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Crimes of the Heart
Despite the presence of three Oscar winning actresses in the starring roles, the 1986 film version of Crimes of the Heart is a slow and unimaginative movie that keeps pretending to lead to something and never gets there.

This is the story of three eccentric sisters who are reunited in the small southern town where they grew up when their mother commits suicide and one of the sisters gets arrested for shooting her husband. As two sisters try to get to the bottom of what the third did, they find themselves once again find themselves at the center of town gossip, thanks primarily to their snarky and prudish cousin, who has been the bane of their existence forever.

Lenny (Diane Keaton) is a lonely woman whose birthday is being quietly celebrated by herself. Meg (Jessica Lange) was the town tramp when she was younger but left town to try to become an actress, a dream that never really panned out. Babe (Sissy Spacek) is the baby sister married to wealthy but tyrannical lawyer who she shoots after seeing his wife spending innocent time with a hunky young black man.

The film is based on a play by Beth Henley that opened in November of 1981 and ran a little over a year. Henley was allowed to adapt her own play into a screenplay, which is always a risk that, in this case, didn't really pay off. The screenplay is very talky, rich with long rambling Tennessee Williams-type monologues that seem to offer insight into who these sisters are, but it never really does.

Director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) provides some directorial flourishes that do offer something the screenplay doesn't. I don't know if it was in the play, but I loved the attention Beresford put into the attention of the early scene of Lenny attempting to put a birthday candle on a cookie speaks volumes because we assume she has the only one who has remembered it is either Meg or Babe's birthday, but we're a little startled when Meg reveals that it's Lenny's birthday. Also loved a tiny throwaway moment of Meg on the bus home and notices a location memorable to her, that causes just the tiniest smile to appear.

A serious shot of star power helps. Keaton and Lange are solid, as always, and Sissy Spacek's Babe earned her a fourth Best Actress nomination. Tess Harper's bitchy Cousin Chick earned her a Supporting Actress nomination as well. Like all of Beresford's work, the film is beautifully photographed, but considering all the talent involved, should have been a lot more interesting than it was.



Sly
The life and career of Hollywood icon Sylvester Stallone is profiled with some semblance of imagination in a 2023 Netflix documentary called Sly.

The documentary begins in an interesting way as we have apparently caught Stallone at a crossroads in his life and he think his life is stagnating, so he has decided to pack up his mansion and move back to the east coast. This allows us an extensive look at Stallone's art, adorning every walls and the millions of souvenirs from his career that fill his home, including a duplicate of the Rocky statue that stands in Philadelphia. I loved the shots of several shots of scripts from his movies where most of what is on the page has been crossed off in magic marker followed by leather bound copies of all his screenplays.

This brings me to what was the biggest surprise that I learned about Stallone. After an overview of his hellish upbringing in Hells Kitchen with his abusive father, we learn that Sly's real passion in movie making was really in screenwriting. Apparently, Stallone pretty much re-wrote his first major film The Lords of Flatbush, which led him to writing Rocky. Loved hearing from his own mouth that there was a lot of interest in Hollywood in doing the film, but they wanted someone else to play Rocky Balboa. Needless to say the writer and the actor were a package deal. I also heard for the first time that none of his supporting cast in Rocky were his original choices for the roles.

One thing he talks about that sort of shocked me and considering his career it shouldn't have. Stallone is the only actor I have ever heard talk about the virtue and importance of the sequel. Considering so much of his career has been spent making sequels, it still surprised me. Also loved hearing that he went off book during a scene with De Niro in Cop Land to get what he wanted from the actor. He also proved to be a student of film, showing us the importance of the film A Lion in Winter.

Commentary is provided by Talia Shire, Quentin Tarantino, Henry Winkler, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Herzfeld, Frank Stallone, and Jennifer Flavin. Loved this revealing documentary that introduced me to a man nothing like his screen persona...a man of intelligence and taste.



Kate & Leopold
The fish out of water story and the romantic fantasy blend to pretty credible effect in an overly complex comedy from 2001 called Kate & Leopold whose overstuffed screenplay can be forgiven thanks to the performances from the leads.

An actual 19th century Prince, Prince Leopold, the Duke of Albany, has been tracked from modern day Manhattan by a young scientist who, when discovered to be tracking Prince Leopold, is pursued by the Duke for answers as to why he is following him. In his pursuit for answers, he falls through a hole in the space time continuum, landing him in modern day Manhattan, where he finds himself falling for the scientist's ex and downstairs neighbor, an effervescent advertising executive.

Let's be honest, if you strip this story to the bone, there's not a lot of originality to it, except for the fact that this Duke of Albany was an actual person, who research revealed, did invent the elevator. We've seen the unhappy prince in millions of reboots of Cinderella and the time travel in the Back to the Future franchise and, of course, the Duke becoming a star of the lady's television commercial was pretty much a retread of every episode of Bewitched made, and maybe that's why the screenplay seems a little top heavy because what we're seeing isn't exactly. And the climax will definitely bring to mind the Tom Hanks comedy Splash.

Director and co-screenwriter James Mangold (Walk the Line) makes up for the problems in his story with the casting of Hugh Jackman and Meg Ryan in the title roles. Jackman's performances is a perfect marriage of actor and character, making some of the less believable elements of the story hard to swallow. He is absolutely charming during his opening moments in modern day Manhattan encountering all of the modern conveniences of 2001. Though by the halfway point of the movie, he seems to have mastered 21st century technology pretty quickly. Ryan, the queen of 90's romantic comedy, offers another charming character, though she's not much different than a lot of other Ryan characters.

There is a subplot involving Kate's little brother, Charlie that slows things down, but Breckin Meyer is quite charming in the role and Liev Schreiber's loopy performance as Kate's ex is fun too, but this is Jackman's show and he makes you forgive just about anything that's wrong with the movie.



Dane Cook: Above it All
I remember when I first saw Dane Cook do stand up on HBO during the early 2000's, I wasn't really impressed but it seemed like everyone in his second special thought he was the funniest human being on the planet (the fact that the special was filmed in his hometown probably didn't hurt). Unfortunately, the last couple of decades have not been good to the comedian, but he did stage the beginning of a renaissance last year with a special called Dane Cook: Above it All.

For a little context, it should be known that at the beginning of the 21st century, Cook was the hottest standup on the planet, one of three people to sell out Madison Square Garden (George Carlin and Eddie Murphy being the other two), but went through a lot of career turmoil after that. A panic attack kept him from being hired as an SNL cast member. He had a very public feud with fellow standup Louis CK, who had accused Cook of stealing jokes from him, and had millions of dollars stolen by his siblings, an event that actually became a question on Jeopardy. He was also lambasted for some very inappropriate humor, including a joke he made about the shooting at the movie theater in Colorado that brought his career to a halt.

This special finds Cook hitting the stage wearing a burgundy hoodie, jeans, and white sneakers as he descends the stairs of his palatial home in Los Angeles. Research revealed that the audience were strangers who were bussed to Cook's home not knowing where they were going. Yes, the concert is shot from his house and we know this because he mentions it approximately 27 times in the first ten minutes of the show. He also thought it was important for us to know that the money he made from the movie Good Luck Chuck built the house. Once he finally decided that the audience understood they were at his house, he launched into an interminable routine about his encounter with a stalker that took almost half the screen time and provided precious few laughs for this reviewer.

Though his audience loved the stalker story, he almost lost them when he started talking about his new girlfriend, who is 23 years his junior. He seemed to sense this and got off the subject of her pretty quickly. He did do some funny stuff about television crime and how to survive in court, but there was a point during one story where as he ended it, he made it clear to his audience that he didn't get the reaction that he expected to get from the story.

One thing that I remember from the last time I saw Cook do standup that hasn't changed a bit is the unabashed arrogance of this guy. Despite all of the hills and valleys of this guy's career, this guy still thinks he's the funniest guy alive and puts up a definite wall between himself and his audience. Right after he ended the show, he immediately followed with, "You can go home now." Nice guy.



Days of Heaven
My recent viewing of the Terrence Malick's Badlands motivated my first viewing of 1978's Days of Heaven), a visually opulent tale of loneliness, greed and lust that rivets the viewer with its visuals and it's emotionally-charged story.

It's turn of the century midwest where we meet Bill (Richard Gere) and Abby (Brooke Adams) who work as day labor for a wealthy farmer (Sam Shepherd) who we are immediately informed is dying. Bill and Abby have been together for a long time, but for some reason, at work they claim to be siblings. Whatever they are, it's not long before the farmer becomes obsessed with Abby. Bill decides to push a reluctant Abby into pursuing a relationship with the farmer so that they can possibly a hand on the man's fortune, but when Abby marries the farmer and begins developing actual feelings for the farmer, the story moves into several places we don't see coming.

Malick employs a lot of detail into establishing the atmosphere of this film and I don't mean just in terms of settings. He leisurely shows us what this day labor life is like, looking like something akin to indentured slavery, if not outright slavery. We see employs being drafted for the job at the beginning and there is absolutely no screening process. They pretty much hire whoever wants the work, men, women, and children. As a matter a pre-teen character named Linda (Linda Manz) serves as the film's narrator, even though I found the narration to be unnecessary.
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The meat of this film is the fiery love triangle that develops between the three principals. Malick establishes at the beginning of the film that Bill has a temper so that we will watch for it later. Even though he doesn't admit it, Bill does regret his plan the minute it is set in motion. Most fascinating though is the apex of the triangle, smart but vulnerable and confused Abby. It starts off as a simple con and I don't think she or Bill actually planned for her to marry the guy. But what intrigues the viewer is the possibility that Abby might have developed feelings for the farmer, but it's never made really clear and that's OK. And just as this triangle comes to a fever pitch, it is shoved to the side for a horrifying insect infestation that puts everyone but the farmer in danger.

Malick's attention to production values is first rate, especially the Oscar-winning cinematography by Nestor Alamendros. Richard Gere and Brooke Adams make perfect-star crossed lovers and as much of his work that I've seen, I don't think I've ever enjoyed Sam Shepherd more as the tyrannical and tortured farmer. I haven't enjoyed him this much since Frances. An instant classic at the time of its release that earns its reputation.



Nyad
Annette Bening is a deadlock for a fifth Oscar nomination for her complete command of the title role in 2023's Nyad, an often heart-stopping docudrama that despite a slightly sentimental approach to telling the story, brought enough stark realism to what we're watching that there were moments where this reviewer was fighting tears.

Bening plays Diana Nyad, the former Olympic swimmer and 30 year correspondent for ABC's Wild World of Sports, who, at the age of 60, decided to make her first attempt at doing something she knew she was not going to be able to die happily without achieving: swimming from Cuba to Florida, without the aid of a shark net and with the aid of her lifelong friend and coach, Bonnie Stoll (two time Oscar winner Jodie Foster).

Julia Cox's screenplay, adapted from a book by Nyad, impresses from the beginning as a biopic of authenticity and sincerity. Initially impressed that the film begin with an actual clip of the real Nyad appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Normally with films like this, real footage of the subject is reserved for the end of the film, but by beginning the film with this footage, an air of honesty pervaded everything we saw after that. Also liked that we didn't get a birth to death chronicle of the subject. The movie begins when Diana is 60 years old, though it does provide flashbacks to her past, these flashback have a spontaneous feel initially, but as the film progressed, each flashback had a connection to where the story is present, providing just enough backstory without ever bringing the present story to a halt.

Also loved the fact that Nyad did not succeed her first time and never gave up. We know this story wouldn't have been told if she did not succeed before the film was over, but I liked the fact that it didn't help without some serious bumps along the way. Loved that after her second or third attempt, she was about to give up when she saw another swimmer on television who said she was going to attempt the same swim but ended up not making it.

Compelling and detailed direction add to the constant fascination that pervades over the whole movie...not just some of the intense underwater storms and dangers Nyad encounters, including a very dangerous storm where the water looks like it's on fire, an insane concept, but also a fantasy sequence near the ending which features Nyad meeting her 14 year old self, which looked like something out of an Esther Williams musical.

Annette Bening's extraordinary performance is the heart of this film. She forsakes all pretense of glamour hear, I don't think she wears a drop of makeup throughout the entire film. Foster matches Bening note for note and an Oscar nomination is not out of the question for her either. Though I would prefer to see Bening honored since Foster already has two Oscars. Gorgeous cinematography, underwater photography and music are the frosting on this cinematic cake, a veritable textbook on how to make a biopic.



Tommy Boy
It ain't Merchant Ivory and it's not exactly steeped in realism, but the 1995 comedy Tommy Boy provides non-stop laughs from opening to closing credits thanks to the undeniable chemistry between David Spade and the late great Chris Farley.

Farley plays the title, the under achieving son of an auto manufacturer (Brian Dennehy), who dies on his wedding day to a gold digger (Bo Digger) trying to steal his fortune with help from her partner (Rob Lowe). Tommy learns that the company is in serious trouble and about to be bought out by another company and, in order to save his father's company, is sent on a road trip with a snotty accountant (Spade) to sell enough brake pads to save the company.

I have not seen an actor command a movie comedy like this since Eddie Murphy did in Beverly Hills Cop. Farley is exhausting, but exhausting in a good way, creating a character with Jerry Lewis type physical comedy, Chevy Chase cynicism, and a layer sweetness that makes you like this guy immediately. And a lot of this comes from the relationship that established Tommy and his dad. Farley and Dennehy are so perfect in these scenes that we think the heart of the movie is gone, but another heart does develop.

That other heart is the relationship that develops between Tommy and Richard, Spade's character. Yes, it's a very slow burn, Richard is very nasty to Tommy as the trip commences but we do see Tommy poking holes through Richard's icy exterior as well as unexpected moments of bonding that provide big laughs. LOVE the scene where the song "Superstar" by the Carpenters comes on the radio and they both pretend to be indifferent to it then in the next shot we see them both belting out the lyrics at the top of their lyrics. It would have been nice if the story had concentrated a little more on the relationship between Tommy and Richard than all the over the top stuff that happened on the road, like the destruction of Richard's car and the deer incident. The whole thing came full circle for this reviewer when Richard admitted to being Tommy's friend and admitted Tommy was his only friend. I also love that the through line of the Tommy character always stays at the forefront of everything he does...to save his father's company.

Director Peter Segal does manage to keep a cap on this big budget comedy written by the creators of Third Rock from the Sun, but never reins in the manic Farley, which is OK. Over a decade after making "10", Bo Derek still looks sensational and Rob Lowe is very funny as Paul. We also get a terrific mustache-twirling villain played by Dan Aykroyd, but this is Chris Farley's show and shows why this guy was taken from us much too soon.



Dumb Money
An absolutely insane true story has slickly been brought to the screen with stylish direction and an impressive ensemble cast in a 2023 docudrama called Dumb Money that was, at times, hard to follow, but never boring.

This is the story of a Wall Street blogger named Keith Gill (Paul Dano) who has been guiding his 412 follows to a stock called Gamestop, but has also attracted the attention of a couple of hedge funders with deep pockets, though some of Gill's followers have less than $200 to invest but believe in Gill. It's not long before we see the price of Gamestop leap from $20 a share to $350 a share, putting a lot of money in people's hands who should have sold at this point, but the stock begins to drop as quickly as it rose, putting Gill and a whole lot of other people in very hot water.

The richly complex screenplay is from the writers of The Social Network and Orange is the New Black and requires complete attention which doesn't really pay off, but what it does is endear the viewer to a handful of those 412 followers, including a nurse and single mom, an electronics store employee, and a pair of lesbian college students, who really don't have the money to be investing money in the stock market,. but their blind worship of this Keith Gill has them following him down a path that leads Gill to a subpoena from the US congress.

I had a difficult time following exactly what was going on as this film moved to its halfway point. The connection between what these regular Joes were doing with their money and what these hedge funders were doing became muddy, but its sizzle to an emotionally charged David VS Goliath story kept the film watchable. Was especially moved by everything that happened in the story affected Keith's relationship with his brother, Kevin (Pete Davidson).

The music video style direction by Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya) is a little distracting, but it's this cast that really makes this movie worth watching. Backing up Dano and Davidson are Seth Rogen, Nick Offerman, America Ferrera, Vincent D'Onofrio, Anthony Ramos, Sebastian Stan, Shailene Woodley, Kate Burton, and Clancy Brown, working together as an ensemble serving the piece. The story was a bit confusing, but that cast made it worth wading through.



The Shootist
Never been much of a John Wayne fan but was impressed by the final film of his amazing career, a lovely and moving film from 1976 called The Shootist that seemed to be a wonderful swan song to the legend's career.

Wayne plays JB Bookes, a famous gunfighter who arrives in 1901 Carson City to get a second opinion from his friend Doc Hostetler (James Stewart) about a diagnosis he received from another doctor that he is dying of cancer. When Doc confirms the diagnosis and suggests that JB stop travelling and find a place to rest, JB finds lodgings at the boarding house of the handsome Mrs. Rogers (Lauren Bacall) and her teenage son Gillom (Oscar winner Ron Howard). Mrs. Rogers and Gillom seem willing to let JB live out whatever time he has left in peace, but there are a few townfolk who don't feel the same way.

Still a little in shock about how much I enjoyed this movie. The screenplay is constructed in a series of vignettes that allow some backstory for Bookes to be revealed while simultaneously showing Bookes trying to adjust to his uncertain future. Loved the first scenes with Bookes and his doctor where Bookes wants to know exactly what he's in for and the doc can't or won't give him any definite answers. We love Gillom's wide-eyed hero worship of the man affect his mother's fear of him. We are even privy to watching people who want to profit from the man's death, including the cynical Carson City Sheriff (Harry Morgan).

I loved that no matter what kind of conflict Mrs. Rogers or Gillom were having with JB it would disappear anytime he would wince in pain. The nastiness of the sheriff near the beginning was really hard to take and we understood when JB pulled a gun on him to get him to leave. Was also impressed that Mrs. Rogers didn't kick JB out after the gunshots that riddled her house and caused her to lose other boarders.

This film features quietly focused direction by veteran Don Seigel (Dirty Harry, Two Mules for Sister Sara) and is beautiful photographed, featuring outstanding set design and music. Lauren Bacall brings the quietly conflicted emotions of Mrs. Rogers to the surface and Ron Howard has never been better as young Gillom, but believe it or not, it is the 100-megawatt movie star performance by Wayne in his final performance, that makes this movie so special. Wayne passed away three years after the release of this film, RIP.



Trevor Wallace: Pterodactyl
A somewhat funny evening of standup is provided by an unknown commodity in a 2023 Prime Video special called Trevor Wallace: Pterodactyl.

As I was looking for a comedy special to watch, I pulled up the IMDB page for this special and discovered that an actor named Nick Swardsen was featured in it. Swardsen is a long standing member of the Adam Sandler rep company and that was enough reason to give this guy a shot. Swardsen appears in the pre-taped opening set in Wallace's dressing playing his very nervous stage manager. Wallace also plays about a dozen different characters briefly and garners few laughs for the effort.

When Wallace does finally get onstage live from Austin Texas, the David Spade look-alike spends a good 15-20 minutes sucking up to his audience talking about what a fantastic city Austin is, This is a problem I have always had with unknown comics. They love to gush to their audience about how wonderful their town is and how happy they are to be there and always spend the first fifteen minutes onstage praising the town where the venue is. That's fine for this night, but when the concert goes to video, nobody else really cares what this guy is talking about.

Wallace's pace onstage is initially exhausting, reminding me of a very young Howie Mandel when he started out in standup and I really didn't like the way he kept referring to the audience as "Dog", like one of those white guys who talks like he's black. It was about halfway through the concert before the guy got a laugh from this reviewer was when he started talking about how big his nose was. Which led into some humorous stuff about drugs, sex, and male birth control.

I was amused that he wrapped with a story about his dad giving him the birds and bees talk, right after introducing us to his parents in the audience. I think Wallace is a talent to watch but he's working a little too hard at being funny to actually be funny.



Heart Beat (1980)
Despite solid performances from the leads, the 1980 film Heart Beat, a look at the relationship between Beat Poet Jack Kerouac and fellow poets Neal and Carolyn Cassady, suffers due to a confusing screenplay that is trying to be two different kinds of movies but doesn't really succeed at either.

This film is an allege chronicle of three leaders of a literary movement that would become known as the Beat Generation. Jack Kerouac and Neal and Cassady, who became friends during the 50's and 60's, perhaps too good friends, and how their feelings for each other were affected by the times but never really changed.

Director and screenwriter John Byrum (Inserts, Duets) has crafted a messy look at what is supposed to be a shocking look at a romantic triangle, supposedly made more intriguing by the fact that the participants were real life public figures at the forefront of an important movement. Unfortunately, this film, what these three people did in terms of the Beat Generation is shoved in the background in favor of an up close, sometimes a little too up close look at a very convoluted love triangle.

We are initially introduced to Carolyn, this intelligent and sophisticated woman who is initially involved with Kerouac until she meets Neil Cassaday until she finds herself developing feelings for him as well. Jack and Neil seem to be willing to share Carolyn until Carolyn comes home and finds Neil in bed with a woman and another man, which she feels is the perfect time to let him know that she's pregnant. Things get even more heated when Jack writes a book with Neil as the fictionalized central character and it becomes a bestseller. It gets even sadder when the triangle involve innocent bystanders into their triangle, oblivious of the hurt they cause them. We get an intimate look at the free love period of the 1960's, but little insight into these three influential writers from the 1960's.

Byrum's direction is not much better than his screenplay. The film moves at a snail's pace but the actors are so good you almost don't notice. Nick Nolte lights up the screen as the enigmatic Neil and the late John Heard also offers one of his strongest turns as Kerouac. As always, Sissy Spacek enchants as Carolyn, and there are some effective support from Ray Sharkey, Ann Dusenberry, and John Larroquette, but if you really want to learn about Jack Kerouac and the Cassadays, I would google them.



David Spade: Nothing Personal
David Spade makes a less than spectacular return to the standup mic in a 2022 Netflix special called David Spade: Nothing Personal

Shot live from some theater in Minneapolis, Spade works very hard to keep the slightly snotty attitude that has come with his work in check. Don't get me wrong, David Spade first came to my attention when he would do "The Hollywood Minute" on SNL and that might be the secret of Spade's appeal that it works a minute at a time, but he has made some memorable movie appearances...he pretty much stole Coneheads from its all-star cast and he never allowed the late Chris Farley to blow him off the screen either.

He does garner some laughs here as he talks about his mother's dog and about his experience while filming The Bachelor and he was put up in a crab-infested hotel room. He was getting some laughs talking about a physical he had to take in order to make the film Grown-Ups and actually stopped the story and reminded the audience about the movie and would not go on with his story until the audience acknowledged via applause. I have to admit I was very amused when he talked about the fact that whenever he doesn't get what he wants when looking for service, he drops Adam Sandler's name. I don't know if he really does this, but the way he talked about it was really funny. Didn't really care for his stories about Sylvester Stallone or Kaitlyn Jenner.

The story about how he tried to avoid a colonoscopy did have me on the floor, as did his story about "other films you may like" on internet porn. His bit about those internet photos where they show how a star from the 80's aged but you have to go through 60 other photos to get to it, was very funny. I have to admit though that he had a point about a condom being too big.

Spade is a funny guy, but he spends a lot of time talking above his audience and for someone whose career pretty much died with the death of Chris Farley, this guy really needs to think about the way he interacts with an audience.



The Wizard of Oz
There are a handful of films that cinephiles immediately associate with the adjective "classic" and one of those films is the 1939 timeless confection from MGM studios called The Wizard of Oz that not only made an official movie star out of a seventeen year old Judy Garland but became an annual television staple for decades.

Based on a novel by L. Frank Baum, this is the story of a little girl named Dorothy Gale, who lives on a farm in Kansas with her Aunt Em. her Uncle Henry, and her dog, Total. A monumental twister hits the farm and magically transports Dorothy and Toto to a magical land called Oz\, populated with good witches, bad witches and singing little people called munchkins. The munchkins send Dorothy to Oz to get help getting back home where, enroute to the Emerald City, she meets a scarecrow, a tinman, and a cowardly lion who are in search of a brain, a heart, and courage, respectively. It's no coincidence that the scarecrow, tinman, and lion look exactly like Hunk, Zeke, and Hickory the three farmhands that work on Dorothy's farm.

Three writers do an admirable job of adapting Baum's novel in to a workable screenplay, providing a lot of clever word play that foreshadows a lot of what happens to Dorothy during the story without actually giving it away. I love that during the ]opening scenes on the farms, Hunk, Zeke, and Hickory all use words that connect to the characters they become in Oz, which was something that it actually took several for me to make the connections.

Director Victor Fleming (King Vidor is credited as a director on the IMDB but only Fleming receives onscreen credit) put a lot of thought in to the way the story is presented. I love that the film starts in a delicate black and white and doesn't switch to color until Dorothy arrives in Oz. The attention to production values is unprecedented, the eye-popping sets and costumes for munchkinland and for the Emerald City are perfection. I also loved that in the closing credits, the scarecrow, the tinman, and the lion are billed as Hunk, Zeke, and Hicko9ry.

Of course, when look at casting, research reveals that original casting could have made this a very different movie. The suits at MGM were nervous about pouring all of this money into a movie starring an unknown Garland and tried to borrow Shirley Temple from 20th Century Fox for the role of Dorothy. But Temple couldn't handle the vocal demands of the score and Fox wouldn't release her, so the role finally went to Garland. During early screenings of the movie to MGM execs, they wanted to cut the scene where Garland sang the Oscar winning "Over the Rainbow" because they felt it slowed the movie down. WC Fields was originally approached to play the Wizard, but that role and three other roles eventually went to the wonderful Frank Morgan. Ray Bolger is a delight as the Scarecrow and Bert Lahr steals every scene he's in as the Lion. His rendition of "If I Were a King" is definitely one of the film's highlights. IAs many people already know, Buddy Ebsen began working on the film playing the tinman but developed an allergy to the makeup which forced him out of the role and brought Jack Haley in. Margaret Hamilton was robbed of a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her WQicked Witch of the Wets, one of cinema's most frightening villains.

The legacy that this film has left behind is hard to beat. It's not just the fact that film became a television staple, broadcast annually on CBS for over 50 years. The film has also produced an animated and a live action sequel, a Broadway musical called The Wiz, which reworked the story with an all black cast, winning the Best Musical of 1975 Tony Award. That musical was brought to the screen in 1978 with Diana Ross, but this is definitely one case where I absolutely must say: Please! Stick to the original.



Hannah Waddingham: Home for Christmas
For those of you out there who are still mourning the final season of Ted Lasso, Apple TV has provided a Christmas present for you called Hannah Waddington: Home For Christmas, a lavish musical TV special starring the actress who won an Emmy for playing Rebecca Belton on the series for three seasons.

Shot live from the London Coliseum Opera House, Waddington immediately commands the stage wearing a gold evening gown that appears to have been painted on her. After her opening "Winter Wonderland" which features the London Gay Men's Chorus, dozens of dancers and cast members of Ted Lasso including Brendon Hunt, Kola Bokinni, Nick Muhammed, Toheeb Jimmoh, and James Lance.

Wasn't sure what I was in for when I initially tuned into this. I think I though it was going tobe an evening of Waddlingham doing stand up, but what we got her was a sweet and slightly syrupy throw back to the kind of TV specials that Bing Crosby and Perry Como did in the 1960's. I have to wonder if this is what Ted Lasso fans are looking for. If you're looking for a reunion special or the beginning of a fourth season of Ted Lasso you will be disappointed.

Hannah does do a duet with Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr.and offers a powerhouse rendition of "O Holy Night" that she dedicates to her daughter and her parents, where it is revealed that Waddingham's mother performed as a singer at this venue in her youth.
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We get to backstage for two costume changes which feature Juno Temple and Brett Goldstein and when she returns to the stage Phil Dunster, another Ted Lasso cast member joins her onstage for a number with a couple of her gay friends. She also does a duet with actor Luke Evans and even though she really makes us wait for it, Jason Sudekis does make an appearance. I don't know, it's kind of fun to see the Ted Lasso characters out of character, really don't see the appeal for non-fans of the show.



A Night at the Roxbury
SNL producer Lorne Michaels has had some success bringing some of his more memorable TV skits to the big screen (Coneheads and Wayne's World come to mind), but he had a big swing and a miss with 1998's A Night the Roxbury, based on an SNL skit about club-hopping brothers that has been brought to the screen with a backstory that brings a truly icky underlying theme to the surface as the film progresses.

Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan star as Steve and Doug Butabi, brothers who live with their father (Dan Hedaya) and stepmother (Loni Anderson) in Beverly Hills and work part time for their father in his plant store. Dad has become tired of his sons' obsession with clubbing and their laziness about the rest of their lives. He takes away their car and arranges a marriage for Steve with the daughter of the owner of the store next door (Molly Shannon).

Now, if memory serves, the original SNL skits upon which this movie was based, were pretty thin stuff to begin with. It was basically these two brothers in pastel suits bopping their heads in exact unison to the music, trying to pick up women in a bar. in order to justify a full-length movie, we learn that the brothers want to open their own club, but their plans are thwarted when their father cuts them off and a rival club owner (Chazz Palminteri) trying to steal their idea for a club.

First of all, the screenplay has a real sexist tone to it, evidenced in the fact that, aside from Molly Shannon's character, none of the female characters have actual names. The rest of the female characters in the film are billed with names like "Credit Vixen", "Hottie Cop", "Hot Girl", "Porsche Girl", and "Grieco's Lady". The story also takes a very disturbing path where the brothers seem to remove anyone from their lives who seems to be trying to keep them apart, implying that the brothers seem to be in love with each other, evidenced by the bizarre scene where Doug interrupts his brother's wedding to Shannon's character.

Director John Fortenberry is to be credited for the detail he put into staging the head bopping choreography for the stars and his shooting of these sequences was a master class in camerawork and there is funny work along the way by Hedaya, Michael Clark Duncan as a bouncer, and Colin Quinn, but the weird, almost incestuous relationship between the brothers was just two weird.



Rustin
The director of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and the Oscar-winning writer of Milk are the creative forces behind Rustin, a melodramatic overlook at another heretofore unsung and unheard of architects in the battle for Civil Rights more specifically, the 1963 March on Washington DC.

This 2023 film tells the story of Bayard Rustin, who apparently was a very close friend of Martin Luther King and his family, who faced an uphill battle as Dr. King pretty much handed over the logistics of organizing the march, despite the problems when Mr. Rustin's personal life started taking focus away from his work as a Civil Rights advocate.

Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for writing Milk has created a complex screenplay with Julian Breece, that like the 2016 film Hidden Figures introduces us to another figure in the Civil Rights movement that I have never heard of, though his story does feature a lot of civil rights leaders I have heard of surrounding him like Roy Wilkins, A Philip Randolph, and Adam Clayton Powell. All the films that have come out over the last couple of decades on this subject, how do we continue to be introduced to people so important to this part of history via screenplays written by white people? At least Breece is African American.

The story initially titillates when it is revealed that this Rustin guy might have had a sexual relationship with MLK Jr., a revelation that immediately grabs the viewer, but they clear it up almost immediately and then the story goes back and forth between Rustin's struggles with getting march organized and his affairs with two different men, one black and one white, though Rustin's personal life takes such a backseat here, it almost becomes irrelevant to the rest of the film.

There were a couple of disturbing scenes that stuck with me...the scene where Rustin is removed from a bus because he won't sit in the back. There's also a scene where Rustin arrives in DC and is confronted by a police officer, well played by Cotter Smith, who icily informs Rustin of the laws he must adhere to during the march.

I wish a little more attention had been paid to the technical aspects of the production. Some scenes were poorly lit and made it difficult to tell exactly what was going on. George C. Wolfe's direction was slightly overheated but he did get some solid performances from Colman Domingo, who I last saw in The God Committee, as Rustin, Ami Ameen as Martin Luther King, Chris Rock as Roy Wilkins, and Jeffrey Wright as Adam Clayton Powell. Another piece of Civil Rights history has been dragged out of the closet with some semblance of sincerity.



Running on Empty
Evocative direction by the incomparable Sidney Lumet, an edgy and disturbing story and some powerhouse performances are the primary reasons a 1988 drama called Running on Empty had me riveted to the screen with my stomach in knots.

The film stars Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti as Arthur and Annie Pope, who have two sons but have had to live their lives on the run because back in the 60's, Arthur and Annie participated in the destruction of a weapons lab that caused the near death of a janitor. The Popes seemed to have adjusted to the way they have to live and at the beginning of the film, they are observed moving their lives again from Florida to New Jersey, where they once again begin a new life, but this new life may have been compromised by older son's Danny's desire to study music at Julliard.

Screenwriter Naomi Foner has crafted a compelling story that almost immediately haunted this reviewer. Initially, because, even though this is a fictional story, I couldn't help but think about how many real Pope families there are out there who are still running and there is no doubt in my mind that there are, which gave an added layer of sadness to this story. It was so sad that these two young boys had to pay for their parents' mistakes in such a way. Most aggravating of all, as the story progresses, we begin to wonder if it is absolutely necessary for this family to live this way, or is this whole thing about the fact that Arthur just doesn't want to go to jail...a horrible thought that occurred to me about 2/3 of the way into the film, which may have not been true. This element of the story might be open to individual viewer interpretation.

Director Sidney Lumet, who had nailed gritty urban crime dramas like Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico, seems a little out of his element with a family oriented drama like this one, but he really captures the isolation that this family is feeling. I love that quiet little scene when they've arrived in New Jersey and the four of them are cramped in that tiny motel room. It's so obvious that Annie and her sons are tired of living like this, but Arthur is calling the shots.

Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti work beautifully together as the Popes and the late River Phoenix's sensitive performance as young Danny earned him a Best Supporting actor Oscar nomination, the only one of his too short career. Also enjoyed a young Martha Plimpton as Danny's music teacher's teacher, who falls for him. Steven Hill shines in one amazing scene as Annie's father. Foner's screenplay also earned her a nomination and I loved Tony Mottola's music too. Great film.



Norman Lear: 100 Year of Music & Laughter
On July 27, 2022, show business icon Norman Lear turned 100 years old and a lavish television celebration was produced and broadcast on ABC at the end of last year called Norman Lear: 100 Years of Music & Laughter, a deserved tribute to the legend, but a surreal and an oddly unmoving experience.

The celebration was divided into two parts. Stars gathered in a large ballroom and came onstage announcing how old Norman Lear was when they were born, and then offered their own tributes to the man, and then offered their own tributes to Lear. Which was strange, because a lot of the stars who appeared onstage either never worked with Lear or weren't even alive during the zenith of the man's career. A couple of tributes came from actors Assante Black and Isabella Gomez, who are both still in their teens! Having these children onstage gushing about Norman Lear felt hollow and insulting.

The other half of the show interspersed with the ballroom madness was a roundtable discussion with Lear, Jimmy Kimmel, Amy Poehler, Octavia Spencer, and Jennifer Aniston. First of all, how was it decided that these four people were qualified to sit down with the man and discuss his work. Aniston felt particularly out of place here, seemingly completely clueless abou why she was here.

This was such an odd film that I felt guilty about being disenchanted with because the subject is so worthy of celebration, but couldn't understand why people like George Wallace, Laverne Cox, Kristen Bell, Lisa Whelchel, Jay Pharoah, and Stephen Tobolowsky were doing there? We were also provided unremarkable musical sequences including Anthony Anderson and Tracie Ellis Ross performing the theme song from All in the Family, Kelly Rowland doing the Jeffersons theme and Justina Muchado performing the One Day at a Time theme. And after Tom Hanks' lengthy breakdown of Lear's military background, we got a five minute rendition of America the Beautiful that brought the show down. Yet, Marla Gibbs was in the audience and didn't get to say a word.

There aren't a lot of stars from Lear's shows who are still alive and it was disappointing that a few didn't show up, Sally Struthers in particular, though Rob Reiner did give a lovely tribute to the man. This film was just kind of dull and all over the place and so not worthy of Norman Lear. What a shame.



'night, Mother
The superb performances by two Oscar winning actresses anchor the disturbing 1986 film version of a Pulitzer Prize winning play called "night, Mother that focuses on one my least favorite subject matters for the movies.

This is the story of a woman named Jessie Cates, seen cleaning and organizing the home she shares with her mother, Thelma. Not long after Thelma arrives home, we are shocked when Jessie pulls out a gun to clean it and quietly announces to her mother that she plans to kill herself in a couple of hours.

This movie aroused all kinds of jumbled emotions in me because of my personal feels regarding suicide. There is no rationalizing the act of suicide in my opinion and I don't think it solves anything. I believe suicide is an act of cowardice. I also believe that committing suicide is agonizing for everyone who loves the victim because they will always feel guilty and feel they could have done something to stop it.

With that said, it took almost the entire running time for me to break down what Jessie was doing and why. First of all, I had to understand why Jessie was doing this and that does come to light relatively early in the running time and, for this viewer, suicide was not the only answer for this woman, but she did and if she didn't want to be talked out of it, why come home and announce to her mother that she's going to do this in a couple of hours and offering her a million final instructions. There is no justification of the burden she puts on her mother here and I just couldn't get behind it. I did enjoy the glimmers of hope provided through Jessie's request for her mom to make her cocoa and a baked apple and agree to her mom's request for a manicure.

This was right up there with some of my most uncomfortable evenings at the movie but the Oscar-worthy performances by Sissy Spacek as Jessie and the late Anne Bancroft as Thelma, taking over the roles that were originated in 1983 by Kathy Bates and Anne Pitoniak, respectively, made this truly stomach-churning journey worth taking.



Back to the Strip
A couple of months ago I reviewed a film called Fool's Paradise and stated that I was sure it would sweep this year's Razzie awards. Any Razzies that don't go to that film should go to a debacle called Back to the Strip, a juvenile comedy that makes the Magic Mike franchise look like Merchant Ivory.

This 2023 film is about a 24 year old black guy named Merlin whose passion is to be a professional magician. After giving up on magic and losing his girlfriend, he is sent to Las Vegas by his mother, where he actually finds a new career as a male stripper, backed by a stripper group who reunites after 20 odd years called the Chocolate Chips.

Director and screenwriter Chris Spencer, who wrote Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the hood has crafted a really silly story that expects the viewer to accept a whole lot. A 24 year old black dude who wants to be a musician? Really? The Chips are way past their prime...one of them is played by 300+ pound Faizon Love, who we are supposed to believe still has appeal to strip club audiences. We're also supposed to accept that one of the Chips is white (Gary Owen) but none of the group ever knew it 20 years ago, not to mention that Faizon's character is having an affair with another Chip's wife. There's a scene where Merlin and his ex are trapped together and he is wearing a mask, but she doesn't recognize his voice. We also get a dumb scene of Merlin and Robin bonding over the NBC sitcom A Different World.

The main problem with this movie is severe overlength. It takes too much time getting going, including a scene where Merlin is a clown at a kid's party (though Kevin Hart is very funny as the dad). The film also features a ridiculous narration by Tiffani Haddish that is unnecessary.

Doesn't seem to be a lot of thought put into casting either. Spence Moore II is decorative in the lead, but Wesley Snipes just seems to be phoning it in as the director of the Chips and Bill Bellamy and the always annoying JB Smoove seem to be just going through the motions. Two hours of my life I'll never get back.