Gideon58's Reviews

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The Wild One
A mesmerizing, sex-on-legs performance by the legendary Marlon Brando is the primary attraction of a minor classic from 1953 called The Wild One, whose seemingly simplistic story has some surprisingly still relevant themes brewing beneath the surface.

Brando plays Johnny, the charismatic leader of a motorcycle gang who terrorize a one-horse town and are followed there by a rival gang led by Chino (Lee Marvin). A fist fight between Johnny and Chino lands Chino behind bars while Johnny can't takes his eyes off the police chief's pretty daughter, Kathie

John Paxton's economic screenplay is rich with enough cliched and outdated dialogue to choke a horse, though we understand its purpose in this story of rebellion that was supposed to speak to a new generation of filmgoers. That cherished 18-34 demographic was still being sought by filmmakers, but the delivering of the message is almost unintentionally funny. It suddenly becomes not-so-funny when everything that happens falls on Johnny and the town turns into an unofficial KKK, hunting the guy down and planning to deliver their own brand of justice.

Love the opening scenes establishing Johnny's position as leader of this motorcycle gang, but the story begins to loose us as the two clubs arrive in this tiny little town wreaking their own special havoc. It's a little odd as we watch townspeople literally hiding in their homes at the beginning of the film and chasing Johnny with clubs and bats during the climax. Especially distressing was the police chief (well played by Robert Keith) who had no idea what to do or was too scared to do it. He does get back up in the form of an angry sheriff, but he doesn't show up until the final ten minutes!

Brando does his best to make his pursuit of Kathie work and the scene when they're alone in the woods is fraught with sexual tension, despite the wooden performance by Mary Murphy in the role. Kathie's transition from fearing Johnny to fighting her attraction to him isn't really believable, but director Laslo Benedek has to take partial blame for that. A more experienced actress wouldn't have hurt...kept picturing Natalie Wood in the role.

Nevertheless, Brando is sexy and explosive and makes this film worth watching. Lee Marvin was also impressive as Chino and Jay C Flippen made his glorified cameo as the sheriff work. The film is shot in gorgeous black and white and I loved Leith Stevens' slightly overwrought music. Appointment viewing for Brando fans.



Vacation Friends
2021's Vacation Friends is a silly and improbable big budget comedy that gets sillier and more improbable as it progresses, and suffers from some questionable casting, but remains watchable thanks to a terrific performance from one of the leading men and some clever plot twists.

Marcus and Emily (Lil Rel Howery, Yvonne Orji) are a recently engaged couple who spend a week in Mexico vacationing with Ron and Kyla (Jon Cena, Meredith Hagner), an outrageous pair of hard core partiers who try to teach Marcus and Emily how to live on the edge, starting by rimming their margaritas with cocaine. Marcus and Emily say a hasty goodbye to Ron and Kyla as they leave Mexico, hoping to forget them and everything that happened there. Of course, five months later, Ron and Kyla show up at Marcus and Emily's weekend wedding celebration in Atlanta, expecting to be the best man and maid of honor.

Director and co-screenwriter Clay Tarver, the creative force behind the TV series Silicone Valley, has mounted an over the top comedy that walks the tightrope of good taste throughout most of the running time, connecting two couples who normally would never have become friends. What he does here that works is making Marcus and Emily black and Ron and Kyla white. If their races had been switched, this film would have been completely offensive. It's the world we live in.

The scenes in Mexico are actually the funniest...they establish the bond that the couples create, or at least the bond Ron and Kyla think they are creating, allowing us to understand why they would track Marcus and Emily down. Once the action shifts to Atlanta, it just gets sillier and sillier including an Auntie Mame fox hunt, and a golf match where the stakes are $100 a hole.

The one thing that completely works in this movie is the energetic and charismatic performance by Jon Cena as Ron. With the right role, this guy could become another Dwayne Johnson, but he just hasn't found the right role yet. Lil Rel Howery works very hard as Marcus, but this role should have been played by Kevin Hart. Robert Wisdom is terrific as Emily's dad and Anthony Bachelor is very funny as her brother. First rate production values help, but it never really comes together and the story definitely could have used some tightening.



The Morning After (1986)
Despite one of my favorite directors behind the camera, 1986's The Morning After is a convoluted and illogical murder mystery that, despite an impressive cast, fails to engage due to a story that makes one silly move after another, bombarding the reviewer with red herrings, finally leading to a finale that was a bit of a cop out.

Oscar winner Jane Fonda stars as Viveca Van Loren, an alcoholic former actress who wakes up on Thanksgiving morning 1986 next to a body with a knife in his chest. of course, Viveca doesn't remember what happened. Viveca is advised to call the police and then an attorney, advice she ignores sending her on a way out of this situation, finding an unexpected ally in a hunky ex-cop named Turner Kendall (Jeff Bridges).

Sidney Lumet is one of my favorite directors, but he can't be blamed for what went wrong here....his stylish directorial touch is all over this, but he's got a really dumb story here, centered on a heroine who makes one dumb move after another. First Viveca decides the only way out is to leave town, but for some unfathomable reason, she decides to go back to the scene of the crime and clean up and it's not long before she confesses everything to Turner. Then the script has us thinking Turner might be behind this. And needless to say, the cops are four steps behind the whole time. I did love the fact that the murder victim is being interviewed on television as the film opens

James Cresson's screenplay does a good job of crafting backstory for Viveca, but the meet cute between Viveca and Turner takes too long and their somewhat flippant attitude about what they've gotten themselves into didn't work this reviewer either. Why an ex-cop would think becoming a possible accomplice in a murder is a good idea. Almost ten minutes of screen time is devoted to Viveca and Turner bonding over Nancy Drew books...seriously?

On the plus side, Lumet works wonders with this cast, despite the precious little they have to work with. Fonda's overripe performance incredibly earned her an Oscar nomination. It's not an uninteresting performance, but Oscar-worthy? Jeff Bridges offers his accustomed charismatic star turn and loved Raul Julia as Viveca's husband. Don't blink and you'll catch cameos from Anne Bancroft, Kathy Bates, Frances Bergen, and Rick Rossovich. Lumet's directorial gloss makes this piece seem a little better than it is, but not much.



Cinderella (2021)
The 2021 version of Cinderella is a lavishly produced, contemporary re-imagining of a classic fairy tale that deserves an "A" for effort, but ultimately misses because it re-imagines a story that doesn't really require re-imagining.

The story of Cinderella has had at least half a dozen screen versions not to mention dozens of imitations and rip-offs, so in 2021, an attempt to bring something new and inventive and entertaining to this story has to be spectacular, but director and screenwriter Kay Cannon, who directed Blockers and produced Pitch Perfect really misses the boat here.

The idea of mounting the story as a musical is nothing new, but, in the tradition of films like Moulin Rouge, Cannon has decided to utilize classic pop songs for the majority of the score instead of an original score and only a handful of them really work. Tony winner Idina Menzel's take on "Material Girl" as the Evil Stepmother was on the money, Salt and Peppa's "What a Man" worked at the ball and Emmy winner Billy Porter dazzled as the Fabulous Godmother with his rendition of "Shining Star", but the rest of the songs just seemed like they were in the wrong movie (including the ones that leading lady (Camila Cabello) wrote.

The softening of the Evil Stepmother character really bothered me and way too much time was spent with minor characters like the mice turned into footmen the ball and the troubled marriage of the King and Queen, superbly played by Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver. The addition of a sister for the Prince didn't really work either.

Most troubling though was the attempt to make Ella a more contemporary heroine, by having her life's desire to be a fashion designer and when she finally does meet the Prince, she is flattered by his proposal and the offer to sit on her throne all day and be queen, she wants to have a career as a fashion designer first...seriously? I understand it's the "Me too" generation and all and women can be whatever they want to be, but this is Cinderella. We don't want to see her in board meetings or schmoozing at fashion week in Milan. We want her on her throne, as the new Queen living happily ever after.

Cannon is to be applauded for the attention she put into production values, with special nods to editing, art direction, and some stunning costumes. Camila Cabello is a wonderful singer and songwriter, but seemed a little over her head in the title role, though Nicholas Galitzine showed solid leading man potential as Prince Robert. Loved the choreography too, but this re-thinking of a classic story was a definite example of "If it Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It."



The Hot Rock
From the director of Bullitt and the screenwriter of All The President's Men comes a slick little heist drama from 1972 called The Hot Rock that doesn't go anywhere we expect it to, demanding viewer attention through its execution and providing surprises for the majority of its running time.

An African doctor hires career criminals Dortmunder (Robert Redford) and Kelp (the late George Segal) to steal a rare diamond from a museum. Dortmunder and Kelp hire Greenburg (Paul Sand), an explosives expert and Murch (the late Ron Leibman), a transportation expert to assist them in the heist. Unfortunately, things don't go off as planned as one member of the team gets pinched and the diamond becomes a bouncing ball that our gang has to steal more than once.

Two time Oscar winning screenwriter William Goldman provides us with what appears to be a simple heist story on the surface, but we just don't see the bouncing booty that our heroes keep losing track of. The running joke of the African doctor who keeps a close eye on the expenses involved, which he doesn't want to pay remains fresh throughout. Some of the gang's requests are as perplexing to the viewer as they are to the doctor until we see how they are utilized and they all make sense, even though the guys still can't hold onto the diamond.

Initially, I was expecting something along the lines of the Ocean's Eleven franchise where the majority of the running time is devoted to assembling the team and the planning of the crime. Imagine my surprise when the actual heist happened less than thirty minutes into the running time. We then watch circumstances, interlopers, betrayal, and greed provide more than the expected interference to the prize. And this is where director Peter Yates' eye for stylish action sequences come in...the chase between our guys and the security guards at the museum is brilliantly staged and shot, as is an actual break-in to a maximum security prison, which should have been impossible. And even with all this, Yates and Goldman keep us waiting until the final five minutes of the film for some kind of resolution.

Yates utilizes Manahattan effectively as the tale's canvas and has assembled a solid cast of pros to pull of this story, headed by Redford, who almost brings a Steve McQueen-cool to Dortmunder, well-matched by Seagl's breezy Kelp and Leibman's in your face Murch. Mention should also be made of Moses Gunn channeling James Earl Jones as the African doctor and a fantastic supporting turn from the legendary Zero Mostel as Greenberg's fathe, who both make the most of their screentime. It could have wrapped a little quicker than it did, but this was one was a lot of fun.