Gideon58's Reviews

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This Boy's Life
Kinetic direction and a trio of powerhouse performances from the leads make a fact-based drama from 1993 called This Boy's Life well worth investing in.

Caroline (Ellen Barkin) is a single mother who decides to start a new life in Seattle with her teenage son, Tobias (Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio) and finds herself beginning a relationship with an outwardly charming mechanic named Dwight (Oscar winner Robert De Niro). When Toby starts acting out at school, Caroline decides to send Toby to live with Dwight in the neighboring town of Concrete, where it slowly comes to light that Dwight is control freak and an abusive psychopath.

Screenwriter Robert Getchell (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore) has crafted a story that had a surprising amount of balance considering the subject matter and considering the screenplay is based on a book by the real Tobias. We expect a one-sided look at an abusive monster, like Faye Dunaway's Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, but we get much more than that. It was impressive that Tobias is not painted as an innocent angel in this story. He spends pretty much the first half of the film staying in trouble at school and lying to everyone about everything. We also expect Dwight to be beating the hell out of Tobias for the entire running time, but we don't get that either. Dwight's abuse is mental and emotional, and about control. Dwight doesn't actually strike Tobias until the final third of the film.

And this is the primary reason why this movie is so compelling. We see the potential for physical abuse and as every scene rolls across the screen, we find ourselves on pins and needles wondering how Dwight's need for complete control of his family is going to manifest itself. An almost Hitchcock-like suspense is created throughout the film as wait and wonder about what Dwight is going to do next and will Tobias be able to escape.

It's very smart the way beginning of the film firmly establishes that Caroline has a history oif picking the wrong man. Even if Tobias didn't bring it up in his narration, it's Caroline's actions that bring this to light. I loved the scene where Dwight and Caroline get married...possibly the shortest movie wedding ever and during the brief shot of the pair listening to their vows, they both look miserable. Also loved when Caroline was telling Tobias about her plans to work for the Kennedy campaign but shuts up the second Tobias comes through the door.

Michael Caton-Jones brings the story home with in your face direction that gives this story a voyeuristic feel, but it's what he does with these actors that earns him the credit regarding making this film work. De Niro has played his share of greasy characters over the years, but he has rarely been more menacing than he is here, and does a lot of the menacing with a big ol' smile on is face, making him even more menacing. Barkin is nice controlled as the tragic Caroline, but it is DiCaprio who keeps this film sizzling with an explosive performance that leaps off the screen. The work of these three actors alone makes this film worth the time.



Detective Story
With a three-time Oscar winner in the director's chair and a brilliant ensemble cast in front of the camera, the 1951 classic Detective Story, is a mostly compelling look at life inside of a police precinct that falters at the finish line with an overly dramatic finale that was hard to swallow.

An effective blend of crime drama and character study, this film chronicles one day in the lives of police detectives and criminals in the dingy 21st precinct, centered around a hard-nosed and principled police detective named Mike MacLeod (Kirk Douglas) who is currently in the center of three cases: there are a pair of burglars (Joseph Wiseman, Michael Strong) who MacLeod is convinced he can get to turn on each other; a young man (Craig Hill), who has embezzled money from his company, his first offense, for which he is wracked with guilt and the main case, a Dr. Karl Schneider (George Macready), a doctor who has been performing illegal abortions, that have resulted in the deaths of several women. Mike's one-sided view of the law is challenged forever when he discovers that his wife (Eleanor Parker) is personally involved with one of the cases.

This is a film version of a play by Sidney Kingsley that opened on Broadway in March of 1949 starring Ralph Bellamy as Mike and Meg Mundy as his wife and ran for 581 performances. It never really escapes its stage origins, evidenced in the entire story taking place inside the precinct, but it doesn't make the story any less compelling. If the truth be told, the claustrophobic atmosphere created here only heightens the tension of the story.

Though the story is populated with various criminal lowlifes, this is really an up close look at this detective Mike MacLeod, whose view of the law is strictly black and white. As the story progresses, we watch MacLeod learn that cases don't always go the way they are supposed to as a bribed witness (a fabulous cameo by Gladys George) compromises one case and everyone wants him to give the young embezzler a pass, a young kid wet behind the ears who knew what he did was wrong the second he did it. A reveal of Mike's troubled childhood offers insight into why he is the way he is, but it doesn't excuse a lot of his behavior here, and with all the criminals present, MacLeod definitely pays more consequences for his behavior than anyone else, especially in the silly finale where he thinks he's Superman.

The legendary William Wyler guides this story with a focused intensity, using his camera and the character of a frightened young shoplifter (Lee Grant) to let us inside this story and what these people are going through.

The film received four Oscar nominations for Wyler, screenwriters Phillip Yordan and Robert Wyler, Eleanor Parker for Best Actress and Lee Grant, in her film debut, as Best Supporting Actress. Unfortunately, after this role, Grant's movie career was stalled because of the communist blacklisting. William Bendix as veteran detective Lou Brody and Wiseman as one of the burglars also do Oscar-worthy work. Exquisite black and photography is the finishing touch on this classic that despite a corny finale, is still compelling screen entertainment.



Opening Night (2016)
Musical theater fans will have a head start with 2016's Opening Night, an oddball comedy with music that starts of promisingly, but gets sillier as it progresses to a ridiculous finale, though there are a handful of performances that might help sustain interest.

The film stars Topher Grace as Nick, a former Broadway actor who gave up acting after being in a Broadway musical that opened and closed on the same night. He is now the production manager on a musical about to open called ONE HIT WONDERLAND and finds himself having to put out several backstage fires right before opening including a bitchy leading lady who gets injured and can't go on; an orchestra member who says he can't play without being high; an arrogant leading man who is working his way through the female chorus members sexually; a gay chorus boy and girl who have a bet which of them can have sex with a new chorus boy they think is bisexual; oh, and there's Nick's ex-girlfriend, understudy to the lead who gets her big break when the leading lady gets hurt.

This film starts off as a pretty accurate look at life in the theater and all the insanity it entails, staying pretty much in the realm of reality. The problems start when the theme of the onstage musical starts bleeding backstage and we all of a sudden get these spontaneous musical numbers backstage, all one hit wonders, that spit in the face of the realistic backstage movie that began.

We sympathize with all the backstage troubles Nick has to deal with, but when the injured leading lady is given ecstasy instead of aspirin, the battle for the bisexual chorus boy results in a production number backstage (very well choreographed) and the understudy getting wracked with guilt because the producer wants to fire the leading lady, and when Nick walks out onstage in the middle of the show and starts singing, we're pretty much checked out by then.

Topher Grace does deliver a terrific performance as Nick as do Anne Heche as the bitchy diva, Taye Diggs as the gay chorus boy, and former NSYNC member JC Chasez as the show's leading man, but this movie just gets too silly to be believable. The best thing about this movie is that it runs less than 90 minutes.



Matilda
The bold and uncompromising directorial eye of Danny De Vito is the standout element of a bizarre comic fantasy from 1996 called Matilda that features some frightening imagery, unsympathetic characters, even if it takes a little longer than necessary to get to the requisite happy ending foreshadowed in the final act.

This is the story of a gifted and adorable little girl named Matilda, who was born to a crooked car salesman and his dim-witted wife. Matilda is simultaneously abused and neglected by her parents until she starts school, where she is befriended by a kindly teacher named Miss Honey and terrified by the school's sadistic, Neo-Nazi school principal, Miss Trunchbull. It's not long before Matilda learns that the anger and abuse she endures from her parents and Miss Trunchbull actually fuels the magical powers inside Matilda that will allow her to rebuild her life into something that will make her happy.

Nicholas Kazan's screenplay by Nicholas Kazan is based on a book by Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) that messily combines elements of black comedy, fantasy, and genuine horror to mixed results. The story starts of as a loopy story of family dysfunction that eventually morphs into a black comedy nightmare that walks a thin tightrope between reality and fractured fairy tale. It seemed odd that De Vito chose to narrate the story as well, since he also plays one of the story's primary villains. The narrator should have been someone more distanced from the story. It was fun watching Matilda get revenge on Miss Trunchbull but her parents get off way too easy.

The standout element here, though is De Vito's unapologetic direction, rich with inventive camerawork, outrageous color schemes, and some first rate visual effects. This is De Vito's most effective work behind the camera since The War of the Roses, giving this film an almost Tim Burton quality in its presentation. Fans of films like Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands will be right at home here.

In addition to his solid work as a director, De Vito is appropriately smarmy as one of the most despicable movie parents I've seen, well-paired with real life spouse Rhea Perlman as his wife. Paul Reubens and Tracey Walter were fun as a pair of goofy police detectives, but it is Pam Ferris who steals the show with her over-the-top scenery chewing as Miss Trunchbell, though her scene in the middle of the film torturing a student with chocolate cake came off as so much filler. Mara Wilson, who was so adorable as Robin Williams' daughter in Mrs. Doubtfire is equally adorable here as the title character. This oddball fantasy provides sporadic entertainment, but never really provides the complete pay off it should and I'm really not sure who the intended demographic was for this film



Pacific Heights
Stylish direction by Oscar winner John Schlesinger and a bone-chilling performance from Michael Keaton notwithstanding keep a highly improbably 1990 thriller somewhat watchable despite some plot holes you can drive a truck through.

Drake Goodman (Matthew Modine) and his girlfriend Patty Parker (Melanie Griffith) have sunk everything they own into restoring an old San Francisco house with two rental units. Their lives and their home are methodically destroyed when a slick con man who calls himself Carter Hayes (Keaton) talks Drake into allowing him to rent one of the units and is able to take possession of the unit, despite his never paying the rent. It's not long before it comes to light is not just a con man, but a dangerous psychopath.

The basic premise of the film is decent but there are so many inaccuracies and unanswered questions in Daniel Pyne's screenplay that it's difficult to believe a lot of what happens here. Just like Max Cady in Cape Fear, it was difficult accepting the way the law seemed to protect Carter Hayes through most of the film. It's hard to believe that the police cannot forcibly remove someone from an apartment who hasn't paid a dime of rent. When Drake goes to the door and and Carter's partner Greg, who Drake has never met, answers the door, that should have been grounds for Drake to call the police. And just like Max Cady, Hayes id actually able to get a restraining order against Drake. It's never made clear exactly what Hayes was doing in the apartment and no one seemed to care when Patty finally gets in the apartment and it's been destroyed.

Drake and Patty make their share of dumb moves in the story as well. No landlord on the planet would ever let anyone get into an apartment without the rent in their hand. And the fact that Carter refused to fill out the tenant application should have been a red flag for Drake anyway. That coupled with the fake references not checking out made Drake look like a moron. Patty was a little smarter than Drake, but her playing Junior Detective wasn't really smart either. I did like the fact that Patty was smarter than Drake.

John Schlesinger, who won an Oscar for directing Midnight Cowboy, shows endless style in his presentation of the story, filling the screen with equal doses of cinematic clues and red herrings that simultaneously pique and confuse the viewer. Michael Keaton is genuinely frightening as Carter Hayes, creating a character that does demand audience attention, but definitely not sympathy. It's impossible to accept a lot of the ridiculous directions this story goes, but the work of Keaton and Schlesinger also make the nonsense worth it.



Inception
The creative force behind Dunkirk and The Dark Knight is the driving force behind a bold and challenging cinematic journey called Inception, an effective blend of science fiction, corporate espionage, and star-crossed romance that requires complete attention, which doesn't always pay off, but keeps the viewer engaged because of an edgy story, effectively served by a sterling cast and state of the art production values.

This 2010 roller coaster ride stars Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, a thief who, along with his partner, Arthur (Joseph Gordon Levitt) has made a very comfortable living by stealing corporate secrets by entering into people's dreams, a technology known as extraction. He has now been offered a job that could set him for life that has never been done before. A Japanese businessman wants Cobb to plant an idea into the dreams of an important CEO, process known as inception. Cobb knows the process, but is beyond the scope of his and Arthur's skillset and they must assemble an elite circle of specialists to pull this off.

Director and screenwriter Christopher Nolan has completely redefined the "And then I woke up" genre of film making here. He has employed endless imagination and eye-popping movie technology in making the concept of getting inside of people's head and controlling destiny through their dreams a viable concept. The story is given a more human layer as Cobb's personal demons come to light, revealing how Cobb's work has kept him separated from his family. Not long after the character of Cobb's wife (Marian Coitillard) is introduced, we're thrown when it's revealed she is dead but that in no way keeps her from being pertinent part of this story.

Nolan's attention to continuity is impressive here as the action switches with often lightning fast pace from dream to awake. Often we're not sure what is awake here until the abrupt cut to sleep (with a strong assist from film editor Lee Smith and often the viewer's wait to find out what state we're in is unbearably long, but it keep the viewer on its toes. The film is rich with visual images unlike anything ever seen. There is one incredible scene where characters are seen walking down a city street and the far end of the street actually unearths and folds itself on top of the other side of the street...absolutely spectacular. Nolan's imagination and the technical craftsmen he has assembled to pull this off work in perfect tandem to create amazing visuals that often legitimize the often completely illogical elements of the story. And you gotta love Arthur's fight scenes without gravity.

DiCaprio is solid, as always and works well with Levitt as his cynical partner. Tom Hardy, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Ken Wantanabe, Tom Berenger, and Pete Postlewaithe head up the supporting cast who effectively serve Nolan's vision. The film received eight Oscar nomination, including Best Picture and won richly deserved wards for cinematography, sound mixing, sound editing, and especially visual effects. It's a slightly exhausting journey for the viewer, but it's worth the challenge and a triumph for Christopher Nolan.




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Fun with Dick and Jane (1977)
Despite some contrived and dated plot elements, the 1977 comedy Fun with Dick and Jane is still worth checking out thanks to the wonderful performances by the stars that make the film seem a lot better than it is.

George Segal plays Dick Harper, an aerospace engineer who is abruptly fired from his job just as wife Jane (Jane Fonda) is supervising the installation of their new pool. Dick has trouble finding another job and the part time modeling job that Jane gets isn't enough to support their upwardly mobile lifestyle, the Harpers feel they have no choice but to resort to armed robbery.

David Giler and Jerry Belson's screenplay is rich with a lot of dated and predictable elements. It starts off as a relatively effective look at how the economy of the 70's had millions struggling, but becomes less effective as it starts to be a more cynical look at greed and what it does to people, taking some of the sympathy away from the central characters and the situation they are in. I love the scene in the Harpers' bathroom where they first come up with the idea for their new lives and the first few failed attempts at armed robbery were also very funny. Though the scene where they rip off a phony evangelist induces cheers, It was a little predictable that the finale finds the Harpers going after the company that fired Dick, which leads to a finale that is too protective of the Harpers.

Ted Kotcheff's direction is rather pedestrian and the exposition takes too long, but George Segal shows a definite affinity for physical comedy and, as she often did, Jane Fonda brings an intelligence to her character that wasn't in the screenplay. Mention should also be made of the late Ed McMahon, surprisingly smarmy in a rare film appearance as Dick's boss. The story is a little safe and predictable, but the stars definitely make it worth watching. Remade in 2005 with Jim Carrey as Dick and Tea Leoni as Jane.



The Four Musketeers
In 1973, moviegoers were treated to a sumptuous re-thinking of the Alexandre Dumas novel The Three Musketeers, featuring a brilliant all star cast and directed by Richard Lester, It was determined before the release of the film that it was too long and instead of editing the finished product, it was decided to divide it into two separate films, resulting in 1974's The Four Musketeers, sometimes referred to by its subtitle Milady's Revenge.

This film begins exactly where the 1973 film left off, as D'Artagnan (Michael York) is officially made a musketeer and has prevented Milady de Winter (Faye Dunaway) and Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston) from their plot to destroy the Duke of Buckingham (Simon Ward) and Queen Anne of Austria (Geraldine), and has also found romance with the Queen's dressmaker, Constance (Raquel Welch). D'Artagnan enlists the aid of his fellow musketeers (Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain, Frank Finlay) as Milady and Richelieu plan to resume their plan, beginning with the kidnapping of Constance and Milady providing the kind of distraction to D'Artagnan that only she can.

Since it was originally part of the 1973 film, director Richard Lester and screenwriter George McDonald Fraser assume that the viewer has watched the first film and offers virtually nothing in terms of rehashing the events of the first film. They do efficiently establish where we are in the story through the multitude of players on this cinematic chessboard. One thing that made the first film so successful was the tongue in cheek approach that Lester took with the story, keeping the characters and what thy go through flawed and funny. A darker tone is utilized in this part of the story, but the characters remain deliciously flawed. Though the events of the first film are not rehashed, there is backstory revealed between Milady and one of the musketeers that is seamlessly woven into the story and remains pertinent throughout.

This film is a lot more than just swordplay. If the truth be known, there is a lot less swordplay here than in the first swashbuckler. This is a complicated tale of loyalty and politics, that is rife with a sexual tension unlike anything ever seen in similar films. The director and screenwriter makes no bones about the fact that a lot of this story has to do with lust and sexual debauchery and how no one in the story is above using their sexuality to get what they want. It's not overt or obscene, but it quietly simmers at the core of every scene involving Lady de Winter.

Don't get me wrong...this film does provide spectacular swordplay, impeccably staged by fight director William Hobbs. I was especially impressed by the fight on ice which I didn't see coming and the final showdown between D'Artagnan and Rochefort (Christopher Lee) literally had me holding my breath.

The cast is splendid, with standout work from Michael York, just as sexy and charismatic as he was in the first film, Oliver Reed as Athos, Lee as Rochefort, Frank Finlay as Porthos, and an icy performance from Faye Dunaway that makes her Joan Crawford look like Carol Brady. Big shout outs to cinematography, art direction/set direction and costumes as well. I also loved the final delicious touch of Lester's where, instead of rehashing the events of the first film, he provided a brief look at the first film which might effectively motivate viewers who didn't see the first film to check it out.



French Kissg
The scenery is gorgeous and there is some chemistry between the stars but 1995's French Kiss is a silly and illogical romantic comedy that starts off promisingly, but gets more illogical and more silly as it makes an overlong journey to a predictable conclusion.

Meg Ryan plays Kate, a woman who lives in Canada with her doctor fiancee, Charlie (Oscar winner Timothy Hutton). Charlie has to fly to Paris for a medical convention and asks Kate to accompany him, but she's terrified of flying. Charlie flies to Paris alone and 24 hours after his arrival, calls Kate and tells her he's met another woman and that he and Kate are over. Kate doesn't accept this and gets up the nerve to get on a plane to Paris. Sitting next to her on the plane is a sexy French jewel thief (Oscar winner Kevin Kline) who gets Kate through the takeoff and then hides his latest booty in her bag. Unfortunately, the bag gets stolen with not only the jewels, but Kate's money and passport. The thief, partially worried about getting his jewels back and partially feeling guilty for Kate being stranded in France, attaches himself to Kate while she continues her mission through Paris and Cannes to get Charlie back.

There are multiple issues with Adam Brooks' screenplay that are troublesome. First of all, why would a woman whose fiancee breaks up with her over the phone then get on a plane and fly across an ocean to get him back? Once she gets there, she loses her all of her possessions and still the only thing on her mind is getting this scumbag Charlie back? She actually locates him on two separate occasions and then doesn't say a word? And she doesn't seem to be the least bit concerned that she's stranded in Paris with no money and no passport. It was also troublesome that there were a few pertinent scenes where the characters spoke French and it would have been nice to know what they were saying.

Lawrence Kasdan, director of The Big Chill and Silverado, doesn't put a lot of imagination into the direction, outside of brilliant use of scenery in Paris and Cannes. I wish he had reined in his leading lady a little bit too. Ryan is normally a charming screen presence, but her irritation factor here is pretty high. We're forced to put up with a lot here, but when we get to the point where Kate is crawling around on her knees in a Cannes restaurant covered in chocolate cake, it's really time to check out. Even when she finally confronts Charlie, it just seems like so much screen padding, as we wait for this girl to admit she loves the sexy Frenchman who is responsible for her being stranded in France with no money.

Oscar winner Kevin Kline is undeniably sexy as the jewel thief and the Paris and Cannes scenery is breathtaking but it doesn't change the fact that an hour and fifty minute movie felt four and a half hours long.



I Wake Up Screaming
A love triangle and a murder are the primary ingredients of a slightly dated, but still effective little film noir from 1941 called I Wake Up Screaming.

Frankie Christopher (Victor Mature) is a slick sports promotor who meets a pretty young waitress named Vicky (Carole Landis), who lives with her over protective sister, Jill (Betty Grable). Frankie sees star potential in Vicky and decides groom her for stardom, completely oblivious to the fact that while Framkie has been showering Vicky with all his attention, Jill has developed feeling for him. Vicky even mentions it one day in front of Frankie and Jill, who vehemently denies it. A short time later, Vicky is found murdered and a hard-nosed police inspector named Cornell is convinced that Frankie did it.

Dwight Taylor's screenplay is based on a novel by Steve Fisher that features a lot of cliched dialogue and outdated police procedures, but the set up of the mystery is first rate. The film actually opens with Frankie and Jill being brought in for questioning about the murder as the story leading up to Vicky's death unfolds in front of the viewer through flashbacks of several different actors. And even when get to the point where Vicky's body is discovered, the evidence points to Frankie, but the movie is not even half over, so we know that Frankie being the murderer is just too easy, but we really don't know who did it and the road to the answer leads to a terrific twist we don't see coming.

Brucfe Humberstone's direction is dark and atmospheric and provides motivations for the actors that keep the killer's identity a surprise until we're supposed to know. There are red herring thrown in to throw us off the scent, but this one definitely keeps the viewer guessing until the climax.

Victor Mature's slick performance as Frankie appropriately anchors the proceedings and Betty Grable is surprisingly effective in a rare non musical role as Jill. Carole Landis is lovely as Jill and Laird Cregar is totally creepy as Cornell. Lover the "Over the Rainbow" theme in Cyril Mockridge's music, which really served the story. Yes, it has dated elements, but purely as a murder mystery, it still holds up. Remade in 1953 as Vicki.