Gideon58's Reviews

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Leah McKendrick is the director, screenwriter, and star of a disturbing and often unpleasant biopic disguised as a 2023 black comedy called Scrambled that does provide the occasional giggle but is hard to engage in due to a central character this reviewer found difficult to invest in.

McKendrick plays Nellie, a 34 year old single gal who broke up with her soulmate, Shawn, a year ago because he wanted kids and she didn't. Nellie has now moved back in with her parents and feels spinsterhood knocking on her door and even though she sure she's still not ready to have children, she has decided that she wants to have her eggs frozen, a process that motivates her to look at her past and the mistakes she has made with men.

It's obvious early on that McKendrick is documenting her own experience with freezing eggs, a cinematic subject new to this reviewer. Unfortunately, the first two thirds of the film are spent putting Nellie's promiscuous lifestyle and her horrible choices in men under a microscope. McKendrick's odyssey of self-discovery initially seems to be blaming everyone else for the emptiness of her life, but it becomes clear pretty quickly that this is not the case as she arranges actual reunions with men from her past and some are still wearing scars from their time with Nellie and she isn't feeling a lot of remorse about it either.

A look at inside Nellie's family reveals that they aren't exactly the Bradys. The relationship between Nellie and her brother is toxic but doesn't stop her from asking him for the money for the procedure and her father can't even wrap his head around the fact that Nellie broke up with Shawn, much less that she is lazy and useless and will never change. Then if that wasn't enough, we are then subject to Nellie deciding that she has to see Shawn and his new pregnant girlfriend. Maybe other viewers will feel differently, but I never felt the sympathy for Nellie that I was supposed to. Maybe that's also because I wasn't convinced that she would make a great mother.

McKendrick does show some skill as an actress and screenwriter, but her direction is suited to make sure that the rest of the cast stays out of her way and it works on that level, though Clancy Brown, June Diane Raphael, Adam Rodriguez, Andrew Santino, Brett Dier, and SNL's Ego Nwodim do make the most of their screentime, but I had a hard time staying with this one, and the fact that it felt four hours long didn't help.

Class Action
Solid performances from the leads make the problems with a 1991 legal/family drama called Class Action seem less important.

Oscar winner Gene Hackman stars as Jedediah Ward, a lawyer who specializes in whistle blower type lawsuits, where one guy takes on an entire business empire in search for justice. His latest client is a gentleman who was severely burned in an auto accident due to the installation of faulty equipment. The case appears to be a slam dunk until Ward learns that the opposing counsel is the lawsuit is going to be Maggie Ward (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), his daughter, whose relationship has been strained for years for a multitude of reasons.

The screenplay really nails the complicated relationship between this father and daughter and almost makes up for the predictability of the legal side of the story. We know something's fishy the minute Maggie tells her boss (Colin Friels) that she wants the case and that facing her father is not an issue and he is reluctant to do so. It was also a little predictable that the buffer between Jed and Maggie, his wife and her mother, is taken out of the story about ten minutes into the movie.

The convenience of a lot of the plot is made up for by this very complex father/daughter relationship. Maggie refuses to forgive her father not only for the misery that was her childhood, but for everything he put her mother through. We're not surprised that Jed is not feeling a lot of remorse for the past and he is not going to let it get in the way of winning this case, reigniting a father/daughter tension that had begun to defrost.

Director Michael Apted (Nell) keeps the tension in the drama pretty taut despite the predictability of most of the proceedings. As always, Hackman commands the screen as the unapologetic Jedediah but works beautifully with Mastrantonio, who minimalizes the potential scenery chewing that this role could have provided. The solid supporting cast includes Donald Moffat, Matt Clark, Lawrence Fishburne, and Fred Dalton Thompson. It's no The Verdict, but Hackman is always worth watching.

Kevin James: Irregardless
Kevin James, the star of films like Hitch and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and star of the CBS sitcom The King of Queens, makes a solid return to the standup in a 2024 concert entitled Kevin James: Irregardless.

Filmed live from The Hanover Theatre and Conservatory for the Performing Arts in Worcester, Massachusetts, makes a very athletic entrance onto the stage and then immediately informs the audience that he might have over exerted himself, which leads into a very routine about the difference between being diabetic and being "pre" diabetic, branching out into a very funny routine about why we shouldn't trust the medical community at all.

Like a lot of comics, James does talk about his kids, but he definitely takes a different tac than most comics. He is quick to inform us that his children are the laziest people on the planet. Apparently, they don't even dress they just get up and throw a blanket around themselves. This leads into a funny routine about how James tried to wean his son off video games by buying him a virtual reality game. He also did a very funny routine, which I could totally relate to, regarding how difficult it is to delete an app from your phone.

Talking about his son led James into a diatribe about how we coddle children, how they don't know how good they have it, and that we need to bring back corporal punishment. James gets big laughs with his speech about the power of "the belt" and how ridiculous the concept of "the time out" is. Also loved his routine about being caught in the middle of a conversation where you have absolutely no knowledge of the topic.

There's nothing groundbreaking or extraordinary here, but there are laughs to be found. I am also pleased to announce that James is the first comedian I have seen since Jerry Seinfeld who does not work blue...not a single curse word in the entire concert. It's not necessary to curse to be funny and James proves it here.

Angel Face
Fans of the Gene Tierney melodrama Leave Her to Heaven will have a head start with a moody noir-ish drama from 1953 called Angel Face that tells an edgy and sexy story that provides surprises and is centered around a predatory female with ice water in her veins.

Robert Mitchum plays Frank Jessup, a former race car driver who now works as an ambulance driver and dreams of his own garage. The day following his answering a call to take her wealthy stepmother to the hospital, Frank finds himself being drawn into the tentacles of Diane Tremayne, who is instantly attracted to Frank and offers to make all of Frank's dreams come true via her stepmother's money. Thirty minutes into the running time, Frank has blown off his girlfriend, Mary (Mona Freeman), accepted a job as a driver with Diana's family. But just as Frank is starting to realize that Diane might be too much for him to handle, a tragedy might just bind them together for life.

Can't lie, this movie sucked me in from the beginning, thanks to the dark and atmospheric direction by Otto Preminger that sets the mood for the story we're about to see and a screenplay that doesn't waste anytime with exposition but allows us to figure out what we need to as the story makes forward motion. I knew I was in for something special when, right after her first meeting with Frank where she pumped him for all kinds of information, she invites Mary to lunch and made her intentions clear that she was planning to take Frank away from her. I was also impressed when we are introduced to Diane's father (the eternally bland Herbert Marshall) and stepmother Catherine Tremayne (Barbara O'Neill) that she was the one with money, not Diane's dad and because of that, the man was basically her lapdog. There are also discreet moments throughout the film that imply there are mental health issues going on with Diane.

It was really interesting seeing both Simmons and Mitchum playing roles that approach the area of against type. I've seen a healthy chunk of Jean Simmons' work and I have never seen Simmons play such a scheming and duplicitous woman who seems incapable of taking no for an answer. Even during that first scene where she is questioning Frank about every aspect of his life, this woman had the hair on the back of my neck standing up. I haven't seen as much of Mitchum's work, but I have never seen him play a character so easily manipulated by a woman, though once he realizes the woman has gotten him in a lot of trouble, his brain does start to return to its proper place.

Preminger's direction gives this film almost a Hitchcock quality and I couldn't help wonder what Hitch could have done with this screenplay. The chemistry between Mitchum and Simmons is white hot and I also loved Jim Backus and Leon Ames and the DA and the defense attorney. A minor noir classic that had me riveted to the screen. This movie was produced by Howard Hughes.

Anyone But You
Despite gorgeous scenery and a really pretty cast, 2023's Anyone But You is an overly cute, contrived and predictable romantic comedy that takes way too long to get to a foregone conclusion.

Ben (Glen Powell) meets Bea (Sidney Sweeny) at a coffee shop and end up spending the night together, but a misunderstanding ends their magical evening together on a sour note. A few months later, they are reunited as guests at the wedding of Bea's lesbian sister, which is taking place in Australia. The brides and guests can see there are still feelings between Ben and Bea and work effortlessly shoving them together. Ben and Bea decide the only way to get everyone off their backs is to pretend they have already made up and are a couple.

Director and screenwriter Will Gluck (Easy A) has taken all the classic elements of romantic comedy from other films and jumbled them all together in one movie, even referencing a couple of them in a couple of the time we actually watch the leads re-enact the scene on the front of the ship in Titanic, i was literally ready to check out. All the usual suspects are gathered to simultaneously bring these two together and keep them apart...her parents, her sister, his BFF, his ex-girlfriend, her ex-boyfriend, and the parents of the lesbian bride, all working together so hard to get these two together that they seem to forget why they all came to Australia in the first place.

We're only about twenty minutes before the conclusion of the film that everyone realizes that the wedding has been shoved to the back burner, but by this time we just don't care, despite the fact the film features one of the most attractive group of actors I've ever seen assembled. Unfortunately, they aren't given a lot to work with and frankly, I expected more from the director of Easy A.

The Australian scenery is lovely, but it takes more than scenery to make a movie. The perfectly sculpted Glen Powell continues his quest to become the next Ryan Gosling, but he has been unable to find that vehicle to push him over the top. Sweeney, who has been featured in featured roles on HBO's Euphoria and Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale does show some leading lady potential. The parents are played by actors who have been absent from the big screen for awhile: Dermot Mulroney, Rachel Griffiths, Michelle Hurd, and the charismatic Bryan Brown. Sadly, Gluck's direction is also slugglsh, making the film seem four hours long.

It Happened to Jane
An underrated gem from the resume of the legendary Doris Day, 1959's It Happened to Jane is a sweet and slightly zany comedy that features a surprisingly substantial screenplay for a 50's comedy and a terrific cast that delivers the goods.

Day plays Jane Osgood, a widow with two children who lives in fictional Cape Anne, Maine, where she runs a lobster business. When the local train carrying one of her orders is delayed and the order is ruined, Jane decides, with the help of her lawyer, George Denham (Jack Lemmon), to sue the owner of the railroad, one Harry Foster Malone (Ernie Kovacs), kicking off a David vs Goliath story that garners national attention.

The very deft screenplay for this comedy is by Norman Katkov, a television writer who wrote for shows like Studio One, Ben Casey, and Mission Impossible. There is a bit of a sexist subtext behind this whole story as we see Malone underestimate Jane because she's a woman. We are behind Jane from jump as we watch Malone's people trying to buy her off with chump change that didn't begin to cover expenses and her turn it down without batting an eye. This begins a deliciously entertaining cat and mouse between Jane and Malone, despite the fact that Jane and Malone don't even meet until eight minutes before the movie ends. All of Malone's machinations are done from his cozy Manhattan offices, where he is observed trying to destroy Jane while playing poker and getting shaves and massages.

The real joy in this film is watching this central character, Jane Osgood. Once again, Day is onscreen as one of the few actresses in 1950's Hollywood who was consistently playing working women. Day's Jane is no nonsense and serious about getting what's coming to her, but never uses her feminine wiles to get it either. The relationships with her two leading men (Lemmon and Steve Forrest as a reporter) are believable as well. We can tell from their first scene together that George has been crushing on Jane forever, but seems content in the "friends" zone until Forrest's Larry arrives in town and falls in love Jane the minute he lays eyes on her. I also loved when Malone's people have had enough of his bullying of this woman and they start walking out on him and Malone doesn't bat an eye.

Richard Quine's exuberant direction keeps things moving at a nice pace here and he works wonders with this cast. Day and Lemmon are just magic together. According to the IMDB, Lemmon said this was one of his favorite movies and he thought that the reason the film wasn't a success was because the title was terrible. He also said he regretted never making another film with Dayand that is a shame because they are terrific together. Lemmon looked absolutely adorable in a boy scout uniform. Ernie Kovacs is nothing short of brilliant as the comic villain, Harry Foster Malone, which I'm assuming was based on Charles Foster Kane. Also loved Russ Brown (Damn Yankees, South Pacific) as the engineer and Mary Wickes as the switchboard operator who really wants to be a reporter. There are also cameos by Dave Garroway and the cast of I've Got a Secret...Garry Moore, Bill Cullen, Henry Morgan, and Betsy Palmer. Another reason why I miss Doris Day so much.

What Happens Later
The queen of 1990's rom-coms, Meg Ryan,. returns to the screen for the first time in eight years as the director , co-screenwriter, and star of a 2023 romantic comedy called What Happens Later that is jammed to the rafters with gimmicks that just didn't work for this reviewer.

Willa (Ryan) and Bill (David Duchovny) meet at an airport on their way to connecting flights for the first time in 25 years, but because of weather conditions, find themselves stranded at the airport, where it is slowly revealed that these two were involved in a very serious relationship all those years ago that apparently ended badly.

Ryan wrote this film with Steven Dietz and Kirk Lynn that works overtime at being unique but what attempts to be unique just comes off as contrived. First of all, the characters that Ryan and Duchovny play are the only people on the screen with speaking parts. Unfortunately, when you have a cast of two, a truly compelling screenplay is required in order to sustain viewer interest and this story stays within the confines of the airport and takes way too long in detailing what went wrong in the relationship these people had 25 years ago. They spend almost half the film bickering and throwing blame at each other for what went wrong. There's an important reveal at the halfway point that seems like it's going to lead to something but it never really does. I did love Duchovny's monologue revealing what's going on with his daughter.

Another gimmick involves the PA voice (voiced by Hal Liggett) providing travelers with information about departures and delays. It's only marginally intrusive as the film begins reminding passengers to check the boards for changes in flight schedules, but as the film progresses, the voice begins speaking directly to our protagonists, sort of pushing them together in order to examine their relationship and it is at this point, that I checked out of what was going on intellectually and emotionally. It refers to Ryan as "Passenger Boston" and Duchovny as "Passenger Austin." The voice even informs the couple during the final third that the airport is shutting everything down so that they can be alone, which, again, might have been acceptable if it led to something but it doesn't.

This is Ryan's second directorial effort and she does show a little promise in this department, providing some interesting camerawork despite being confined to a single location. Acting wise, Ryan tends to grate on the nerves, seemingly under the impression that she's still Sally Albright, but Duchovny lights up the screen as Bill, almost making this overlong journey worth the bother.

Vacation (2015)
The 2015 comedy Vacation is technically a sequel to the 1983 classic, it's another one of those films that isn't really sure if it's a sequel or a remake.

The film stars Ed Helms, as an adult Rusty Griswold, who now is a pilot living in Chicago with his wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate) and his two sons. After overhearing Debbie complain how she is bored with their annual family vacation at a cabin in the woods, Rusty decides that in order to reconnect with his family, he is going to take his family where his dad took him and his sister in the original film, Wally World.

John Hughes, who directed the 1983 film, is one of the screenwriters on this film, which becomes apparent pretty quickly as there is stuff lifted directly from the first film, like Rusty encountering a girl in a convertible on the highway while the family is snoozing, though the conclusion of that vignette is definitely different here. The story does try to provide some new elements to the story, but they're not as funny as the screenwriters seem to think they are. The stop at Debbie's college alma mater, which reveals that Debbie was a drunken tramp in college was not funny at all, nor was the family's dip into what they thought was a hot spring, but actually turned out to be sewer waste.

The family being stalked in their car by a psychotic truck driver and their visit to a point in the Untied States where four states connect, which prompted the appearances from cops from all four states redefined stupidity. The family's stop to visit Rusty's sister, Audrey (Leslie Mann) and her hunky husband was also a wasted opportunity whose highlight was a five minute glimpse at Chris Hemsworth's body. It would have been nice to see Rusty and Audrey reminisce about their Walley World adventure in 1983 but it is barely mentioned. For some reason, I did find the plot point of Rusty's younger son bullying his big brother kind of funny. At least when the family does get to Walley World, it wasn't closed.

Co-directors and screenwriters John Francis Dailey, the creative force behind the cult sitcom Freaks and Geeks and Jonathan Goldstein, who wrote Horrible Bosses, just seem to be trying too hard here. This movie is all over the place, making it seem a lot longer than it really is. Helms and Applegate work very hard here and yes, there are a couple of not too surprising cameo appearances near the end, but the laughs in this movie are sporadic and it doesn't hold a candle to the original film.

Anatomy of a Fall
Stylish and intense direction, an Oscar winning screenplay, and some spectacular performances anchor 2023 Best Picture nominee, Anatomy of a Fall, an astonishing murder mystery/courtroom drama that simultaneously provides equal doses of evidence of guilt and reasonable doubt from one scene to the next.

Sandra Voyter is a German writer who lives with her British husband, Samuel in a French chalet with their visually impaired son, Daniel. Shortly after cutting short an interview she is giving, her husband's body is outside in the snow after tumbling out of the third floor window of the attic of their under renovations chalet. Of course, Sandra is immediately suspected of murder which sends young Daniel into an emotional turmoil of wanting to protect his mother but being unsure of whether or not he is able of doing so.

This film is a triumph for director and co-screenwriter Justine Triet, whose Oscar-winning screenplay is perfect melange of murder mystery and courtroom drama that unfolds slowly enough for the viewer to gather evidence even though they don't realize they're doing it, without playing any cinematic cards providing answers for the viewer. This reviewer sensed a sexual tension between Sandra and the woman interviewing her during the opening scene and almost dismissed it until it become relevant during the opening courtroom scene.

A true air of originality simmers to the surface here, thanks to the lack of theatrics associated with murder mysteries and courtroom dramas. The straightforward presentation of the forensics in the case (make sure closed captioning is on for this) and an actual re-enactmant of the crime, a rarity in stories like this, presents the facts in a very clinical manner that only tell the viewer one thing: that Samuel did not go out of that window on his own power but Sandra's DNA is nowhere to be found either. It's also obvious during her first meeting with her attorney that he isn't totally convinced of her innocence either.

The reasonable doubt in the story comes through Sandra's sketchy defense of what happened and its effect on Daniel. The discovery of Samuel's body is given short shrift in order to pique our curiosity when we see absolutely no evidence of Sandra going through any kind of grief regarding what happened to her. On the other hand, Daniel seems to want to do what he can to help his mother, while not being convinced of her innocence either. Triet achieves a startling cinematic dichotomy during the scene where the recording of the fight the day before the murder is played for the court while we are privileged with a live action flashback of the fight, startling but, again, offering nothing concrete in terms of gilt or innocence. I also LOVED the first character to discover the body: Daniel's dog, Snoop, who also remains relevant throughout the story. The court's sensitivity regarding protecting Daniel was admirable, even if some their methods were questionable.

Triet is also to be applauded for a quartet of remarkable performances she elicits from her cast. Sandra Huller's chilling and powerful performance as the central character earned her a richly deserved Oscar nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress and she is provided perfect support by Swann Arlaud as her attorney, Antoine Reinartz as the slick and serious prosecutor and wide-eyed Milo Machado-Graner as the tortured Daniel. Just a breathtaking movie and can't wait to see what's next for Justine Triet.

Men at Work
1990's Men at Work is a pointless and over the top action comedy whose primary novelty is that the writer and director co-stars in the film with his real life brother.

The setting is a fictional California seaside community called Las Playas, where a city councilman is trying to get out of a deal with a criminal industrialist who is dumping toxic waste in the councilman's ocean. Not longer after, the councilman is murdered and stuffed in a waste container. The following morning a pair of garbage men and BFF's named James and Carl, along with their Vietnam vet PTSD afflicted boss, discover the can on their route and, instead of reporting it, decide to take the body back to their apartment. Once they discover that their pretty next door neighbor worked for the councilman, they are led towards a criminal conspiracy that puts them in danger as well.

This film was written and directed by Emilio Estevez, who plays James and his younger brother, Charlie Sheen plays Carl, which is understandable incentive to get on board. It's always fun watching real life family members making movies together, but this novelty wears off quickly as the film becomes dumber and dumber as it progresses. The initial irritation begins with ripping off the previous year's Weekend at Bernie's by taking the body back to their apartment and getting in several situations where they have to pretend that the corpse is still alive, a running gag that becomes tiresome pretty quickly.

The only other time I have seen Estevez and Sheen work together was when Estevez did a guest shot on Sheen's sitcom Two and Half Men and it is fun watching them share the screen, though I wish Estevez had provided better story for himself and his brother, which appeared to have shades of their relationship as we watch James resent Carl when the neighbor becomes romantically with Carl and it is implied that this is not the first time this has happened with these guys. The bad guys are all dumb as a box of rocks and there's a character on the canvas, a pizza delivery guy, who proved to completely superfluous and adds absolutely nothing to the story.

Estevez was clearly afforded a limited budget and does what he can with it. The brothers Estevez do provide a spark to the proceedings, as does Keith David as their PTSD boss. John Getz is ridiculously over the top though as the mustache twirling villain and Dean Cameron is just a waste of screen time as the pizza delivery guy. It's no shock that Estevez has only five other theatrical directing credits on his resume and he's probably lucky he has those.

Lisa Frankenstein
Fans of Tim Burton films like Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice will definitely have a head start with 2024's Lisa Frankenstein, a loopy and bizarre comic thriller that features a screenplay that's kind of all over the place, but it does hold viewer attention right up to a truly nonsensical finale.

Lisa is a teenage social outcast whose mother was brutally murdered a year ago and has been taken in by her best friend Taffy's family. Lisa confesses to Taffy that she is having a relationship with a corpse and not long after that, said corpse shows up at Taffy's house when only Lisa is home, covered in mud and feces. Lisa hides him in the house and is somehow able to communicate with him, despite the fact that he cannot speak. It's also revealed that the corpse is missing a few body parts that, with the aid of few minutes in a tanning booth, make him almost human again, though still mute and all it cost were the death of two people and the dismemberment of a third.

Diablo Cody, who won an Oscar for writing Juno, takes a completely different and hard to follow look at teen angst that spends a whole lot of time with exposition and introducing characters than really necessary. After she moves in with Taffy's family, there is a very long sequence where Lisa is at a party and she drinks something that appears to have been drugged with something. She is observed stumbling all over the party and we think it's going to lead to something specific about the corpse, but it doesn't. The contrived ignorance of Taffy's family to the corpse is also a little hard to take. And just when it looks like Lisa and her corpse are going to live happily after ever, she says she wants to lose her virginity to Michael Trent, the big stud on Lisa's high school campus. I expected a tighter screenplay from Diablo Cody.

Despite the odd story, I found myself oddly riveted to this film that is watchable as you don't think about it too much. The film featured impressive production values, including dazzling color schemes, similar to the ones utilized by Burton in Edward Scissorhands and some truly bizarre characters. The title character reminded me of Lydia Deitz in Beetlejuice, who goes through a lot of changes before the credits roll. The weird animated opening credits even reminded me of another Tim Burton film: The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Kathryn Newton, who I haven't seen since she played Reese Witherspoon's daughter on the HBO series Big Little Lies, gives a star-making performance in the title role and she is well matched by Cole Sprouse, who played Ross; son, Ben, on Friends and starred with his twin brother Dylan on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, matches her scene for scene as the corpse. Mention should also be made of a hysterical supporting turn from Carla Gugina as Taffy's mother. It doesn't provide answers to all of the answers it poses, but it's never boring. Director Zelda Williams is the daughter of the late Robin Williams.

In the Gloaming
Polished and sensitive direction by the late Christopher Reeve and superb performances from a hand-picked cast make a quiet but emotionally charged 1997 HBO movie called In the Gloaming worth the price of admission despite a screenplay that is a tad cautious.

Danny (Robert Sean Leonard) is in the final stages of his battle with AIDS and decides to return home for the final months of his life, seeming to want to reconcile with his parents (Glenn Close, David Strathairn) before he passes away.

The earnestly intended screenplay by Alice Elliott Dark and Will Scheffer tells a tough story with some degree of sensitivity. It features minimal use of words like "AIDS", "HIV", and even "Homosexuality" as the story unfolds. As a matter the story begins with a flashback of Danny playing in the yard with his mother and his sister that actually speaks volumes about the story we are about to witness; however, we don't realize it as we actually watch the scene. We learn that Danny wants to resolve certain issues with his smothering mother, his seemingly insensitive father, and his jealous sister before his passing. Unfortunately, just when characters get down the crux of what they really want to say, the scenes abruptly end without true resolution. Danny wants his mother to admit that she has never really accepted his sexual orientation, he wants his father to admit that he is ashamed of him, and Danny's sister wants her mother to admit that Danny was always her favorite and that her coddling might have mad Danny gay. These potentially explosive family confrontations could have made for high drama, but the screenplay backs down just before the real issues bubble to the surface.

Despite several missed opportunities in the screenplay, some of the roads to these opportunities make for some intense family drama. The reveal that Mom has stopped her volunteer job in order to devote her self to Daniel's care has real power because of Mom's complete devotion to being at Daniel's side to the end. The scene where Mom can't refer to Danny's lover as his lover and wants to know why they were never invited to Thanksgiving dinner as a couple was a hard watch, as was the scene where Danny's sister implied that Mom's coddling had a lot to do with Danny's sexual orientation, a scene that made my blood boil because it implied that homosexuality is a choice, though it is abruptly ended before getting really ugly.

Reeve gives this emotionally charged story power with sensitive direction and stunning production values. The look of the film reminded me a lot of the look of 1981's On Golden Pond...absolutely gorgeous and a possible distraction to the potentially painful story we're about to witness. Robert Sean Leonard completely invests in the role of Danny, which should have earned him an Emmy nomination. The film was nominated for five Emmys. including Outstanding Television Movie, Outstanding Actress for Glenn Close, for her beautifully controlled performance as the mom, Bridget Fonda for Outstanding Supporting Actress for her resentful sister, Reeve's direction, and Outstanding Cinematography. Reeves passed away five years after the release of this film.

Bob Marley: One Love
Full disclosure, an excellent trailer lured this reviewer into 2024's Bob Marley: One Love, a pretentious and by the numbers biopic that starts off promisingly, but eventually degenerates into a vague and conventional look at the reggae icon, despite some impressive musical sequences.

As the film opens, Marley is preparing for a benefit concert that he is convinced will bring a cease fire to all of the political and military unrest in his native Jamaica. But then he is shot twice and decides to abandon his wife and 12 children for London, which leads to the creation of his album, "Exodus" which went gold and led to a world tour where fame goes to his head and where the love of his family and country, well established in the first half of the film, pretty much disappear during the second half.

The screenplay for this film initially sets up Marley as some sort of musical who believes the problems of the universe can be solved with his music. We are initially impressed when he leaves Jamaica to protect his family, but once he does, his children are pretty much forgotten for the rest of the film, even with devoted wife Rita by his side. Once Marley embarks on his world tour, the screenplay takes on an ambivalence that implies a lot of Marley's story is being glossed over. The second half of the film feels completely different from the first in the fact that it feels like the subject is being protected and they're trying to hide something on the viewer. And on a technical note, I cannot lie that the very thick Jamaican accents employed by most of the cast made it very difficult to understand a healthy chunk of the dialogue.

On the positive sides, the musical sequences elevate the movie when they do come up. Was especially impressed with the scenes where "Jammin" and "I Shot the Sheriff" was performed, and the presentation of the song "Exodus" brought up some questions. Marley hears a band member listening to the movie soundtrack of the Paul Newman movie and just picks up his guitar and starts making up a song called "Exodus" right there n the spot. I found myself wondering if all of Marley's work came off the top of his head like that without writing anything down, but it definitely made up for the movie's most compelling scene.

Reinaldo Marcus Green, who directed Will Smith to the Oscar he won for King Richard provides slightly melodramatic direction to the proceedings, making the film a little on the sluggish side. Kingsley Ben-Adir, who impressed as Malcom X in the Regina King film One Night in Miami, works very hard in the title role as do Lashana Lynch as Rita, and James Norton, who appeared in Greta Gerwig's Little Women, as Chris Blackwell as Bob's manager, but overall, this one was a huge disappointment and documentation that a great trailer is not guarantee of a great movie.

Me, Natalie
Seven years after winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, Patty Duke took on an equally challenging role in a 1959 character study called Me, Natalie, a hopelessly dated look at a young woman's journey into adult and self-esteem that is now almost laughable in its datedness, but Duke still makes it worth a look.

Duke plays Natalie Miller, a young woman who suffers from self-esteem issues ever since she was a small child because she believes that she is ugly. She makes her self a social pariah because she refuses to believe that she is pretty and, after years of alienating everyone in her life, including her favorite Uncle Harold, she finally branches out on her own and moves to Greenwich Village, where she bullies her way into the life of a sensitive young artist.

Stanley Shapiro, who won an Oscar a decade earlier for writing Pillow Talk co-wrote this talky and unfocused drama with A. Martin Zweiback, centered around a character who clearly has a lot of issues going on other than the desire to be pretty. There are mental health issues going on with this character, but they are never addressed as such, making it difficult for us or the other characters onscreen to deal with her. In her narration, Natalie informs us how much she loves her Uncle Harold, but when he passes away, she won't even attend his funeral. When she first meets David, her artist/neighbor, she appears repulsed and shocked that he paints nudes, but when he asks her to pose for him fully clothed, she is mortally offended.

There are dated elements to the story that would just not fly in 2024. When she first arrives in New York, Natalie gets a job waiting tables at a restaurant where she wears fake boobs, a fake butt, and glow in the dark paint on her face. It reminded me of the restaurant in The April Fools where the waitresses were dressed as cavewomen and the male patrons were given clubs to get their attention. Natalie also spends a healthy chunk of screentime in the dumbwaiter of her apartment, which is, by the way, she first meets David the artist while painting one of his also somehow ends up in the same dumbwaiter during a hallucination she has after drinking a party punch spiked with acid. The movie works too hard at trying to be hip and cool and shocking the audience than it does evoking sympathy for the central character.

Patty Duke works very hard in the title role, though according to the IMDB, there was a lot of tension on the set between her and director Fred Coe, which many attributed to a very manic period in Duke's life before she was officially diagnosed with OCD. She also wears false teeth in the movie that are extremely distracting and seriously affect her speech. James Farentino is smooth and sexy as David, Martin Balsam is lovely as Uncle Harold, and so is Nancy Marchand as Nat's mother. Other familiar faces pop up including Elsa Lanchester, Salome Jens, Deborah Winters, and if you don't blink, you might catch the three minute film debut of future Oscar winner Al Pacino as pig who tries to pick up Natalie at a dance. It's not a great movie, but Duke fans should check it out.

The 1983 movie version of Stephen King's novel Cujo does provide some scares on the surface as long as you don't examine what's going on too closely.

The story takes place in a small rural community where we see a friendly St Bernard named Cujo get bitten by bats and giving the dog rabies. Meanwhile, we meet an advertising executive's wife who is having an affair that she's trying to hide from her husband and young son, even though the affair isn't making her happy either. Then we see the rabies taking effect in the dog, actually causing him to murder two people. Mother and son arrive at the home of the mechanic who owns the dog and encounter the dog, now a drooling, matted-hair mess, who goes after the mother and son, actually trapping them inside their tiny economy car which they have brought there for repairs and now won't start.

King adapted the screenplay with Don Carlos Dunaway and Barbara Turner, widow of Vic Morrow and mother of Jennifer Jason Leigh. The screenplay takes its sweet time with exposition, putting way too much time into establishing the fact that Donna Trenton is unhappy and that her husband is completely oblivious of the fact. So much detail is put into this setup that the second Donna's lover made his initial appearance in the story, I knew she was having an affair with the guy. I wasn't so bothered by the fact that this was telegraphed but more by the fact that it really didn't have anything to do with the story we were about to see. The fact that the little boy, Tad, was first shown to us having nightmares about monsters in his closet also seemed a little convenient. None of this really had anything to do with the primary story that finally rolled across the screen, but it definitely could have been tightened up, knocking about 20 minutes off the running time.

Though I don't know anything regarding the subject, the effects that rabies have on a dog are also a little suspect here. Before he traps Donna and Tad in the car, we see this dog actually murder two grown men, yet, during two separate encounters with Donna, he is unable to take her out. It was also strange the way the dog would run to the house whenever the phone would ring and when it would stop, he would run back to torment Donna and Tad. And though a tiny nitpick, I was very troubled by the fact that as the danger of their situation intensified, Donna got very short with her son, like it was his fault.

Director Lewis Teague (The Jewel of the Nile) does capture the claustrophobic danger Donna and Tad are in beautifully. I love when the camera is creeping around the side of the car while Donna is trying to get her son out his seatbelt and we think the dog is going to bite her and then the dog actually attacks from the other side of the car, possibly the film's most effective "boo." Dee Wallace, fresh off her role in Spielberg's ET is very effective in the physically demanding role of Donna. She works well with Daniel Hugh Kelly, who plays her husband and her lover was played by her real life husband, Christopher Stone. A very young Danny Pintauro also put himself on the map as little Tad. There are scares here, but they are surface deep and they take too long to materialize.

Road House (2024)
Despite Jake Gyllenhaal's effective stepping into the late Patrick Swayze's shoes in the starring role, the 2024 testosterone-charged remake of Road House does suffer thanks to a severely overly complex screenplay that makes the film about thirty minutes longer than it needed to be.

Gyllenhaal plays Dalton (we do learn whether or not Dalton is his first or last name in this version BTW), a former UFC fighter who is hired to clean up a bar in the Florida Keys and finds a lot more problems than a rowdy bar when it turns out that he is interfering in the plans of a so-called crime lord named Ben Brandt, a second generation criminal whose father is incarcerated. Word gets to Daddy that Ben is being bamboozled by Dalton so he sends a psychotic beast named Knox to take care of Ben and Dalton.

Three writers were involved in the screenplay here, which is a little more light hearted than the 1989 film. Dalton is infused with a snarky smart ass likability that immediately endears him to the viewer. During his first fight scene at the bar, he is allowed to explain to the half dozen guys he's about to take out how he's going to do it, the exact nature of the injuries he plans to inflict, and makes sure the guys know where the nearest hospital is. Dalton is given an added air of mystery he didn't have in '89 by having him appear on the run, leading to flashbacks explaining why he isn't in the UFC anymore, which add about twenty minutes to the running time and really weren't necessary.

I did like when the Ben Brandt character was finally revealed, we learn that the guy is still being manipulated by his incarcerated father. He's a bit nutty too...when the waves transporting his yacht get a little jumpy, he punches the guy navigating the boat and when he gets angry and throws his cell phone into the ocean, he tells one of his minions to go get it. And let's talk about this Knox, a monster who puts characters like Ivan Drago and Bane to shame. He is first observed stark naked in a farmer's market until he finds someone wearing clothes he likes and beats them off the man, Dalton's final confrontation is memorable, reminding me of the final battle between Mel Gibson and Gary Busey in Lethal Weapon, but, again, went on way too long. The pretty doctor who Swayze romances in the first film is here too, but the role is given more layers than necessary and the role is just as pointless as it was in the '89 film.

What does keep the viewer invested in this unnecessary remake is the movie-star performance by the seriously pumped Gyllenhaal, who just gets more sexy and charismatic as he ages. He makes this movie worth sitting through, as do the underrated Billy Magnussen as Brandt and Conor McGregor as Knox. It's not necessarily worse than the original, but Gyllenhaal definitely makes it worth a look.

61 *
A memorable slice of baseball history is brought to life in 61*, a handsomely mounted drama about the friendship/rivalry between two baseball legends that provides sparking entertainment thanks to HBO and meticulous direction from Billy Crystal.

This 2001 film recounts the friendship between New York Yankees Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris and how the friendship is almost destroyed with their battle to break Babe Ruth's long standing record of 61 home runs in a single season, a battle that not only threatens to destroy this friendship but tear the entire team apart as their journey to the World Series is also impacted by this internal friction in the ball club.

Hank Steinberg's screenplay lovingly details the evolution of this very complicated relationship which effectively documents how different Mantle and Maris are. Mantle is portrayed as being adored by fans, adoring said adoration, and having no problem with the pressures that come with being a sports icon until it is revealed that his release is manifesting itself into heavy drinking and womanizing. Maris is the polar opposite: a happily married man with kids who enjoys his job but not everything that comes with it. He hates dealing with the press and is resentful of the way they are manipulating a rival between him and Mantle. We actually see Maris take Mantle into his home when he thinks Mantle's partying is getting out of hand, but the pressure gets to him as he is observed tying the Babe's record and then wanting out. Not to mention the fact that the press, the fans, the baseball commissioner, and even some of his teammates want to see Mantle break the record. at which time, Mantle's interest in the record seems to wane as well.

Billy Crystal, in his seventh assignment in the director's chair, takes a very public feud and puts very flawed and human faces on it, without ever taking the sides that we observe on screen. It was disturbing watching the baseball commissioner manipulating league rules in order to make it more difficult to Maris to break the record, not to mention Ruth's widow who naturally doesn't want to see her husband's record shattered. Even the fans forget about Yankee unity and in one shocking scene, we see a fan actually throw a chair at Maris.

Crystal displays real talent behind the camera that was rewarded with 12 Emmy nominations with wins in two technical categories. Barry Pepper received a nomination for his sincere and intense Roger Maris and is matched scene for scene by Thomas Jane's sizzling interpretation of Mickey Mantle. Mention should also be made of Richard Masur and Peter Jacobson as sports writers, Donald Moffat as the commissioner, Renee Taylor as Babe Ruth's widow, and Anthony Michael Hall as Whitey Ford. It says a lot that, as a non baseball enthusiast, this reviewer was thoroughly entertained by this film.

Passages (2023)
The 2023 French import Passages is a sexually charged drama centered around a toxic love triangle that goes to so many disturbing places that it had this reviewer talking back to the screen and my blood boiling.

The film takes place in contemporary Paris where we meet a film director named Tomas, who has been married to Martin for 15 years, who actually finds himself drifting into an affair with a woman named Agathe, throwing the lives of all three into turmoil because even though Tomas thinks he has found a new life that he wants to embrace, nothing could be further from the truth.

Director and co-screenwriter Ira Sachs, who directed a film I really liked called Love is Strange, has mounted an alleged romantic drama that is troubling on so many levels I don't even know where to start. The initial premise here was just a little hard to accept. It was pretty hard to accept that a man who had spent 15 years married to another man could so easily move into a relationship with a woman. Their first sexual encounter was just too easy to believe...there was no discussion as to whether they really wanted to do this, there was no discomfort from Tomas about his first encounter with a woman, and most unbelievable of all, Tomas told Martin all about it the next day and just expected Martin to accept it.

As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Tomas is a self-absorbed prick who doesn't care about anyone but himself. He is shocked by Martin's anger, yet before the halfway point of the film, he is moving out of their home. It's a real struggle to accept that Tomas is just going to ease into this heterosexual relationship and not look back, but then comes the moment where he sees Martin with someone else and that's where everything explodes and a bombshell dropped around the halfway point of the story assures that no one can come out of this unscathed. This love triangle also leaves more than its share of collateral damage.

Sachs' direction is rich with emotion and sexual tension. He exposes a lot of the feelings of these three central characters through the sex scenes that recalled some of the work of Adrian Lyne. Sachs eventually makes it clear that this triangle has resulted because of sexual heat, not so much from romance. Loved the scene where after having moved out on Martin for awhile, he shows up at their house on a pretense, but it is clear his only mission is to get Martin back in bed. On the other hand, I could never get the thought of Agathe being completely satisfied sexually, which made a lot of this film hard to invest in.

Sachs does get superb performances from his leads though...Franz Rogowski lights up the screen playing the very hard to like Tomas and Ben Whishaw, robbed of an Oscar nomination last year for Women Talking is warm and vulnerable as the conflicted Martin. Adèle Exarchopoulos works hard at keeping Agathe sympathetic but she's really fighting the screenplay here. It moves slowly, seeming a lot longer than it really is, but it certainly kept my attention.

Hello Frisco Hello
Lavish production values from 20th Century Fox and the legendary Alice Faye center stage, 1943's Hello Frisco Hello, a surprisingly entertaining musical package that rivals some of MGM's strongest work in the genre.

Set at the turn of the century in San Francisco, this is the story of a quartet of vaudeville performers, featuring Faye as Trudy Evans, Jack Oakie as Dan Daley, June Havoc as Beulah Clancy and the leader of the act, Johnny Cornell (John Payne). As the film opens, we see the quartet being fired from a cheap honky tonk, which suits Johnny just fine because he thinks his act can go places and it's not long before Johnny has opened up several clubs and has made Trudy a big star without noticing that Trudy has fallen in love with him. Trudy doesn't seem to mind being taken for granted until Johnny attracts the attention of a beautiful and wealthy socialite named Bernice (Lynn Bari).

Fox poured big bucks into this production, assuming in an attempt to cover the paper thin plot and some gaping holes in it, primarily, it is never really made clear where Johnny got the money to finance all of the nightclubs that he builds. He is observed lending money to a grizzled gold prospector who promises to pay him back when he hits gold, but I guess we're supposed to assume he did, because we never see him do it. But there's enough going on here that we're allowed to let little plot holes slide. One surprising plot twist though was instead of Bernice trying to buy Johnny with her money, she is observed losing all her money and Johnny trying to bail her out.

The film features some wonderful musical numbers. The highlights include "The Dance of the Grizzly Bear" and "Hello Frisco" performed by the quartet, "Bedelia", Faye's production number with dancing cops, and "When I Wore You a Tulip", an extravagant production number with the dancers on roller skates. Faye also has a solo near the beginning of the film called "You'll Never Know" that won the Oscar for Best Song of 1943.

The film features absolutely breathtaking settings and costumes and the cast is impressive, led by the throaty voiced Faye who is enchanting, as always. Payne is a charming leading man and my first real exposure to Jack Oakie was a pleasant surprise...was especially surprised at what a good dancer he was. BTW, June Havoc, who played Beulah, is the real life version of the character of Dainty June in the 1959 Broadway musical Gypsy with Ethel Merman, which came to the screen in 1962 with Rosalind Russell. If you're an Alice Faye fan, this one is a must.

Ricky Stanicky
Jon Cena provides the only real laughs in 2024's Ricky Stanicky, an overlong and for the most part unfunny comedy that runs out of gas long before the closing credits roll.

This is the story of three childhood buddies named Dean, JT, and Wes who,as kids, pulled Halloween prank that resulted in setting a house on fire. They managed to slither out of trouble by blaming the prank on an imaginary friend named Ricky Stanicky. The guys continue to use Ricky into adulthood to get out of trouble or sneak off to male bonding rituals whenever they feel like it. Eventually, a situation develops where the guys realize they actually have to produce Ricky and, one night at a bar in Atlantic City, they meet an alcoholic nightclub singer/actor named Ricky Rimestead,who likes to put pornographic lyrics to classic rock songs, to becomw Ricky Stanicky, a charade the guy pulls off. but the charade doesn't end where the guys planned, putting Dean and JT's jobs in jeopardy.

Peter Farrelly, director of the 2018 Best Picture winner Green Book is the culprit behind this flm as the director and one of six writers involved in putting together this movie, which comes off as an extended episode of a sitcom that never seems to end. From the second we see Dean take a phone call in front of his wife saying that Ricky has to have surgery for testicular cancer, but is unable to be with him, we know exactly what's going and as the guys' lies get them in so deep that they have to produce a real Ricky, we know that no good can come of their plan, even providing an actual "bible" with a backstory for Rod to get into this character they've created.

The only real laughs in this film come from Jon Cena, still working on his quest to become the next Dwayne Johnson, in the role of Rod/Ricky. The role require a lot of physical comedy and outrageous costuming and the re-written songs primarily on the subject of masturbation, are funny as hell. We also get to see Cena dressed like Britney Spears' schoolgirl in "Oops. I did it Again" and do an uncanny impression of Owen Wilson.

After two superb performances in The Greatest Beer Run Ever and The Iron Claw, Zac Efron takes a serious misstep with this film, where he appears to be phoning it in as Dean and Andrew Santino and Jermaine just seem miscast as JT and Wes. There is also a fun supporting turn from William H Macy as Dean's boss, but it doesn't help our tolerance of too many endings and the film feeling about four hours long.