Gideon58's Reviews

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Harriet Craig
Onie of Joan Crawford's most powerful performances is the eye of a melodramatic hurricane from 1950 called Harriet Craig, that draws the viewer into the world of an extremely unsympathetic character and, in a refreshing change for 50's melodrama, the character gets exactly what she deserves.

Based on a play by George Kelly called Craig's Wife that actually opened on Broadway way back in 1926, this crisp melodrama introduces us to Harriet Craig, a glamorous and domineering socialite who is a complete control freak who demands that her house is kept so, her servants behave just as she wants, and exacts the same kind of control over her sweet-natured second husband, Walter (Wendell Corey). Her duplicitous ways do catch up to her and, in classic melodrama fashion, and we actually revel in watching Harriet's allegedly perfect life implode before her eyes.

James Gunn and Anne Froelich's adaptation of Kelly's play to the screen isn't as worried about making a play look more like a movie than it is about establishing a central character who earns the boos and hisses she deserves. Harriet's character is not only established in her behavior but the way other characters in the story react toward her. There's a great scene where a friend of Walter's wants to play golf with him on Sunday and Walter suggests that they have breakfast with Harriet before golf. Walter's friend, Billy, simply tells Walter when he pulls in the driveway, he will honk the horn.

We see immediately what kind of woman Harriet is from the beginning of the film where we see a frantic young woman named Claire (KT Stevens) running around making final arrangements for a trip she and Harriet are making. Her efficiency at making sure everything is the way Harriet wants it makes us think this woman is her personal secretary. Imagine this reviewer's surprise when it is revealed that Claire is Harriet's cousin.

Crawford chews the scenery with just the right amount of teeth, never going over the top and trying very hard to imbue this character with some sympathy, but the sympathy boat sails about halfway through the film with a beautifully written and acted scene where Harriet visits her husband's boss and talks him out of giving Walter a promotion that will send him out of the country for three months. I've seen a healthy chunk of Crawford's work, and I think this character is the closest thing to what I've always thought was the real Joan Crawford. I haven't seen a lot of Wendell Corey's work, but every time I see a movie of his, I like his performance more than the previous ones and this one was no exception...very underrated actor. This is Crawford's show though and her fans will be in heaven.



Saw this just recently myself and have to agree with all the above points. An excellent film with Joan Crawford at the top of her game.



Free Guy
Video game junkies seem to be the intended demographic with 2021's Free Guy, a big budget sci-fi action comedy that provides solid entertainment value as long as you don't think about it too much.

Ryan Reynolds stars as Guy, a mild-mannered bank teller whose mundane existence, with which he has been totally content, is not what he thought. Guy learns that he is a background character in a video game whose destiny is altered when he meets a primary character in the game, who is really the video avatar of one of the game's creators.

The screenplay by Matt Leiberman and Zak Penn owes its influence to a lot of films like Inception, The Truman Show, Back to the Future, Star Wars, and Dead pool to name a few, but plot elements from these films have been juggled to give the appearance of originality. The dialogue is intelligent and funny, but the story moves at such a lightning pace, the viewer must just strap in and move with the story.

And when the viewer moves with the story, we are deluged with enough technical splendor to make us forget the little plot points that we thought we wanted explained. Director Shawn Levy employs endless imagination in the mounting of this story, that is unapologetic for its lack of realism and impressive attention to continuity, which becomes key here.

Levy's production values are spectacular with special nods to cinematography, art direction, film editing, and sound. Reynolds brings the same charm and wit he did to Deadpool and Jodie Comer (Killing Eve) continues to prove her versatility as an actress. Also LOVED Taika Waititi, who won an Oscar writing JoJo Rabbit, in a fun and flashy performance as the villain, the nasty owner of the company that created the video game. There are also cameos from the late Alex Trebek, Channing Tatum, Chris Evans, and Reynolds' wife Blake Lively. Don't try to figure it out, just strap in and enjoy.



The Incident (1967)
A few years before the similarly-themed The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, came a claustrophobic and unbearably intense drama called The Incident, which works due to meticulous and atmospheric direction and a superb ensemble cast of once and future stars serving this squirm-worthy story.

It's around 2:00 AM in Manhattan when we see a group of people board the same car of a subway train and find themselves in danger when a pair of drunken thugs board the train, refuse to let the passengers get off the train and begin methodically terrorizing them.

To be fair, the only real similarity between this film and Pelham is that they both take place on a subway train. The set-up of the film is actually a lot like The Poseidon Adventure where we get a peek into the lives of the passengers before they actually board the train and it's no coincidence that none of these people are happy before they board the train, but as the story progresses, we can see the troubles and tensions that they were feeling before the train just evaporate. But unlike Pelham, these guys are unarmed and weren't demanding a ransom...these were just two drunken guys out for kicks, making what they do all the more repellant.

There are minor plot contrivances that initially bothered me but let go in favor of the big picture. Subway trains were much smaller in 1967 than they are today, but I was still surprised that all of the passengers actually crowded into the same car. Of course, they had to be in the same car for the story to work, but it just seemed a little convenient. It was also troubling that during the opening shots of these thugs on their way to the train, there was nary a soul on the streets. It was very effective in setting the mood for the piece, but for Manhattan, at 2:00 AM, even in 1967, a little unrealistic. The thugs bring bigotry and homophobia to this subway car and there is a final cinematic kick in the teeth when the police finally arrive that made my blood boil.

Larry Peerce, who also directed Goodbye Columbus, definitely created the masterpiece of his somewhat limited career. Little details like the emasculated husband being nagged by his wife while all you see is her legs pacing on the platform, or the black wife communicating to her husband about the danger of his actually being amused by what these guys are doing. Tony Musante and Martin Sheen are gloriously over the top as our criminals and there is standout work from Ed McMahon, who apparently was quite the actor before becoming Johnny Carson's sidekick, Thelma Ritter, Jack Gilford, Brock Peters, Ruby Dee, and especially a very young Beau Bridges as a soldier on leave. An ugly drama that drew me in slowly until being completely riveted by what was going on. They don't make 'em like this anymore.



Career
Despite direction leaning toward the melodramatic, 1959's Career is a gritty and surprisingly realistic look at the business of show business that gets a big shot in the arm from some sizzling performances.

This movie is an adult look at the ambition that drives people to reach the top in this very freaky and unpredictable business. The story begins in Manhattan and basically revolves around three characters: Sam Lawson (Anthony Franciosa) is a talented but unknown actor fresh off the bus from Lansing, who is willing to give up everything (including his wife) to become a star; Maury Novak (Dean Martin) is a slick and opportunistic producer of a failing off-Broadway theater company who has no qualms about taking shortcuts to fame and fortune; Sharon Kensington (Shirley MacLaine) is the boozy and slightly trampy daughter of an important Broadway producer who is willing to use her father or anything else to get what she wants...Maury in particular.

I've complained in several reviews of other films on this subject, musicals in particular, that the portrayal of becoming a star is usually very unrealistic, simplistic, and happens way too quickly, butt no such nonsense here. This story very realistically points out that very few people become stars overnight, that neither looks nor talent are a guarantee to success, and most importantly, that sometimes people sacrifice ethics and principles to get what they want.

Loved the fact that Sam and Maury are both struggling at the beginning of the film, but after a flashforward, Sam is still struggling but Maury is one of the busiest directors in Hollywood. There's another secondary story where a character named Eric Peters can't get a job in New York because, despite his looks, can't get a job because he can't act. At the end of the second act, Eric is the highest paid actor in Hollywood and Sam is begging for a part in his latest movie. If the story makes one misstep, the film opens showing Sam waiting on tables than flashes back and tells his story. This was a common storytelling technique for moviemakers in the 1950's but it really took away some of the story's power. It would have been much more effective to show Sam's struggle that led him to waiting tables instead of telling us at the beginning that he's a waiter.

Though he receives top billing, Dean Martin's role is really a supporting one, but he makes the most of it. Tony Franciosa offers a charismatic turn as the story's true lead that confirms the mystery as to why this guy never became a real movie star but found stardom on television eventually. Fresh off her Oscar-nominated performance in Some Came Running, MacLaine steals every scene she's in, as do Carolyn Jones as a lonely theatrical agent and Robert Middleton as MacLaine's father. For once, a movie about show business that really tries to tell it like it is.



Thank you, thank you, thank you! for recommending this film to me, it sounds just like my kind of film I just seen a clip of it and seen Donna Douglas from the Beverly Hillbillies, that alone makes me want to watch it. Of course I'm a big fan of early Shirley McClaine movies and Dean Martin as long as Jerry Lewis isn't in tow I plan on watching this one real soon!



I forgot to mention in my review that Donna Douglas was in the movie. She's a brunette though and her husband is played by Jerry Paris from The Dick Van Dyke Show.



Songbird
In a world that has been crippled by the Covid-19 Pandemic, I can't imagine the diseased mind that would think the 2020 apocalyptic thriller Songbird would be considered viable entertainment. In a world already terrorized by this deadly virus, the only purpose this reviewer can see for this film is to instill further fear and panic in moviegoers.

The film is set in 2024 and the world has now been attacked by Covid-23 so clearly the effects of this pandemic and defense against it has reached far beyond masks and social distancing. Think back to when the world first went on lockdown and the streets were deserted. This is where we are as this film opens, only it's much worse. Masks and distancing aren't allowed because no one is allowed to leave their homes with the exception of law enforcement and something referred to as "couriers." This film looks at this much more dangerous pandemic through the eyes of one of these couriers who is trying to save his save his healthy girlfriend and her infected grandmother.

This reviewer can't imagine what director and co-screenwriter Adam Mason was thinking as he crafted this depressing and convoluted drama that seems to have no other purpose than instilling fear about the virus, but the story offers myriad unanswered questions that immediately frustrate the viewer and eventually weigh the film down. This courier works for some kind of corporation called Lester's Gets and it's never explained exactly what Lester's Gets is and what this courier, Nico, does. The virus is now diagnosed with a smartphone-like device in a ,matter of seconds and if one tests positive, a message appears on the device that soldiers are on their way to the infected person's home. Some people are deemed "Immune" and are given passes that cost upward of $15,000.

The devastating state of affair is fronted by a rather trite star-crossed romance between the courier and the girl, who initially we're told have known each other forever and then we're told they've never actually met. We also meet a sexual deviant who is selling fake passes and endangering his wife and daughter, which just didn't make sense amidst all the danger. Time would have been better spent with a wheelchair-bound veteran, played by Paul Walter Hauser (Richard Jewell) who has felt on lockdown long before Covid-23.

The entertainment value here was a mystery to this reviewer. KJ Apa, who plays Archie Andrews on the CW series Riverdale, shows some leading man potential, it's a shame the material isn't worthy of him. Bradley Whitford and Peter Stomare make the most of the roles, but this movie was just a bummer from start to finish. And a gold star to anyone can explain the title.



Sounder (1972)
A 1972 Best Picture nominee, Sounder is a warm and emotionally charged coming of age story that takes the viewer through a myriad of emotions and will definitely have one fighting tears at some point.

Set in the deep south during the Depression, this the story of the Morgans, a dirt-poor family of black sharecroppers, working themselves to the bone and still going to bed hungry most of the time. The eldest son, David Lee, is forced to step up as the man of the family when his father, Nathan Lee, is arrested for stealing food for his family and sent to a prison work camp.

This extraordinary piece of family entertainment is based on a novel by William H. Armstrong, adapted into an Oscar-nominated screenplay by Lonnie Elder III that paints a troubling and conflicted time in the deep south where blacks were free on paper. but, for the most part, were still living like slaves. We're shocked when Nathan Lee's wife, Rebecca tries to visit him the day after he's arrested and learns that women are forbidden to visit prisoners completely.

This is where we see Rebecca step up the same way David Lee is forced to. Rebecca is a strong and proud black woman who has accepted her station in life, even if she knows it's not right, but also knows that fighting it is futile. Her heartbreak about her family's life is an undercurrent in every move she makes, but her intelligence is apparent as she is the only character in this movie who never makes a wrong move. Elder's screenplay also reminds us how important God and education is to most of these people. David Lee's desire to learn is beautifully showcased, even though his parents always refer to school as "that school".

Director Martin Ritt employs extraordinary detail in presenting important moments in the journey of the Morgan family, often without dialogue. The moment where Nathan Lee returns home from prison and Rebecca makes that long run to greet him moves me to tears every time I watch this movie. This movie is still the powerful experience it was when I was 12 years old, the first time I saw it...the only time my entire family saw a movie together. Cicely Tyson's tower of strength Rebecca earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress and Winfield's Nathan Lee earned him a Best Actor nomination as well. Kevin Hooks was robbed of a supporting actor nomination for his star-making turn as David Lee, that is the heart of this film. Hooks would eventually find his niche in the business as a director. That's Hooks' real life younger brother, Eric, playing his younger brother. Simply, an extraordinary motion picture experience, deeply moving and forgettable.



The Strawberry Blonde
Warner Brothers knocked it out of the park with The Strawberry Blonde, a lavishly produced period comedy from 1941 that enchants the viewer thanks to polished direction and a cast of professionals working at the top of their game.

Set in the Gay 90's, Biff Grimes (James Cagney) is a scrappy but likable young man studying to be a dentist who thinks he's in love with Virginia Brush (Rita Hayworth), the town tramp who strolls by the barbershop every Sunday so that all the men can whistle at her. Virginia has also caught the eye of a wealthy contractor named Hugo Barnstead (Jack Carson), who has a love-hate relationship with Biff and talks him into going on a double with Virginia and her girlfriend. Amy (Olivia de Havilland) who initially repels Biff with her "modern thinking", but gives her a chance when Virginia breaks a date with Biff so that she can marry Horace.

The Epstein Brothers adapted the screenplay from a play that bombed on Broadway in 1927 and have brought us a delicious turn of the century battle of the sexes that has a contemporary flavor that gives the film appeal today. The characters are richly drawn from what initially appear to be cliches, but are all given layers we don't see coming. Biff is initially drawn as a tough guy, but turns out to have a great deal of sensitivity where the fairer sex is concerned. Amy seems to be sort of prude, who actually doesn't like to play games with men, using her position as the smartest character in the movie without rubbing it in anyone's face.

The film actually opens in flashback with Biff and Amy already married, which I didn't understand in the beginning, but by the time we reached the finale, it became clear. The spirit of the gay 90's and the way man and women treated each other back then is a lovely canvas for the story, showing us a lot of things we don't see anymore. Love when Biff and Virginia are in the park and before Virginia sits on a bench, Biff dusts off the bench and places the cloth on the bench for her sit on. Also loved the scene where the quartet have dinner together and are struggling with how to consume the latest gourmet sensation from Europe...spaghetti and meatballs.

Director Raoul Walsh puts a lot of detail into the mounting of this lovely story, especially in establishing the period and the superb performances he gets from the cast. Cagney's Biff Grimes is tough and goofy, but always remains totally likable throughout the story and establishes a nice rapport with de Havilland, whose quiet intelligence in her role is easy to overlook. Jack Carson is his usually blustery smart-ass, but the real surprise here is Rita Hayworth as Virginia. Hayworth's reputation as one of cinema's great sex goddesses is well-known, but in this film she actually displays genuine acting talent, bringing us a crisp and ultimately seductive villainess, who actually has a brain that she knows when to use and when to shelve. Can't help but think Walsh had a lot to do with this performance but it works. The film features elaborate settings and costumes that demanded technicolor, but the film was a joy from beginning to end.



The Lighthouse
It's a deeply disturbing film with zero re-watch appeal, but 2019's The Lighthouse, a chilling look at the effect of isolation on sanity had this reviewer simultaneously riveted, repulsed, confused, frightened, but never bored.

The setting is New England in the 1890's where we watch Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), a veteran lighthouse keeper, return to the lighthouse he worked at before with a new co-worker named Thomas Howard (Robert Pattinson). As we watch Wake and Howard settle into their new assignment, it becomes apparent that Wake is in charge (or at least he thinks so), treating Howard like a slave and warning him of the dangers of the assignment, putting special emphasis on the fact that Howard is never to enter the part of the lighthouse where the light is located. It's not long before the isolation of this assignment has the viewer questioning the sanity of these two people or whether or not the entire thing is a living nightmare.

Director and co-screenwriter Robert Eggars has crafted a creepy story of two people trying to cling to their sanity, without ever providing the viewer with definitive proof as to whether or not what we're seeing is just a hellacious nightmare. We're not surprised when it's just a matter of Wake working Howard to the bone or even when he has to force him to drink. We don't even question the fact that Wake only treats Howard like a human being when they're sharing a meal. but when these men start pumping each other about there respective pasts, we begin to wonder if anything we're witnessing is actually happening. I love the way Eggars establishes the isolation of the story with that long shot of ship that dropped the men sailing away from the island

The screenplay by Eggars and his brother Max is rich with with a lot of Irish slang that lends an air of mystery to what the characters are talking about, but not so much that our interest wanes. The Eggars have crafted a two-character story that features brief appearances by other characters that are never legitimized to the point that we're not sure if they are just hallucinations of the two central characters. Wake's warning to Howard of the bad luck associated with harming a sea gull, comes frighteningly to life, a little reminiscent of Melanie Daniels in The Birds.

Films like The Shining and Cast Away come to mind as this frightening look at the effect of isolation never commits to any kind reality, despite some ugly and frightening imagery that often turns the stomach and keeps the viewer wondering throughout whether or not we're seeing is really happening. This reviewer was equally fascinated and repulsed by this film and as much I appreciated the craftsmanship, there's no way I could sit through this film again. The movie is beautifully photographed in black and white, its cinematography earning the film its only Oscar nomination. Four-time Oscar nominee Dafoe offers another Oscar-worthy turn in a role he truly loses himself in, as he did playing Van Gogh in At Eternity's Gate and Pattinson brings the same intensity to this role as he did to his role in Good Time. This an ugly and haunting story but worth the watch...once.



Snoopy Come Home
1972's Snoopy Come Home is the second feature length film based on Charles M Schultz characters putting its primary scene-stealer center stage in a sweet and sad story that entertained me today as much as it did 40 years ago.

As the film opens, we find Snoopy feeling taken for granted by owner Charlie Brown, his friends, and ostracized by society in general when he starts seeing "No Dogs Allowed" sings everywhere he goes. Snoopy is thrown for a loop when he receives a letter from his former owner, a little girl named Lila, who is sick in the hospital and wants Snoopy to visit her. Snoopy quickly hops off the top of his doghouse, throws his supper dish on his head, gives his "worldly possessions" away, and summons his aeronautically-challenged bird BFF, Woodstock to take the long journey with him to visit Lila.

Once again, as with A Boy Named Charlie Brown, these timeless characters brought me right back to my childhood, complete enraptured by a rather mundane story on the surface made wonderfully entertaining by a hysterically funny central character, with an equally funny sidekick, neither of whom speak a word by the way, and still command the screen.

With a tiny addition to Snoopy's backstory, Schultz has given us a story that actually provides some surprises along the way. The funniest of which is when Snoopy and Woodstock are kidnapped by a crazy little girl named Clara who renames Snoopy Rex and decides to keep him as her new pet. This was a perfect interruption to Snoopy's journey that not only had me rolling on the floor with laughter, but featured the best song in the movie "Fundamental Friendship Dependability."

Other highlights from the score by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman (Mary Poppins) include "At the Beach", "No Dogs Allowed", "Do You Remember Me?", the strangely dark "It Changes" and, of course, the title tune.

It's also fun watching the kids missing Snoopy in their own ego-centric manner, each thinking they are personally responsible for Snoopy leaving, especially the perpetually self-absorbed Peppermint Patty. Also loved the soap opera style twist when Snoopy and Lila finally do reunite, and Lila tries to manipulate Snoopy into staying with her. Can't believe this movie was just as entertaining today as it was when I saw it during its original theatrical release when I was 12 years old.