart for the confusing final third of the film that seemed about four hours long by itself.

Director Matthew Vaughn keeps things moving at a lightening pace in order to distract the viewer with the problematic story, with the aid of exemplary production values. Rockwell and Howard are almost charismatic enough to pull this off and they do get assistance from Bryan Cranston, Catherine O'Hara, Samuel L Jackson, Jon Cena, and Oscar winner Ariana Dubose, but this one runs out of steam about 45 minutes before it actually ends. Sam Rockwell deserves better than this.



Fruitvale Station
Five years before their box office smash Black Panther, director Ryan Coogler and actor Michael B Jordan scored a bullseye with a quietly powerful fact-based story of racism and violence from 2013 called Fruitvale Station that left this reviewer numbed with anger.

Jordan stars as Oscar Grant III, a 22-year old resident of the Bay area in Oakland, California. Oscar is a former drug dealer who is trying to start his life over again after a stint in jail. He has a girlfriend and a daughter who he adores, but as the story begins, we learn that Oscar lost his job two weeks ago and is keeping it secret from his girl and his long suffering mother. He considers getting back into drug dealing, but rethinks it, goes home and confesses to his girl about losing his job and decides to start fresh after New Year's Eve. Oscar, his girl Sophina, and Oscar's crew want to go to the city to celebrate New Year's Eve. He decides to take his mother's advice and take the subway instead of driving, but the ride on the subway leads to a horrifying, racially-fueled tragedy.

Most of the credit for why this is such a compelling screen experience has to go to director and screenwriter Coogler, who does an exemplary job of establishing who this Oscar is without spelling everything out for us and without playing all of his cards too quickly. Very little of what I offered in the above paragraph is presented overtly but in the movements of the central character. The film reminded me of Spike Lee's masterpiece Do the Right Thing in the way that Cooer methodically sets up a canvas for us to get comfortable in while igniting an underlying layer of tension and suspense without giving us a single clue of where it's going. There is an early scene of Oscar being visited in jail by his mom, beautifully played by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, that we suspect implies the film is going to end with Oscar back in jail, but the placement of the scene almost confuses us due to its chronological place in the story and I don't think that was an accident.

Just like when Mookie sets the pizza place on fire in Do the Right Thing, the explosive presentation of the incident on the subway puts the viewer in the middle of a conflict that starts so innocently, but our shock turns to anger when we only see half of the people involved in the conflict literally pulled off the subway by police while the other half got to ride away. Exactly why only selected people, including Oscar, were pulled off the train isnít clear and I can't deny that what happened to Oscar made my blood boil. The effect of this piece might have been heightened for this reviewer because I never heard about this incident so people who knew Oscar's story before seeing the film might be less shocked, but I don't think they will be any less angry. I imagine for those on the front lines for this story, this probably feels like 9/11 to them.

Coogler's direction is simultaneously methodical and brutally unapologetic, offering nothing but pure racism as the catalyst for the events. Michael B Jordan commands the screen even more effectively than he did in Black Panther or Creed, creating a character we are in love with long before the events on the subway. This one left my stomach in knots and a lump in my throat, especially after reading the epilogue.



Internal Affairs (1990)
Not to be confused with the other eight films listed on the IMDB with the same title, the 1990 crime thriller Internal Affairs stretches story credibility and takes way too long to bring the bad guy to justice, despite some solid performances.

The film stars Andy Garcia as Raymond Avila, a police officer who has just been transferred to Internal Affairs, is immediately assigned to a case revolving an officer he was in the academy with named Van Stretchy (William Baldwin), but Van's case leads him to another officer named Dennis Peck (Richard) who is way dirtier than Van ever was, but for some reason, Avila can't get anything to stick to this guy.

Screenwriter Henry Bean (Deep Cover) seems to be the primary culprit in what's wrong with this movie. I liked the idea of placing a film inside Internal Affairs because the Internal Affairs division is usually on the periphery of most police dramas, but this one takes liberties that this reviewer found a little hard to believe. It's doubtful that on his very first case in the department, that Avila would be allowed to work on an investigation centered around an officer with whom he had a personal relationship. It's not long before he appears to be taking the lead on his very contest and because of other personal circumstances, finds himself acting in ways that appear way outside the law and he doesn't appear to suffer any consequences for said behavior.

The most troubling of the above reference personal consequences are how Avila's wife (Nancy Travis) is thrown into this cinematic frying pan, that also involves Van's wife (Faye Grant) and Peck's wife (Annabella Sciorra). Interesting touch to have all the major players be married (some with children) and get them all involved in this investigation, ending up as varied examples of collateral damages of the actions of all three principals, not just Peck. The screenplay is way too protective of Dennis Peck, making the film slightly longer than need be, especially an unbearably dragged out conclusion.

Director Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas) attempts to employ elements of anger and erotica that don't really accomplish anything but slowing up the film. Garcia's slick Avila commands the screen (his scene in the restaurant with Travis reminded me of the "Say Goodnight to the Bad Guy" scene in Scarface) and Richard Gere has rarely been better as the dirty cop in self-preservation mode, but the whole thing need to have been concluded more economically than it was.



Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire
The film is stupid with technically razzle dazzle, but the 2024 installment to the Ghostbusters entitled Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire was a real letdown from Afterlife and just comes off as going to the well once too often.

The Ghostbusters are back in Manhattan busy as ever, only this time the Ghostbusters are Egon Spengler's daughter, Callie (Carrie Coon), and grandkids, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), Phoebe (Mackenna Grace), and Phoebe's teacher, Gary (Paul Rudd). Their latest adventure has grounded Phoebe while the rest of the Ghostbusters find themselves looking for assistant from the old crew in finding the source of an ancient curse that froze the famous firehouse and all of its inhabitants, way back in 1904.

Director Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman, who directed the previous entry Afterlife, have collaborated on a talky and confusing screenplay (giving screen credit to Jason's dad, Ivan, to whom the film is also dedicated) that has a whole lot of moving parts that take way too long to come together. Once Phoebe is not allowed to bust ghosts anymore, she encounters her own private female ghost while playing speed chess in the park, leading to a relationship with a ghost that had serious lesbian overtones and almost seemed like a separate movie. Phoebe's ghostly lesbian encounter does make its way back into the story but it takes way too long to do so.

Of course, as the story progresses the Spenglers must seek help from the original Ghostbusters and their hooking up with Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) is one of the nicest part of the stories, along with the reveal that Winston Jedimore (Ernie Hudson) is now a billionaire. Even Walter Peck (William Atherton) returns, but now he's the Mayor!
Unfortunately, Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) just feels conveniently shoehorned into the story. His role is severely underwritten and Murray felt like he was phoning it. Also loved the brief clip of Ray Parker Jr and his video of the original title song.

Like Afterlife, the film features some spectacular visual effects and editing, but not enough to make up for the messy story that came very close to losing me around the halfway point. Aykroyd, Rudd, Hudson, and Grace are terrific, but the majority of the laughs here come from Kumail Nanjiani as the Louis Tully of this story. The final scene of the film does imply the possibility of another film, but It's really time to put this franchise to rest.



Casablanca
After avoiding it for the longest time, the time came for this reviewer to experience the Oscar winning Best Picture of 1942 that is one of the first films serious cinephiles apply to the word adjective "classic"....the wartime romance that left similar films in the dust and for very good reason. Talking about Casablanca.

For those who have been living under a rock for the past 60 or 70 years, Humphrey Bogart, in the performance of his career, plays Rick Blaine, the owner of his own nightclub in Morocco, who has put a lot of effort into his neutrality regarding the war. He is informed by Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) that a fugitive soldier named Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid) is headed this way and that he has orders to keep Lazlo prisoner in Morocco. Rick is floored when Lazlo arrives with his wife, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), a woman with whom he had a passionate romance with in Paris many years ago that ended when she disappeared without explanation. It turns out that Rick has the power to help Victor and Ilsa escape Morocco; however that would mean never seeing Ilsa again, which Rick is not sure he can deal with,,,again.

The story is actually based on a play called Everybody Comes to Rick's by Murray burnett and Joan Alison wrote in 1940; however, they were unable to get anyone to agree to produce the play on Broadway, so they sold the rights to Warner Brothers for $20,000 (an unprecedented amount in the 1940's). The actual play did make it to the stage in 1991 but nobody really noticed. Julius J Epstein, Philip G Epstein, and Howard Koch won Oscars for the screenplay they crafted, which apparently went through several other hands, but what finally ended up on the screen was an intoxicating, slightly confusing, but riveting look at the ugliness of war that still managed to take a backseat to one of the most enchanting star-crossed romances to ever hit the screen. Ironically, neither Bogart or Bergman liked the original script and several re-writes were employed to get them to reconsider and they did, thank God.

The story unfolds slowly and doesn't telegraph everything we're about to see. The first clue we get to what might be going on here is when Ilsa recognizes Sam (Dooley Wilson) the piano player at the bar and Sam dodges all of Ilsa's questions about Rick. Love when Rick hears Sam playing "As Time Goes By" and blows his stack right before he sees Ilsa. The nest thing that happens is Sam gets out of there as quickly as he could...this was a laugh out loud moment for me. BTW, just to set the record straight, Rick never says "Play it again, Sam", he says "You played it for her, you can play it for me...play it." Every moment Dooley Wilson has onscreen is gold.

But it's the burn-a-hole-through-the screen chemistry between Bogart and Bergman that makes this film sparkle. The flashbacks to their Paris romance are a joy to watch as is the heartbreaking moment Rick realizes that Ilsa is not going to make the train they planned to take together. Rick and Ilsa both make serious mistakes in this relationship, but we know they love each other and we're on their side from the moment they lay eyes on each other again.

After four previous nominations, Michael Curtiz finally took home the Oscar for Best Director for his moody and elegant work here Haven't seen a lot of his work, but I have never enjoyed Bogart onscreen more and think he was robbed of the Best Actor Oscar. I have never seen the Best Actor winner that year, Paul Lukas for Watch on the Rhine, but I have seen the film that did win Bogart an Oscar, The African Queen and that award had to be a consolation prize for not being honored for his tortured Rick Blaine. Bergman is luminous, as always, though I have to admit that Notorious is still my favorite Bergman performance. She is also the undisputed queen of one of my favorite acting techniques...no one in the history of cinema had the ability to fill her eyes with water and not drop a tear the way Bergman did. My heart melted every time she did it, God, the camera loved her. Also have to give a tip of the hat to Claude Rains, who provided unexpected comic relief as Captain Renault, resulting from his inability to keep his head straight whenever he was within 20 feet of Ilsa, a performance that earned him a supporting actor nomination. Anyway you slice it, a classic that more than lived up to its reputation.



Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero
The 2023 documentary Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero, a documentation of the young music superstar's first national tour offers nothing groundbreaking in terms of crafting a celebrity documentary, but just like documentaries like Dean Martin: King of Cool and Tina, the subject is so fascinating we neither notice nor or care.

For those who are as unfamiliar with Lil Nas as I was, the singer was born in April of 1999 in Lithia Springs, Georgia. On December 3, 2018, he created an entire new genre of music that has become known as country rap with his record "Old Town Road" and during the 19 weeks that the record was #1 on the billboard country charts, the artist came out of the closet and became the only openly gay artist to have a #1 record on the charts. His music is hard to place in a single genre, but there is country, R&B, rap influence in his work, which has earned him thus far two Grammys, two MTV Video Awards, an American Music Award and a Country Music Award and he's only 25 tears old.

The film begins as the young artist is simultaneously experiencing excitement and nerves as he prepares for his first national tour. A brief look at his dance rehearsals and meetings with costumers and stage designers displays a real hands on attention to every aspect of his work. He also displays an impressive understanding of social media and exactly how to use it. We are also provided brief interviews with his fans, a lot of whom were motivated by Lil Nas to come out of the closet themselves. During the concert we actually get a glimpse of someone in the audience holding up a sign that read "You made me gay' and there is a sweet interview with a gay white couple. well into their 60's, who talk about how Lil Nas motivated them to be themselves.

Lil Nas is also revealed to be aware of the fact that he has broken down some walls, but not all of them. At one of the concert stops. we observe protestors outside the venue where he's performing yelling at the concertgoers in line that they are all going to hell. We then see Lil Nas deliver pizzas to the protestors and admit that one of them was kind of hot.

I was particularly moved when the performer talks about the coming out process in regards to his family. I could totally relate when talking about his divorced parents learning who their son really was. He made it clear that his father has accepted who he is on the surface, but he also knows that he could never bring a boyfriend home for Thanksgiving, no matter how much money he has. We are even introduced to one of Naz' older brothers, who discovered his own bisexuality by watching his brother's process.

We are also treated to a lot of actual concert footage of the star onstage, which includes elaborate settings and costumes that brought to mind Madonna's Truth or Dare tour. This is an intimate and fascinating look at a music superstar who, if he continues on the path he is on right now, will be the next Beyonce.



Moment by Moment
Incredible that the careers of John Travolta and Lily Tomlin survived a 1978 debacle called Moment by Moment, one of the earliest attempts of Jane Wagner to make her wife Lily Tomlin a movie star that was an epic fail, that produces equal doses of yawns and unintentional giggles.

In her third feature film appearance, Tomlin plays Trish Rawlings, a wealthy Beverly Hills divorcee, living on the beach and unable to sleep due to her cheating ex. At Schwab's Drugstore, she runs into a sexy young drifter named Strip (maybe cinema's worst character name ever, they don't even give him a last name), who stalks her until he wears her resistance down so that they can begin a May/December romance that provides the expected bumps.

Director and screenwriter Wagner probably thought she had a winning formula here. Tomlin, who had just received an Oscar nomination for her film debut in Nashville, was on the fast track and Travolta, was fresh off the biggest hit of his career, Grease, which would eventually become the biggest musical moneymaker at the box office, taking the title from The Sound of Music. Unfortunately, Wagner's screenplay is paper thin and doesn't give the viewer a lot to invest in. Strip's appeal is destroyed during the initial 15 minutes of the film where he is basically stalking her and we don't understand why Trish doesn't call the police on the guy, when he actually shows up at the back door of her beach house, claiming his invisible friend "Greg" lives there. We never meet Greg and don't believe a word of Strip's story regarding buddy Greg, but once Strip tells her Greg is dead, she's ripping off his clothes and her panties are coming off.

Wagner is to be credited for not going a couple of expected directions with the story. Strip never asks Trish for money and Trish never offers him money to stay, though she does pay to have his car repaired. We know we're in trouble though when after a couple of bedroom romps, Strip threatens to cut Trish off unless she actually says those three little words. In addition to Wagner's lackluster direction, the other major problem with this film is an undeniable lack of chemistry between the stars. Anyone who ever doubted that Tomlin was a lesbian will have said doubts quashed after viewing this movie. Every time Tomlin touches or kisses Travolta, she appears physically repulsed by the guy.

At least Travolta has rarely been prettier in a sex on legs performance based purely on Travolta's appeal rather than this one dimensional character, but Tomlin's one-note performance brings absolutely nothing to the table. Any doubts about the quality of this film were confirmed when I went to the IMDB and checked the resume of James Luisi, who had a supporting role in this film as a second rate mobster. This film isn't even on his IMDB page, so take from that what you will. The film is not on Travolta's IMDB page either.

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LaRoy, Texas
Fans of the Cohen Brothers will have a head start with 2023's LaRoy, Texas, an intricate and loopy black comedy that requires complete attention, providing rewards that I will try not to reveal through spoilers.

Ray is the milquetoast co-owner of a hardware store with his older brother, Junior. Ray meets a wanna be private detective named Skip who provides proof to Ray that his wife, a shrewish former beauty queen named Stacy-Lynn, is having an affair. Instead of confronting her about it, Ray is so devastated by the news that he decides he's going to commit suicide. He's sitting in a parking lot about to put the gun to his temple when a guy jumps into the passenger side of his car, throws a pile of cash at him and an address and asks him if he can still kill someone by tomorrow because it's time sensitive. Ray's about to explain that he's not a hitman until the guy implies that he's a wimp and Ray says he'll take care of it.

To reveal anymore of what happens would be wrong, because this is one of those movies that morphs into a giant jigsaw puzzle that doesn't exactly put itself together at lightening speed but is peppered with such interesting and pathetic, three dimensional characters that the viewer can't help but empathize with a couple of them, especially this poor schlub Ray, whose pain about learning of his wife's infidelity is palatable. It's obvious from the second that he learns the truth that he would have been perfectly happy living the rest of his life without knowing about it. Ray's pain is compounded when we get to know Stacy-Lynn, who is a tramp so not worthy of his love.

Of course, there's another side of the story because not long after Ray agrees to do this, the real hitman shows up, looking for his payday and his pursuant of Ray is relentlessly unapologetic and in the center of it all, we have this amateur detective in complete denial about his amateur status, most likely a police academy reject because it is established early on that the local police like messing with him. They are observed having his car impounded and vandalized, making the man look like an idiot. We begin to empathize with him as much as we do with Ray. And the pleasant surprise of this film, is that we do see change in these guys in terms of self esteem, even if everything doesn't end up wrapped in a perfect bow.

Director and screenwriter Shane Atkinson is relatively inexperienced but he shows some real promise here as a filmmaker. John Margaro, who was so good last year in the Oscar-nominated Past Lives gives a star making performance as Ray as does the always watchable Steve Zahn as the fake private eye, Megan Stevenson as the pathetic Stacy-Lynn and Dylan Baker who channels Steve Buscemi in his chilling interpretation of a hitman. It sags a little in the middle, but there's more good here than bad.