Gideon58's Reviews

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The Petrified Forest (1936)
The rock solid performances of Humphrey Bogart and Leslie Howard reprising their Broadway roles definitely make the 1936 film version of The Petrified Forest, an effective blend of hostage drama and star-crossed romance worth your time..

Based on a play by Robert Sherwood, this is the story of a notorious gangster named Duke Mantee (Bogart) who holds a disparate group of people hostage in a gas station/diner in the middle of the desert. The hostages include an intellectual drifter with a death wish named Alan Squier (Howard); a dreamy-eyed waitress named Gabrielle (Bette Davis) who hates her life and wants more than anything to get out of Arizona; a wealthy older couple named Mr. and Mrs. Chisholm and their chauffeur; the station's not so bright mechanic named Boze who loves Gabrielle, and Gabrielle's father and grandfather.

Sherwood's play opened on Broadway in January of 1935 and closed in June because the film version was in theaters less than a year later. Director Archie Mayo doesn't put a lot of effort into making the film look less like a piece of theater and more like a movie. During the opening scenes, the sky in the background is clearly painted backdrops. The film may take place in the Arizona desert, but we can tell immediately that the filming of this piece never left Warner Brothers sound stages, but the story is so compelling that, as the film progresses, we really don't care.

Even though the film is a hostage crime drama, what really makes the story special is the star-crossed romance between Alan and Gabrielle. I loved the way Alan is introduced in the film...broke and hitchhiking across the desert until his fateful meeting with Gaby, a true dreamer who thinks she's found a way out of her dead end existence with Alan, even though he really doesn't promise her anything. How a charming and intelligent man like Alan ended up in his position is never really addressed, but curiosity is piqued when it comes to light that Alan seems to want to die, despite Gabrielle pinning all her hopes of a new life on him. The relationship between Alan and Gabrielle is presented with such care that we're genuinely terrified for them with the arrival of Duke Mantee on the scene.

And as for Duke Mantee, this seems to be the performance that was the genesis for Bogart's career as the ultimate cinematic tough guy. Bogart gives a genuine menace to his character more through the physicality of the character rather than the dialogue. Bette Davis gives the role of Gabrielle real substance, a role originated on Broadway by Peggy Conklin. Dick Foran was fun as Boze and there's also a real scene-stealing performance from Charley Grapewin as Gaby's grandfather, who considers Mantee a hero. Grapewin would become an important part of movie history a few years later when he would play Dorothy's Uncle Henry in The Wizard of Oz. The ending is a little rushed but for fans of Bogey, Davis, and Leslie Howard, a must-see.



Fatherhood
Kevin Hart gets the chance to display some genuine acting chops in 2021's Fatherhood, a sweet-natured and occasionally moving family comedy-drama where the first half of the film works a lot better than the second.

Hart plays Matt, a man who finds himself suddenly thrust into the world of single parenthood when his wife dies the day after she gives birth to their daughter. We then have to watch Matt not only struggle with the raising a child alone, but fending off his in-laws, his mother-in-law in particular, who wants to take Matt's daughter from him because she believes him to be incapable of raising a child.

Director and co-screenplay Paul Weitz, who directed a film I loved several years ago called In Good Company has mounted a story that is not the first we've had regarding being a single parent but directly confronts aspects of the struggle that have rarely been addressed prior to this. The story engages us completely from the beginning as Matt makes it clear that he is determined to raise this child alone and also makes it clear that he has no idea how to do it. We feel his frustration when he can't get the baby to stop crying and seeks help from a Mommy and Me group. We also feel him when he has to take the baby to work and has to do a presentation and cradle the baby simultaneously. Then there's his mother-in-law, whose only offer of support is to take the baby from Matt and raise her herself.

Unfortunately, at the halfway point of the film, the story skips a few years to the point where Maddie, Matt's daughter, is beginning school and the film begins to degenerate into a lot of melodrama and the more conventional type of scenes that we're accustomed to. As a matter of fact, there's a scene where Maddie falls off a jungle gym that is just a little too similar to the jungle gym fall in Kramer VS Kramer not to notice. The scenes of Matt trying to start a new romance and dealing with Maddie's initial objection also had a real feeling of "been there, done that." And they almost lost me when Matt agreed to let Maddie live with her grandparents for awhile, which seemed to negate the entire first half of the fim.

They didn't lose me though because Kevin Hart's winning performance kept me completely invested in the proceedings, making me completely about the character. The empathy felt for the character is definitely stronger in the first half of the film as things become a little pat and convenient in the second half. Hart proved that he is more than pratfalls, mugging, and adult language and might be opening up a new direction for his movie career.

Hart gets solid support from Alfre Woodard and Frankie Faison as his in-laws, Anthony Corrigan and Lil Rel Howery as his BFFS, and Paul Reiser as his boss. Melody Hurd also lit up the screen as young Maddie. This film could have been something really incredible, but it's still more than watchable, thanks to Kevin Hart.



On an Island with You
The MGM dream factory had one of its lesser offerings with 1948's On an Island With You, a pleasant, if unremarkable musical offering that will only appeal to hardcore musical fans.

The film stars Peter Lawford as a Navy pilot who is selected to be the technical advisor for a movie filming in the South Pacific titled "On an Island with You" Lawford is thrown for a loop when he learns the film stars Rosalind Rennolds (Esther Williams).

). Lawford's Larry Kingsley met Rennolds several years ago when he joined her onstage during a USO tour and has never forgotten her. He is determined to dance with her, despite the fact that she is engaged to her co-star Ricardo Montez (Ricardo Montalban).

When a scene in the movie requires Rosalind to get on a plane and be flown off, Larry is the chosen as the pilot and decides to seize the opportunity by flying her to another island where they get stranded overnight, causing major problems for Larry and Roz. Meanwhile another co-star in the film, Yvonne (Cyd Charisse).

The screenwriters definitely deserve a little credit for the spark of originality involved in this "movie within a movie", though it is a little lazy in its legitimizing reasons to keep MGM's Aqua Queen in the water. Other than taking bets on how the story is going to get Esther in the water, the film offers one of the most predictable plots ever and we see where it's going in, but now that I think about it, was there any MGM musical where this wasn't the case?

The majority of the humor in the film is left to the iconic Jimmy Durante, who is also given three musical numbers. Montalban and Charisse turn out to be a competent dance team, once on a nightclub dance floor and later in an elaborate ballet that reminded me of "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" in Words and Music. Charisse also headlines a massive Pagan production number and Williams' final water ballet is spectacular as always.

Peter Lawford makes a charming leading man, but rarely has Williams been more annoying whenever she got out of the water and spoke, but it was early in her career. I also found her makeup very distracting in this movie. I guess they wanted to remind us that she was in the South Pacific and that she was tan, but there are several shots in the film where she looks like she's in black face. This film also offered my first peek at a young actress named Kathryn Beaumont, who would make cinema history a couple of years later when she provided the voice for title character in the 1951 Disney classic Alice in Wonderland. We've seen better from MGM, but Durante and Charisse make it worth a look.



Tina
She's among a handful of vocalists...Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Freddy Mercury, Rod Stewart...a voice that doesn't sound like anyone else. She was known as the woman who taught Jagger how to dance. The late John Denver once introduced her on the Grammy Awards as the woman who taught all other women how to walk in high heels. The unprecedented life and career of rock and roll legend Tina Turner is lovingly brought to the screen in a 2021 documentary called Tina.

This HBO film produces facts coming from the lips of the lady herself, effectively blended with people who were part of her life, and the expected materials that documentaries implement, but one thing that co-directors and co-screenwriters Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin do is they don't present Tina's story in chronological order. The story of the 82 year old legend is chronicled pretty thoroughly but not with the formality of most celebrity documentaries, which demands attention from the viewer, which is not hard to give due to the fascinating subject.

Needless to say that the meat of the documentary focuses on Tina's stormy relationship with Ike Turner, who passed away in 1991. Ike and Tina's story was previously brought to the screen in 1993 as What's Love Got to Do with it which earned its stars, Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne Oscar nominations. Loved learning here that the release of the film was not exactly a cathartic experience for Turner. This film features a clip of a press conference Tina did with Bassett shortly after the release of the film where she told the press straight out that she hadn't seen the film yet.

The film not only documents the Svengali grip that Ike had on Tina, but Ike's complete denial about it, long after their marriage ended. I was surprised to learn when Phil Spector wanted to sign Tina to record without Ike actually happened before Ike and Tina recorded "Proud Mary". Watch the press interview where Tina sits silently while Ike offers his theory as to why the Phil Spector record failed. It's as telling about Ike as is his reply when he is asked directly about his abuse of Tina.

My favorite parts of the film were the stories of Ike and Tina's first move to Hollywood where the stories were accompanied with shots of the empty house now. Shots of the bedroom were chilling and heartbreaking while Tina's son Craig recalled an incident where Ike threw hot coffee on his mother. Also loved the whole story of how Tina had to be roped into recording the biggest hit of her career "What's Love Got to do with It". Was fascinated by the shots of some British bubble gum group who recorded it first with no success.

Commentary is provided by, among others, Angela Bassett, Oprah Winfrey, Roger Davies, who managed Tina from 1979 to 2000, a former Ike and Tina backup singer named Le'Jeune Fletcher, and Tina's current husband Erwin Bach. A riveting and heartbreaking tribute to a rock and roll legend.



The Color Purple
Steven Spielberg shocked Hollywood when he decided to bring The Color Purple to the screen in 1985 and what resulted was a controversial and emotionally charged epic spanning almost 30 years that riveted this reviewer to the screen thanks to a richly complex screenplay carefully crafted for the screen by Spielberg's uncanny directorial eye, not to mention two of the most impressive film debuts in cinema history.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Alice Walker (which I never read), the primary story here revolves around Celie Walker, a young black girl at the turn of the century who has given birth to two children before her 15th birthday (fathered by her father), who sells her to a sexist beast who Celie refers to as "Mister", who treats her as a slave and prostitute. Mister and Celie's misery becomes more complicated with the arrival of Shug Avery, a trampy nightclub entertainer who Mister has loved for years. Then there's the story of Sophia, the strong-willed wife of Mister's wimpy son Harpo, who refuses to let Harpo treat her the way Mister treats Celie, sending her on an equally emotional journey as well.

On the surface, this story looks like the last thing that the director of some of our biggest box-office champions should tackle and something tells me this is exactly why Spielberg wanted to do it. It's not just the idea of a white director mounting a story with all black characters, but shining a light on a lot of unpleasant subject matter for a movie that have been addressed before but rarely with the candor they are here. Incest, lesbianism, rape, and, domestic abuse are given a canvas unlike anything I have ever seen before, thanks to Menno Meyjes rich adaptation of Walker's novel that doesn't soft soap anything it brings up, blends different stories to maximum effect and just when we think a plot thread has been forgotten about, it is sewn up.

Spielberg's care about this story is evident in every frame. Loved that scene when Mister is on the horse attempting to rape Nettie and that scene at the dinner table at the climax of the film where Celie finally declares her independence is glorious.

This masterpiece was nominated for 11 Oscars, including Best Picture and, shockingly, didn't win a single statue...and Spielberg wasn't even nominated. Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey both received Oscar nominations for their powerhouse film debuts as Celie and Sophia, respectively and Danny Glover turns in the performance of his career as the detestable Mister. Also loved Desreta Jackson as a teenage Celie. Spielberg took a story that was probably believed impossible to film and created a breathtaking film that had me on the verge of tears for most of the running time. Adapted into a Broadway musical in 2005.



The Week of
Despite the presence of Adam Sandler and Chris Rock in the starring roles, 2018's The Week Of doesn't have nearly enough laughs to legitimize its obscenely long running time.

Sandler plays Kenny Lustig, a Long Island contractor who is going broke and out of his mind trying to pay for the perfect wedding for his daughter to the son of a wealthy California doctor played by Rock. The film chronicles the week of the wedding which finds Kenny's home jammed to the rafters with relatives, including an 86 year old uncle named Seymour who lost his legs to diabetes, a recovering drug addict teetering on the edge, and a hotel that he built to house some of the groom's relatives, that is systematically falling apart.

Director and co-screenwriter Robert Smigel, a former SNL writer who also makes a cameo in the film as an ER doctor co-wrote the script with Sandler, which is a plus because Smigel has a lot of history with Sandler and Rock, but he lets a potentially funny story get away from him. The story finds Sandler and Rock facing off because Rock's character keeps trying to bail Kenny out, offering to pay for most of the wedding but it's very important to Kenny that he do this himself.

And this is the one thing in this film that works, this Kenny Lustig character. After a long career dependent on this manic man child characterization that Sandler put some variations on for dozens of movies during the last 25 years, he and Smigel finally give Sandler a chance to play an actual adult in a comedic setting, unlike the not so funny goings-on in Uncut Gems and it really works. Sandler has rarely been so sweet and likable onscreen and it is his character that is the heart of this film and keeps the viewer invested, despite the fact that the film seems to go on forever.

Most of the supporting characters are annoying and a lot of the stuff that goes on here isn't nearly as funny as Smigel and Sandler think it is. There is a scene at a baseball game featuring Kenny's youngest son that is a total waste of time, not to mention the scene where Sandler, his wife (Rachel Dratch), and his cousin (Steve Buscemi) fill the mayor's office with bats (don't ask). I have to admit that every thing involving the 86 year odl guy with no legs was gold. Fans of Sandler and Rock will want to take a look, even if it is only sporadically funny and about 40 minutes too long.



The Flim Flam Man
Films like The Sting and Smokey and the Bandit owe a lot to 1967's The Flim Flam Man, a rowdy and whimsical action comedy that still remains watchable after all these years thanks to a sometimes logic-defying story, a dazzling change of pace performance from its star, and a superb supporting cast of veterans.

George C. Scott, as always, commands the screen as Mordecai Jones, a veteran con man who hooks up with a young army deserter named Curley (Michael Sarrazin) and begins cheating and stealing from the residents of a small rural area, which eventually puts the two of them on the road with a sheriff on their tale, which doesn't stop Curley from pursuing a romance with a young sexpot (Sue Lyon) from whom he and Mordecai stole a car.

William Rose, who won an Oscar the same year for his screenplay to Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, has given us a screenplay (based on a novel by Guy Owen) that brings together two very likable together and is a little too protective of them, allowing them to get away with a lot more than they would have if this film had been made during the new millenium. The close calls that Mordecai and Curley experience during the running time are somewhat similar to a Warner Brothers cartoon, with the same kind of action that one expects from a cartoon...the film film contains a couple of beautifully mounted car chases that bring to mind the work of director/stunt man Hal Needham. If I had a quibble with the story, it didn't make sense to me that Curley puts himself and Mordecai in jeopardy by pursuing Lyon's character, who the authorities should have been watching from the moment her car was stolen.

Director Irving Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back) keeps things fast-paced if not necessarily realistic, perfectly balancing viable action sequences with the beautiful relationship that develops between Mordecai and Curley, which bends throughout the story but never breaks.

Scott is wonderful in a delightful change of pace for the actor and Sarrazin impresses in one of his earliest roles as young Curley. The terrific supporting cast is rich with familiar faces like Harry Morgan, Jack Albertson, Strother Martin, Albert Salmi, Alice Ghostley, and Woodrow Parfrey. Jerry Goldsmith's bouncy music score is the icing on this entertaining cinematic cake that holds up beautifully.



A Quiet Place Part II
Director and screenwriter John Krasinski has once again crafted an uncanny combination of unerring suspense and the immediate "Boo" as he returns to the Abbott family of Spring Creek for A Quiet Place Part II a spine-tingling sequel to the 2018 nail-biter that impresses by not going where those of us who saw the first film thought a sequel would go.

As we reacquaint ourselves with the Abbotts in this 2020 sequel, we find Evelyn (Emily Blunt), daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), son Marcus (Noah Jupe) and the baby Evelyn gave birth to at the end of the first film decide to leave their sanctuary and quickly learn there are other threats to their existence than the deadly creatures who hunt by sound that they met in the first film.

Krasinski's screenplay immediately challenges the viewer because the viewer immediately assumes that the ending of the first film had to be some kind of mistake and that somehow the sequel would reveal Krasinki's character, Lee Abbott, wasn't really dead and we think we're getting exactly what we expected when Lee Abbott is actually the first character we see in this film in the same store where the Abbotts were seen scrounging at the opening of the film, but, refreshingly, we find we couldn't be more wrong and Krasinski cements his place as cinematic puppet master, forcing us yo go where he wants and not where we expect.

As for Krasinski the director, he continues to hone his skills to a precise point where the story of this family and this continually evolving terror finds the viewer spending the majority of the running time jumping out of their chair or holding their breath. As he did in the first film, Krasinski heightens the terror by keeping the family apart physically and tops it off b bringing a stranger into the mix (Cillian Murphy). I also loved that Krasinski did here was equally divide the story between these defiant creatures whose path of destruction knows no rhyme or reason and a delicate overview of the aftermath of their destruction. Loved that shot of the camera following Regan walking by the train station and seeing all of the empty high heels on the platform or Marcus walking through the warehouse and seeing all of the empty coveralls and hardhats. Krasinski gives us a viable story that provides in-your-face scares, but allows a lot of the scares to come from the viewer's imagination.

Because of the story, I love the fact that a lot of dialogue is whispered and demands complete attention from the viewer and just when we've settled into whisper mode, the story goes attack mode and has us jumping out of our collective chairs. The film is a technical marvel, with standout cinematography, music, and, of course, sound. Krasinski has created a sequel as compelling as the original.



Lillian Russell
Despite slightly leaden direction and an overstuffed screenplay, the 1940 musical biopic Lillian Russell is still worth a look thanks to elaborate production values and a terrific cast, led by the enchanting Alice Faye in the tile role.

The film is a lovingly detailed look at the life of the legendary theater singer from her birth during the height of the suffragette movement through several romances, stardom, marriage, the birth of a child, and the resolution of a star-crossed romance.

Like the screenplay for most biopics of the 40's and 50's, I'm pretty sure William Anthony Maguire's screen most likely plays fast and loose with the facts of Lillian Russell's life, but does follow the classical musical comedy route even though the route is a little more leisurely than it needs be. The story actually begins before Russell's birth where it is drilled into the viewer's head that her father wanted a boy and not a girl, not to mention a little too much attention paid to Russell's mother's alleged role in the battle to get women the vote. The attention paid to these details would have been all right if they had become relevant later on, but they don't so they really do nothing more than pad the running time.

There are adult touches to the story that make for high drama and mixed emotions. It's a little convenient the way every male character in the film is mysteriously drawn under Lillian's spell, not to mention her propensity for accepting expensive baubles sent to her backstage from perfect strangers. Though Lillian is not presented as a fool, evidenced in her dealings with Diamond Jim Brady, who apparently thought he could buy Lillian's affections.

Twentieth Century Fox put a lot of money in bringing this lavish tale to the screen, though I have to wonder why it was filmed in black and white. The film actually received its only Oscar nomination for art direction. The costumes are absolutely stunning and it's a shame that the award category didn't come into existence for another nine years.

Alice Faye lights up the screen in the title role, proving worthy of all the money and attention put into this production and gets solid support from Henry Fonda as the reporter whose star-crossed romance anchors the story and Don Ameche, wonderful as the composer who Lillian marries and has a baby with. Also loved the scene-stealing performances of Edward Arnold as Diamond Jim Brady and Helen Westley as Lillian's grandmother. It's about 30 minutes longer than it needs to be and it's probably not an accurate representation of Lillian Russell's life and career, but for a Fox musical, there is definite entertainment value and after my second exposure to her, I'm learning that Alice Faye is always worth watching.



Four Good Days
The dazzling performances of Glenn Close and Mila Kunis notwithstanding, 2020's Four Good Days, an emotionally manipulative drama about addiction and its effects on family, is only about two thirds of a great movie, because of the completely unbelievable detour the final third of the story takes, leading to over-the-top melodramatics and an ending that's just way too convenient to be believable.

Kunis plays Molly Wheeler, a heroine addict who has hit bottom after ten years and shows up on the doorstep of her mother, Deb (Close), who won't even let her daughter in the house. Deb agrees to drive Molly to a 15th attempt at rehab where she is offered the opportunity to receive an injection that will prevent heroine from entering her body. She can't receive the injection until she's been clean for four days, but cannot stay at the rehab facility. Her mother reluctantly agrees to let her return home for the four days, on the condition that she stays in the garage.

Director and co-screenwriter Rodrigo García is to be applauded for a timely story rich with good intentions that brilliantly establishes Molly's backstory without the use of flashback. We see how painful it is for Deb to not even let her daughter in the house to take a shower. We see the nervous tension that pervades a brief reunion with Molly's children and ex-husband. We see Deb privately taking partial blame for what her daughter's life has become. We get to see so much of the past as the story only movers forward. We see Molly's stepfather making sure Deb knows what she's doing is right.

This story had me completely until the final third of the film when Molly wants Deb to take her to look for a fellow addict who she's worried about. Addicts are among the most self-absorbed people on the planet and the last thing they're going to be thinking about with two days clean is what's going on with someone else. Though the story keeps us guessing about Molly's ambition to get clean, it offers no easy solutions, until a rushed ending where everything is wrapped up in a way too tidy bow.

Glenn Close offers one of her richest performances as the tortured Deb, done the same year as Hillbilly Elegy, which earned her an 8th Oscar nomination, but this performance is far superior and might have won her that award. Kunis is a revelation as Molly, a performance devoid of glamour playing a character unlike anything she's ever done. It's the performances of these two actresses that almost make the problems with the story forgivable. Though anyone with any experience on either side of addiction will find something they can relate to here.



The Godfather
An instant classic and the Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1972, The Godfather is the sweeping and electrifying epic that set the gold standard for mob drama without ever utilizing the word "mob" or "mafia". At its core, what Francis Ford Coppola has done here is crafted an effectively layered look at the varied definitions of the word "family."

The film opens at what is considered a classic family event...the wedding of the daughter of Vito Corleone, the dying patriarch of a crime dynasty whose power, reach, influence, and respect knows no bounds and what happens when an attempt on Vito's life motivates him to gradually hand over control of his empire to his reluctant son, Michael, who has never had the same kind of interest in the business as his hot-headed brother, Sonny, his adopted brother Tom, who serves as the organization's lawyer, and the weak-willed Fredo, who wants more than anything to have an important role in the running of his father's organization, but has neither the skill nor the stomach.

The Oscar-winning screenplay by Coppola and Maria Puzo, who wrote the book the film is based on, seamlessly waves several different stories involving the family's sometimes very quiet way of wresting control of several different dramas, including a famous singer (a character allegedly based on Frank Sinatra), who seeks Vito's assistance in getting a role in a movie, fending off a rival family who want the Corleone's to expand their empire to the drug trade, an area that , surprisingly, Vito wants nothing to do with but Sonny does, and a dirty cop who has assaulted Michael and must be eliminated.

Coppola displays an uncanny ability to use violence to greatest effect by not having the entire film be a blood bath. Even though the wedding of Vito's daughter, Connie is also utilized as an opportunity to gain favor from the Don, we are surprised when the first request of the Corleone influence in a matter is politely refused by Vito. Violence is not utilized for violence's sake and the violence in this film doesn't fill every frame of the film. We learn that violence is a final option for the Corleones when everything else has failed and when it comes down to that, they don't play...Sonny's bloody demise being a prime example. Of course, violence becomes the ultimate storytelling tool in the restaurant scene where Michael takes out the dirty cop and the drug kingpin, the stunning turning point of the film where the film stops being about Don Corleone and starts being about Michael.

At the center of all the bloodshed is an almost Shakespeare-like look at a royal family and how the obvious choice to take over the throne is not a willing participant at first. Love when Michael and his new girlfriend, Kay arrive at the wedding and Kay starts asking him all these questions about the family business and Michael tries diplomatically to explain without really explaining. This scene is so beautifully written because it is the beginning of the reveal of how Michael is more like his father than any of his brothers.

I also love the unerring detail that Coppola puts into the detail of the setting up of the restaurant assassination. It's so deft having all of these guys quietly putting their heads together to figure out how this has to be done, and then watch Michael execute it precisely as planned. Masterful storytelling that sends the film to a completely different level. Have to wonder how popular this film would have been if made now during this "Me too" area with the humiliating and abusive treatment of the female characters, especially Connie, the lovely bride of the opening scene, whose fairy tale wedding was a precursor to doom.

The film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, but people tend to forget that even though it did win Best Picture, it only won two other awards that night...for Coppola and Puzo's screenplay and Marlon Brando's second Oscar for Outstand Lead Actor, an award he would refuse. The big winner that night was Cabaret, which won eight awards that night, including Bob Fosse's shocking blindsiding of Coppola for Best Director.

Brando commands the screen and revived his sagging career, for what is essentially a supporting role. He's top billed and won Best Actor because he was Marlon Brando. Robert Duvall and James Caan both received nominations for their roles as legal eagle Tom and hothead Sonny. There's also standout work from Richard Castellano, Al Lettieri, Diane Keaton as Kay, and a heartbreaking turn from John Cazale as Fredo, but for my money, Al Pacino owns this movie with his understated yet powerful Michael, a performance that earned him a supporting nomination, even though the role is clearly a lead. Despite a few roles prior to it, this is the one that made Pacino an official movie star and deservedly so. There have been many imitations and rip-offs, but they all pale next to this granddaddy of them all, where the primary credit has to go the enormously gifted Francis Ford Coppola.



Unhinged (2020)
Unhinged is an outrageously over-the-top and illogical nail biter that does provide some sporadic scares and will definitely make you think twice the next time you think about flipping someone off in traffic.

Rachel is a divorced single mom who is driving her son to school when she gets caught at a traffic light behind a guy and, because she's running late, honks her horn at him when the light turns green. What we know that Rachel doesn't is that we've just witnessed this man murder two people in their house and then burn the house to the ground. The man gets to confront Rachel correctly and demands an apology from her that she refuses, she becomes the next target of this man's rage.

Screenwriter Carl Ellsworth has given us a very scary story on the surface, but the motivation behind what happens isn't strong or made clear enough to justify what this dangerous psychopath puts Rachel and her family through. We learn that the man was fired from his job, but we never learn who the two people are that he murdered in the opening scene so it's hard to understand why he not only terrorizes this mother and son, strangers to him, not to mention several innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire, including a police officer trying to help Rachel.

Director Derrick Borte does keep the action moving at a nice clip, which was probably no accident. The lightning pace of the story doesn't allow the viewer too much time to think about what's going on because, if they do, they just won't buy the unspeakable terror this guy puts this innocent mother and son through. Not to mention the fact that there's no way that this guy would have gotten away with the carnage he does if this story had been done in a more realistic tone. There's a scene early on in a restaurant where the man murders Rachel's friend in front of dozens of witnesses who either hide under their tables or sit their and take video of the murder instead of getting actual help.

Oscar winner Russell Crowe gives an effectively menacing performance in the starring role, a character who is so devoid of conscience and soul that the screenplay doesn't even give the character a name. Caren Pistorius is an appropriate blend of strength and vulnerability for the damsel in distress and Gabriel Bateman is quite good as her son. The film provides some genuine "boos" and will keep you riveted to the screen as long as you don't think about it too much.



Madonna: Truth or Dare
In 1991, Madonna was pretty much the biggest music star on the planet so a documentary taking us behind the scenes of her "Blonde Ambition" tour seemed like a no-brainer, but in 2021, this documentary comes off as a pretentious and dated look at the star, that provides some entertainment, but provides precious little insight into who Madonna Louise Ciccone really is...oh, and it seems to go on forever.

To put this in perspective, it's important to know where Madonna was at the time this documentary was made. She was fresh off playing Breathless Mahoney in Dick Tracy with Warren Beatty (who also appears here because Beatty always dates his leading ladies) and she had a # 1 smash single called "Vogue" that was a monster and it was on the strength of these successes that Madonna became the executive producer of this carefully manipulated look behind the scenes of her tour that takes us behind the scenes of this physically and emotionally exhausting tour of the US and Europe.

As the Executive Producer, Madonna had the last word on what ended up on the screen and that's glaringly obvious because the star constructed a hard-to-ignore fourth wall between her and the viewer that keeps the subject completely distanced from the audience. She provides a carefully scripted narration to sections of the film, but never sits down and allows herself to be interviewed or asked any questions.

I've always felt that in a successful celebrity documentary, I should learn things about the subject that I never knew before. Every moment the star spends onscreen feels carefully staged, even though she never makes bones about being on camera. She shares personal stories about her life, but the sharing is done with the dancers, back-up singers, and her personal assistant. She never speaks directly to the camera. Research revealed that after the release of this film, three of the back up dancers featured here sued the star, so take from that what you will.

My favorite moment in the film where I felt like I saw the closest thing I'll ever see to Madonna the person was a quiet little scene where she gets on the phone and calls her father, asking him if he's coming to the show and how many tickets he wants. Madonna turns into a 13 year old girl during this scene and it is the most vividly human moment in the film.

There is a lot of footage of Madonna freaking out about equipment malfunction and the actually concert footage shown is a lot of fun. The choreography for her concerts is inventive and provocative. Director Alek Keshishian does show some real imagination in his presentation of "Vogue". The only thing I learned about the woman that I never knew before was the answer when one of her dancers asked her who the only love of her life has been for her entire life and, believe me, the answer will shock you. But that left another hour and 58 minutes of some serious entertainment peaks and valleys that made this film seem six hours long. Hardcore Madonna fans will be in heaven I guess, but the whole thing just felt so...yesterday.



Blackbird (2019)
2019's Blackbird is an emotionally manipulative family drama that falters during the second act with some uncomfortable story detours, but remains watchable thanks to sensitive direction and a wonderful, hand-picked ensemble cast,

Based on a 2014 Danish film called Silent Heart, this is the story of a free-spirited woman named Lily, who is dying of a disease that will leave her a vegetable. Lily has instead chosen to have her husband, Paul, assist in a suicide while she is still able to function. The weekend before she plans to leave the planet, she invites the people closest to her for one final gathering to say goodbye. The attendees include her older daughter, the tightly wound Jennifer, her stuffed shirt husband, Michael and her teenage son, Jonathan; Jennifer's sister, Anna, and her girlfriend, Chris, and Lily's best friend, Liz.

Christian Torpe was allowed to adopt his own 2014 screenplay into an Americanized version of the same story which is engaging and emotionally charged for the first half of the story, where we find a familiar story dressed up with additional layers that we don't usually see in stories like this. The legality of assisted suicide is actually addressed here, made all the more disturbing because this is a subject that should have been addressed long before this fateful weekend. On a lighter side, I loved that one of the last things Lily wants to do with her family is celebrate Christmas, even making her son-in-law go out and cut down a Christmas tree and we can't help but laugh when, after an elaborate Christmas dinner and before the gifts, Lily insists the family smoke a joint together.

And just when we're completely enveloped in the proceedings and just want Lily to have everything that she wants, suddenly the story shifts to the family members whose personal feelings about this weekend as well as their own personal issues take center stage, which just felt wrong. I hated the reveal that Anna did not like what her mother was doing and is planning to put a stop to it. Jennifer and Anna's issues as sisters and the issues between Jennifer and Michael also pull focus from what Lily wants and that just felt wrong. There's another major reveal before Lily's journey home that just felt unnecessary but leads to film back to where it should have stayed. There are a little moments here and there that stay with you...my fight with tears was lost when Lily gave Paul her wedding ring at the dinner table.

Director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) offers a sensitive yet easy going pacing to this story that also has just the slightest voyeuristic touch, allowing us a peak at what is a very private weekend with a family that we really shouldn't be watching. The film is beautifully photographed and the cast is spectacular, featuring superb performances from Oscar winner Susan Sarandon whose delicately-nuanced Lily commands the screen, Sam Neill has her loving husband, and Oscar winner Kat e Winslet as Jennifer. Mia Wasikowska does a flashy turn as Anna and newcomer Anson Boon is an eye-opener as Jonathan. Despite the second act detour, this film did have my stomach in knots for the majority of its running time.



The Cannonball Run
The late Burt Reynolds was probably the biggest movie star on the planet in 1981. His movies weren't Merchant-Ivory, but they made billions at the box office. Reynolds had so much juice that he could put just about anything onscreen at clean up at the box office, evidenced in a silly and pointless action comedy called The Cannonball Run, which, incredibly was the #3 biggest money making film of 1981.

The film is centered on a wild cross country road race that ends in California, that is illegal and dangerous but apparently anyone with a set of wheels wants to participate. Reynolds plays JJ McClure, an annual participant in the race who thinks the answer to winning the race is traveling in an ambulance, accompanied by best pal Vincent (Dom DeLuise), a drunken doctor (Jack Elam) and a pretty conservationist (Farrah Fawcett) pretending to be a comatose patient so that they can ignore traffic signals.

This film is apparently based on a real race called the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, but it's hard to imagine that this real life event is as out of hand as what happens in this comedy, which is pretty much just a hodgepodge of car crashes, cops chasing racers, racers chasing cops, female drivers distracting cops with their physical assets, and a Jewish guy who looks exactly like Roger Moore.

It seems a lot of thought wasn't put into Brock Yates' screenplay, which takes way too long to introduce the participants in the race, including Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. as a couple of drunken gamblers masquerading as priests, Jamie Farr as an Arab Sheik, Bert Convy and Warren Berlinger who are riding a motorcycle in the race disguised as husband and wife, and Jackie Chan. George Furth does manage to generate a few laughs as a stuffy conservationist trying to put a stop to the race.

This was Reynolds' 24th film and he and director Hal Needham decided to tamper too much with what had worked for Reynolds up to this point, as a lot of the action is just a variation on stuff we've seen in better Reynolds films, Smokey and the Bandit in particular. There's also a certain sadness that hangs over this film as about 99% of the all-star cast is no longer with us. This film ended some careers and began others, but incredibly, it kept Burt Reynolds king of the box office, but I'm not sure why. If the truth be told, the funniest thing in the movie is Roger Moore as Seymour Goldfarb as Roger Moore.



No Sudden Move
The screenplay is overly complex and takes a little too long to get where it's going, but the 2021 crime thriller No Sudden Move remains watchable thanks to some crisp performances and the skill of the Oscar winning director of Traffic behind the camera.

The setting is Detroit in the 1950's and as the story opens, we see three criminal lowlifes being hired by a crime lord from their past they want nothing to do with, to retrieve a document, but as the allegedly simple assignment goes horribly wrong, their attempts to figure out why lead them to a criminal conspiracy of epic consequence that we never see coming.

Steven Soderbergh applies his usual slick and glossy detail to the delicate mounting of this story written by Ed Solomon, that actually combines actual events and fictional characters into such an effective blur that we're actually shocked by the epilogue offered at the conclusion of the story. What begins as a typical underworld drama initially confuses due to a canvas where most of the principal characters are drawn in shades of gray, making it impossible or the viewer to figure out who we're supposed to be rooting for. As the three thugs we are introduced to at the beginning of the story immediately find themselves holding an innocent accountant and his family hostage, the viewer is bamboozled as these guys find themselves pawns in a deadly conspiracy that boils down to one codebook and one document which could have an unprecedented effect on the entire automotive industry.

Soderbergh allows the story to move at a leisurely pace that, at times, tries viewer patience and confuses because as the story progresses, the canvas becomes bigger and bigger. The crime lord that the three thugs don't want to work for at the beginning turns out to be the tip of the iceberg and by this time, viewer empathy has completely reversed and even though we're not 100% sure of what's going on here, we sure want to find out as the final third of the film commences and surprises are provided right down to the final reel.

Soderbergh has dressed up this story beautifully with the aid of first rate production values, bringing the 1950's to life and has assembled a terrific cast committed to his vision. Don Cheadle and Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro are razor sharp as 2/3 off the trio hired at the beginning of the film. Solid support is provided by Jon Hamm, Kieran Culkin, and especially David Harbour. Also loved Brendan Fraser in an eye-opening turn as one of those mob enforcers that you'd expect actors like the late Frank Vincent or Steven Schirripa to play. David Holmes' creepy music score frames the story nicely, I just wish it had been a little simpler to follow.



You're a Big Boy Now
Legendary Oscar-winning filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola earned his Master of Fine Arts from UCLA film school when he submitted a 1966 cinematic assault of the senses called You're a Big Boy Now, which features mad filmmaking technique, some eye-opening performances, and a story that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Bernard Chanticleer (Peter Kastner) is a virginal and socially inept 19 year old who works at the New York Public Library. He works for his father (Rip Torn) who ignores him for the most part but his mother (Geraldine Page) is a smothering shrew who redefines the word overprotective, who writes Bernard letters that include locks of her hair and has decided her primary mission as a mother is to keep all women from him. Bernard moves into boarding house where the landlady (Julie Harris) keeps a rooster that attacks beautiful women and somehow attracts the attention of pretty co-worker Amy (Karen Black), but Bernard only has eyes for an icy and insensitive go-go dancer named Barbara Darling (Elizabeth Hartman).

Let me start by saying Coppola displays uncanny skills as a filmmaker here and it's easy to see that this was going to be a director to watch. The film features incredible camerawork that makes maximum use of its on location filming in New York. There's a scene where Bernard chases a fugitive kite all over Manhattan that's beautifully shot but really has no purpose other than padding the running time. Coppola's use of New York as a cinematic canvas rivals Woody Allen, working closely with film editor Aram Avakian in keeping the audience on their toes, with a film that somehow moves at a lightning clip but still seems four hours long.

It's Coppola's adaptation of a novel by David Benedictus that really weighs this film down. Maybe it's Benedictus' fault and not Coppola's but the screenplay by Coppola is just hard to latch onto. This Bernard character is way to inept to be believable...he's not just a virgin, but he doesn't even know what a cigarette is. He spends almost fifteen minutes of screentime cruising Times Square pornography shops where Coppola assaults us with dark and disturbing sexual imagery in what seems to be a deliberate effort by Coppola to shock and/or offend. This triangle with Bernard, Amy, and Barbara makes no sense either...there's a scene that runs about 10 minutes where Barbara asks Bernard to move in with her that completely defies logic.

Coppola gets some interesting performances from his cast here. Kastner, best known for a 60's sitcom called The Ugliest Girl in Town, tends to grate on the nerves, but Torn is slick and understated and Page's mother from hell earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Karen Black, in her second feature film, is charming as Amy, but it's Elizabeth Hartman's brassy performance as Barbara that really dominates the proceedings, a role unlike anything she had done. Julie Harris is also effectively cast against type as Bernard's ditzy landlady. Loved the song score by the Loving Spoonful too. An alleged comedy, that's bizarre and often silly, but it's never boring. A curio to be sure.



Queen Bees
On the surface, the story appears to be The Golden Girls meets Mean Girls, but the 2021 comedy-drama Queen Bees is a mostly predictable entertainment with a serious injection of star power that makes the film a lot more fun than it should have been.

Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn plays Helen Wilson, a vivacious, aging widow who is in denial about being able to take care of herself, who has to temporarily move into an assisted living facility after she almost burns her house down. Fighting the change with every fiber in her being, she quickly dismantles the three snooty old biddies (Jane Curtin, Ann-Margret, Loretta Devine), who have declared themselves queens of the facility and then finds herself fighting a potential romance with a charming new resident (James Caan).

Donald Martin's screenplay is a little on the thin side, but veteran television director Michael Lembeck gives the film a lot more meat by casting it with pros (some who have been from the big screen for way too long) and allowing their many years in the business to imbue their characters and make them completely endearing to the audience, who, despite a surprise plot twist here and there, see where this is going pretty early on but don't care because the ride is such a pleasure.

Needless to say, the ridiculously talented Burstyn is the heart of the story and proves that 60 years in the business has not harmed her ability to command the screen. She is absolutely enchanting here and even if nothing else in this movie worked, her performance alone was reason to watch. I especially loved when she's teaching Caan how to box step and when she gets high with Devine, not to mention every moment where she puts the true villian of the piece, her daughter (Elizabeth Mitchell).

The legendary Ann-Margret is a total scene stealer as the aging flirt who wants the local nursing home Romeo (Christopher Lloyd) all to herself. Jane Curtin completely invests in the roe of the bitchy Janet Poindexter and I can't remember the last time I enjoyed James Caan onscreen this much. Also have to mention Matthew Barnes, who lights up the screen as the best grandson ever. There's nothing innovative here, but it's nice to see a film where most of the cast is over the age of 60 can still provide solid entertainment. What a pleasant surprise.



The Dolly Sisters
Twentieth Century Fox spared no expense in bringing 1942's The Dolly Sisters to the big screen, a lavishly mounted musical that is actually based on a real life sister act. Research revealed that one of the sisters actually lent her scrapbooks to the studio to help them mount the story.

Betty Grable plays Jenny and June Haver plays Rosie, the title characters, a sister act who are struggling in vaudeville until they meet a struggling songwriter named Harry Fox (John Payne), who gets them an audition with Oscar Hammerstein, which begins their meteoric rise to stardom, including an extensive tour of Europe, including a gig at the Folies Bergere. The act is threatened when Harry falls in love with Jenny, but can't deal with the fact that she's a bigger star than she is. Of course, because it's 1942, the war comes into the story where Harry enlists while Rosie actually finds romance with a wealthy department store owner.

The screenplay could have used a little tightening as the film is definitely longer than it needed to be, but the story contains a lot of plot elements that just wouldn't fly in 2021. Like a lot of showbiz musicals of the 40's and 50's, the sisters' rise to stardom is way too fast to be completely believable. Even more troublesome is the sexist attitude of Harry's character,
who expects Jenny to give up her career so that she can be with him. There's an infuriating scene where Harry visits Jenny while on leave, and tells her that if she doesn't give up her career and meet him at the train station, they're done.

The second half of the film does get a little melodramatic, but Irving Cummings' direction seems inspired by Florenz Ziegfeld, elaborate to the nth degree, a feast for the eyes and ears, including breathtaking sets and Oscar-worthy costumes by the legendary Orry-Kelly.

The musical numbers are terrific with two standouts: "Don't Be Too Old Fashioned/Powder Lipstick, and Rouge" is an elaborate production number where the chorus girls are dressed as makeup (clever work by Orry-Kelly). The other, which might not fly in 2021 was "The Darktown Strutters Ball" which Grable and Haver sang partially in French and are backed up dozens of chorus girls in black face.

Grable and Haver are wonderful together and unlike Down Argentine Way, we get more than ample exposure to the million dollar legs of Grable. John Payne holds his own with the ladies and he and Grable would make other films together. Also loved SZ "Cuddles" Sakall as the girls' uncle. It's a little longer than it needed to be, but it's richly entertaining, especially for Grable fans.



What Lies Below
What Lies Below, a 2020 Amazon production, is a creepy psychological thriller featuring some imaginative direction and providing some genuine scares as long as you don't think about it too much.

Liberty Wells is a brilliant but socially inept 16 year old who is picked up from summer camp by her mom, Michelle, who takes her to their secluded mountain cabin where Michelle introduces her daughter to her charming and gorgeous soon to be husband, John, who does everything he can to make Liberty accept him as part of her mother's life. Liberty senses something off about John initially as he seems to be coming on to her, but eventually evidence begins to mount for Liberty that John just might not be human.

Director and screenwriter Braden R. Duemmler has provided us with a story that offers not only a dash of originality but elements from classic thrillers, blending them just thoroughly enough that the novice filmgoer might not notice. The initial direction of the story, which seems to be a romantic triangle between the three principals, is beautifully established with loads of erotic imagery that makes us think we know exactly what's going on. There's this beautifully shot moment of Liberty peeking around a corner and seeing John reach for something and the camera reveals his t-shirt moving up to reveal his bare waistline that speaks volumes.

Duemmler tries to give an importance to what he's doing with opening shots of Liberty and Michelle travelling to the cabin, shot from the sky and closing in on the vehicle, very reminiscent of the Torrance family driving to the Overlook in The Shining, that sort of foreshadow the terror to come. Unfortunately, once it's revealed that John might not be human, the story begins to make less and less sense, as we have to wonder how long John and Michelle have been together and how he's been able to keep the truth about him from her. We also wonder why Liberty takes so long to seek help when she knows there's something terribly wrong here. John's agenda does come to light, but the explanation provided the viewer is unsatisfying.

Duemmler's work here reminded me a lot of the Mike Flanagan film called Hush, there's a whole lot of directing skill on display here, with strong assists from his cinematography and editing teams, but the story is just a little too spotty to convince. Ema Horvath shows some promise as young Liberty and Mena Suvari, who has played more than her share of teenage temptresses over the years, is surprisingly effective as the mom letting her loins run her life and Trey Tucker lights up the screen in his fifth feature film appearance as John. Gavin Keese's creepy music is a plus, though it reminded me of the music in The Shining as well. If you turn off your brain, there are some scares to be had here.