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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
Monroe and Russell Shine in this Classic
GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES is the sparkling 1953 musical comedy based on the Broadway musical that made Carol Channing a star and here does the same thing for another blonde...namely Marilyn Monroe. Monroe shines in the ultimate dumb blonde role: Lorelei Lee, who along with best pal Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell) are a couple of showgirls being tailed by a private detective hired by the father of Lorelai's latest beau, to get the goods on her.
The razor-thin plot is so not the issue here. The issue is the performances by the film's stars that absolutely light up the screen. Monroe, in particular, found the role of a lifetime here as Lorelei Lee, the seemingly dim-witted gold digger with a nose for diamonds and rich men, who has no shame about using her obvious physical assets to get what she wants. This is the role that most people look to when they say that Monroe was just a "dumb blonde", but if you watch closely, Monroe is just playing a "dumb blonde" and doing it better than probably anyone ever did. And never was there a clearer example of why the camera just loved Monroe.
Though the film is clearly Monroe's showcase, Jane Russell never allows herself to be blown off the screen and performs impressively alongside Monroe as the wisecracking Dorothy Shaw. Russell proves to have the same skill with a wisecrack that actresses like Thelma Ritter and Eve Arden did.
Elliott Reed, Tommy Noonan, Charles Coburn, and young George Winslow offer solid support in supporting roles as the various men (and boys) involved in the misadventures of Lorelei and Dorothy.
Musical highlights include the ladies' opening number, "Two Little Girls from Little Rock", "Bye Bye Baby", "Ain't Anybody Here for Love?", and Monroe's iconic "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend", a number that has become a permanent part of cinema pop culture.
Aided by breezy direction from Howard Hawks, this is a delightful musical comedy classic which features two beautiful and talented ladies front and center at the peak of their charm.
Ferrell and Company Strike Gold Again
Will Ferrell and his growing rep company provide some of their biggest laughs ever in TALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE LEGEND OF RICKY BOBBY, another of Ferrell's sports-oriented comedies that takes a popular American sport and turns it on its ears.
Ferrell plays the title character, an arrogant and dim-witted stock car driver, whose winning philosophy was based on something his father said to him as a child, whose life is altered forever when he has a serious accident and after a lengthy rehab, tries to resume his life and learns that his best friend has moved in with his wife and kids, taken over his career, and has to depend on his long lost father to take his life back.
Ferrell and Adam McKay have concocted one of the smartest and funniest screenplays in comedy history which takes effective pot shots at the stock car driving industry as well as the advertising industry as well. McKay's energized direction is also a big plus, but its Ferrell and his winning cast that really make this one shine.
Ferrell is hysterical, as always, and gets solid comic support from the always reliable John C. Reilly as Cal Naughton, Ricky's best friend who finally takes advantage of his chance to move out of Ricky's shadow, Leslie Bibb as Ricky's gold-digging wife, David Keocher and Michael Clarke Duncan as members of Ricky's pit crew, Jane Lynch as Ricky's mom, and in a performance that comes as close as I have seen anyone to steal a movie from Will Ferrell, Gary Cole as Ricky's derelict Dad, whose training sessions to get Ricky back on the track are hysterical. Sascha Baron Cohen provides some giggles as well in a sexually androgynous variation of his BORAT character.
The film provides solid laughs from beginning to end, especially for Ferrell fans. Check out this comic gem.
License to Wed (2007)
Considering the talent involved, a real disappointment...
LICENSE TO WED is a sophomoric and offensive "romantic comedy" that centers around Ben Murphy and Sadie Jones (THE OFFICE's John Krasinski and Mandy Moore), a recently engaged couple who, prior to taking their vows, agree to take a course on marriage being conducted by Jones family friend, Father Frank (Robin Williams), which includes things like classes on carrying the bridge across the thresh hold, role playing, animatronic babies, and blindfolded driving lessons. Pedestrian direction and a screenplay that offends at every turn provide further twists of the knife in this childish and predictable comedy that is an embarrassment to all involved. They lost me when Father Frank actually planted electronic listening devices in Ben and Sadie's home and it just goes downhill from there. John Krasinki's easy going charm almost makes the film worth sitting through, but not quite. Even Williams looks embarrassed to be trapped in this debacle.
A Surprisingly Effective Comic Fantasy for Grownups...
The 2007 film ENCHANTED is a deft and imaginative musical/comedy/fantasy that breaks several cinematic rules in its execution of a richly entertaining story that intrigues and delights the viewer. The film opens as an animated fairy tale where we meet Giselle, a princess who, shortly before her marriage to Prince Edward, is magically transported to modern day Manhattan, thanks to Edward's mother, the requisite Evil Queen, where she is befriended by an attractive attorney and single dad. Giselle's fish out of water experiences in Manhattan blend seamlessly with the arrival of Prince Edward, the queen's henchmen, and the Evil Queen herself, who also arrive in New York to return Giselle to the kingdom of Andulasia. The story takes most of the turns it's expected to, but the journey there is the fun here, as the the old cinematic chestnut of the fish out of water, is dusted off and refashioned into a contemporary fantasy filled with child-like imagination and adult sensibility. Amy Adams is perfection as Giselle, the princess transported to modern times who believes that love is everything, animals clean house, and pigeons deliver flowers. Adams' wide eyed sincerity and clear as a bell singing voice help to make this performance the flawless marriage of actress and character. Patrick Dempsey and James Marsden are attractive as the single dad who Giselle falls for and her fairy tale prince who want her back. Timothy Spall provides some funny moments as the Queen's henchman and there is a brief, but fabulous scenery-chewing turn by Susan Sarandon as the Evil Queen. Tony winner Idina Menzel (WICKED) also scores as Dempsey's girlfriend (BTW, note to continuity dept: during the course of the film, we see advertisements for WICKED and for RENT, two Broadway shows supposedly running at the same time, that both starred Menzel, but I digress). The film is energetically directed by Kevin Lima and the surprisingly clever song score is provided by Alan Mencken (THE LITTLE MERMAID) and Stephen Schwartz (PIPPIN; GODSPELL). Top it off with some top-notch visual effects and cinema's most durable sidekick, Pip the Chipmunk and you have all the ingredients for a first-rate adult fairy tale that provides some big laughs in addition to the expected warm-fuzzy feelings.
Man on the Moon (1999)
Carrey's Remarkable Performance Makes this film work...
The late Andy Kaufman was a tortured soul who wanted fame on his own terms and didn't care if others were in on the joke or not. This seems to be the permeating theme of MAN ON THE MOON, director Milos Foreman's rambling 1999 biopic about the comedian, who would achieve his greatest fame as mechanic Latka Gravas on the ABC series TAXI during the 1970's. This film explores Kaufman's humble beginnings in dingy comedy clubs to his unnerving appearance on the premiere episode of Saturday NIGHT LIVE, his tenure on TAXI and his invasion of the WWF, which ballooned into a full blown feud with WWF wrestler Jerry Lawler. The film shows Andy's consistent discontent with his success and how no matter what he achieved, it wasn't enough. This purely evidenced in Kaufman's obnoxious alter ego, Tony Clifton, who Kaufman tirelessly worked at creating a separate career for, despite the fact that no one was interested. The film aggravates as we watch Kaufman constantly put up roadblocks to his own success, but also fascinates due to the mesmerizing performance by Jim Carrey in the title role. Carrey channels Kaufman flawlessly, in a performance that's positively spooky in its accuracy and should have earned Carrey an Oscar nomination. Kaufman, I mean Carrey, gets solid support from Danny DeVito, who plays George Shapiro, Kaufman's agent and Paul Giamatti, who plays Bob Zmuda, Kaufman's co-writer and co-parter in conspiracy and the only one in all of Kaufman's jokes. Courtney Love's performance as the leading lady is a matter of taste, but it really doesn't matter because this is Jim Carrey's show all the way and he makes the film worth watching. The film also features appearances by Jerry Lawler, Peter Bonerz as TAXI producer Ed Weinberger and TAXI cast members Judd Hirsch, Jeff Conaway, Marilu Henner, Christopher Lloyd, and Carol Kane. A long but involving look at one of show business' most tragic figures and Im not completely sure that it's over.
Fincher's Directorial Triumph
Director David Fincher (FIGHT CLUB)has achieved the zenith of his career with THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, a sweeping and majestic fable that spans almost an entire century. This moving and eloquent story follows the life of a boy named Benjamin, who was born as a baby in his late 80's and ages in reverse. His mother died in childbirth and his father was so horrified at the sight of him that he left him on an anonymous doorstep, where he was taken in by a kindly black owner of a boarding house in post WWI New Orleans. We become completely enveloped in Benjamin's tale as we watch him calmly accept the extraordinary hand that God has dealt him while others do the same or run in terror. We watch the kindly adopted mother who accepts his as he is, though does take him to a faith healer thinking she can "save" him; we also watch his biological father track him down and regret his decision of giving the boy up while he maintains a life long friendship with Daisy, the little girl who he meets as an old manchild, whose lives meet in the middle as she grows into a vain beauty who can't accept the fact that Benjamin grows younger as she grows older. The film is visually arresting and bold in its cinematic scope as Fincher's meticulous direction brings you a story that should make you ponder, but really only makes you behold. Brad Pitt received his second Oscar nomination for his performance in the title role, a role which many feel was all visual effects and makeup; however, Benjamin has a mind and a soul and a voice that Pitt brings to this extraordinary character with a quiet and understated dignity. Cate Blanchett is luminous as Daisy, the love of Benjamin's life who can't quite accept Benjamin's life for what it is and there is strong support from Taraji P. Henson as Benjamin's adoptive mother and Jason Flemyng as his biological father. Fincher breathes an extraordinary life into this story which could have been buried in visual effects and makeup but has a life of its own and the final act as Daisy becomes an older woman while Benjamin regresses to infancy, is absolutely heartbreaking. A one of kind cinematic experience.
Penn, Black and Van Sant Deliver the Goods...
Sean Penn's mesmerizing Oscar winning performance is the centerpiece of MILK, the 2008 biopic about Harvey Milk, the tireless crusader of gay rights who became the first openly gay male to run for public office. Director Gus van Sant has mounted this intimate story on a massive canvas, utilizing stock news footage, gay activism education/information, and an intelligent, Oscar winning screening play by Dustin Lance Black to tell this compelling and emotionally charged tale of the man who put his entire life on the back burner as well as at a great personal risk to himself, to further the issue of gay rights. It would nice if homophobia could be put aside long enough for the heterosexual population to see a film like this and possibly gain a better understanding of this constantly tortured minority. Sean Penn won a richly deserved 2nd Best Actor Oscar for his passionate and fiery turn as this tireless Messiah for gay causes. The film also features a trio of sterling supporting performances from Emile Hirsch as a teen hustler that Milk converts into one of his followers, James Franco as Milk's lover who gets lost in Harvey's political shuffle, and especially Josh Brolin, in a brilliant performance that earned him a supporting nomination as Dan White, the conflicted, heterosexual San Francisco supervisor who worked alongside and against Milk simultaneously, leading to the downfall of both of them. A beautifully mounted film with a strong message that never becomes preachy, but stays with you long after the credits roll, featuring the performance of Sean Penn's distinguished career. Don't miss this one.
Mamma Mia! (2008)
Streep is Masterful in this Musical Joyride
MAMMA MIA! is a joyous musical romp, the film version of the long running Broadway musical based on the music of 70's pop group Abba. The film stars Meryl Streep as Donna, the lusty and free spirited innkeeper who runs a broken down hotel in the Greek Islands, who is rocked by the arrival of three former suitors (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard)in Greece for the wedding of Donna's daughter, Sophie, not knowing that one of them is really Sophie's father, though Donna is not sure which one is the real Daddy. This paper-thin plot line serves as the basis for an amusing and spirited musical journey exploring Donna's regrets about her past and Sophie's search for a future identity through knowing who her real father is. Filmed on location in the Greek Islands, the film is visually stunning and should really be experienced on a big screen. Streep, as always, commands the screen as Donna, giving a rich performance that almost makes you forget you're watching a musical. Amanda Seyfried is charming as Sophie offering an impressive turn in her first real leading role. There are also a pair of razor sharp supporting performances from Christine Baranski and Julie Walters as Donna's best friends, also in town for the wedding. The film features beautiful location photography and some very inventive staging of musical numbers, which include "Dancing Queen", " In a Rich Man's World", "The Winner Takes it All", "Our Last Summer", "Take a Chance on Me", and of course, the title tune. Not for all tastes, but for fans of musicals and Streep, a must.
Marley & Me (2008)
"The World's Worst Dog"
MARLEY & ME is a sweet-natured and breezy comedy peppered with equal parts laughter and sentiment which chronicles the lives of John and Jenny Grogan (Owen Wilson, Jennfier Aniston), an upwardly mobile couple, both working as writers, who find their lives forever altered when the adopt an adorable Labrador puppy who they name Marley, "the world's worst dog.". Marley barks at visitors, cowers during thunderstorms, chews up anything he can get in his mouth, and chases pigeons on the beach, in addition to being the ultimate babe magnet. Nothing groundbreaking here, but it's an entertaining film with plenty of laughs and even a tear or two along the way. Wilson and Aniston have a nice chemistry together and there are a couple of effective supporting turns from Alan Arkin as John's boss and best friend, but it's marley's picture all the way, and trust me, you will be in love with this dog by the time the film rolls around to its OLD YELLER-type conclusion.
Why Did I Get Married? (2007)
It was better when it was called THE FOUR SEASONS
Tyler Perry's inexplicably meteoric career continues to be an enigma with WHY DID I GET MARRIED?, his 2007 comedy-drama that pretty much comes off as a blatant rip-off of the 1984 Alan Alda comedy THE FOUR SEASONS. Perry has gathered an attractive cast of African American actors together to play four couples who travel to a mountain retreat for an alleged couples seminar that turns into a weekend of ugly accusations, confused loyalties, not-so-surprising revelations, and what Tyler Perry deals in best: tired stereotyped characters. Perry has the nerve to make these people rich and upwardly mobile with high-powered careers despite the fact that most of the characters don't have a brain in their head. Perry's enormous ego once again casts him center stage as a pediatrician married to a partner in a law firm (Sharon Leal), who had her tubes tied in order to keep babies from getting in the way of her career. Janet Jackson and Malik Yorba are beyond dull as a couple dealing with the death of a child. Michael Jai White and Tasha Smith are loud and obnoxious as a couple dealing with STD's and an ex that won't go away. Richard T. Jones plays a sexist pig who makes his overweight wife drive to the retreat while he arrives by plane with his mistress. Perry's attempt to present contemporary African Americans just comes off as forced and the stereotyped behavior of some of the character in the film is just embarrassing. The only light in all this darkness is a surprisingly charismatic performance from R&B songstress Jill Scott, who lights up the screen as Jones' overweight and insecure wife who eventually finds happiness with a sexy sheriff (Laaman Rucker). There's some nice scenery and the actors try to make the most out of a pedantic screenplay, but the whole thing just smacks of "been there done that."
Adventures in Babysitting (1987)
Shue is the show here
Elisabeh Shue's utterly enchanting performance in the starring role is the centerpiece and main selling point of 1987's ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING, a highly improbable but richly entertaining comedy that stars Shue as Chris Parker,a high school senior, whose night of babysitting turns into a raucous night of danger and excitement for Chris and her young charges. It doesn't score a lot of points in the reality department, but for old fashioned mindless fun, you can't beat it. There is one funny scene after another here, with the scene in the blues club being a definite standout. Keith Coogan and Anthony Rapp are amusing as the two teens under Chris' care and Calvin Levels also scores as a sympathetic crook, but this distaff re-thinking of FERRS BUELLER'S DAY OFF is Shue's show all the way and she makes it a pleasure.
The Nanny Diaries (2007)
An Overly Cute and Cloying Comedy....
THE NANNY DIAIRIES is a saccharine and annoying comedy that tries to incorporate touches of whimsical fantasy that don't really work. The film stars Scarlett Johansson as Annie Braddock (Why are female movie characters always named Annie, not Ann? I've never known an Ann in my life who likes to be called Annie), a recent college graduate who stumbles into a job as a Nanny for the child of an unhappy, upwardly mobile couple residing on Manhattan's lower east side. The predictable story finds Annie initially hating the position but soon unable to leave because she doesn't want to leave the child alone with his dysfunctional parents. The film suffers from pedestrian direction and a screenplay that tries WAY too hard to be cute and smart, most notably Annie's obnoxious Carrie Bradshaw-like narration that really grates on the nerves. Johansson's lifeless performance in the starring role doesn't help either...the camera loves Johansson but this is performance completely devoid of anything resembling comic timing. Johansson looks embarrassed just being involved in this debacle. The supporting cast is first rate though...Laura Linney's crisp performance as the boy's mother is perfection as is Tony Winner Donna Murphy's turn as Annie's mother and Grammy winner Alicia Keys as Annie's best friend. It cannot be denied that Nicholas Art is adorable as Annie's young charge and hunky Chris Evans is wasted as a romantic interest. It's SEX AND THE CITY meets MARY POPPINS and it just doesn't work.
Fatal Instinct (1993)
An On-Target Spoof of the Film Noir Genre
FATAL INSTINCT is a side-split-tingly funny spoof of film noir dramas, in the AIRPLANE/NAKED GUN mode that offers affectionate winks at films like FATAL ATTRACTION, BASIC INSTINCT, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, and CAPE FEAR, offering consistent laughs thanks, in part, to the self-assured direction of comedy icon Carl Reiner. Reiner smartly chose to cast strong actors instead of pure comics whose uncanny ability to play the funny material with completely straight faces is what makes the film so funny. Armand Assante is surprisingly funny as Ned Ravine, a cop and a lawyer who is being cheated on by a scheming wife (Kate Nelligan), being pursued by a sexy client (Sean Young)and being loved from afar by his faithful secretary (Sherilyn Fenn). There are also funny turns from Christopheer McDonald as Nelligan's dim-witted lover, James Remar, in a perfect take off of Max Cady from CAPE FEAR, and Tony Randall as a judge. The gags come fast and furious and most of them work, there's even a very funny cameo by Bob Euker, as a color commentator for a trial. Just sit back, relax, don't think about it too much and there's a lot of fun to be had here.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
The Cohen Brothers Strike Gold with another Winner...
Joel and Ethan Cohen brought home the Academy Award for Best Picture of 2007 with NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, a dark and chilling suspense thriller which takes the classic cat and mouse chase genre to an entirely new level. The film stars Josh Brolin, in his finest performance to date, as a schnook who happens upon the remains of a brutal crime scene, where he finds several dead bodies, a huge shipment of heroine, and a case containing two million dollars and the consequences of his fatalistic decision to take off with the money, prompting his being hunted by a cold-blooded assassin (Jarvier Bardem), who will stop at nothing to get his money back. Throw in a laid back Texan sheriff (played to perfection by Tommy Lee Jones)assigned to the case and you have all the ingredients of a first class thriller. This gritty and uncompromising drama pulls no punches and offers no easy solutions to a myriad of questions it raises, most notably, "Did this guy really think he could get away with stealing two million dollars?" The film is dark and atmospheric, creating such a height of suspense that there is virtually no music score and you really don't miss it. The suspense created by the story propels the film itself. Jarvier Bardem won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his bone-chilling performance as Chagur, the deadly and apparently conscience-free killer chasing Brolin. Bardem creates one of the most terrifying cinematic villains ever, whose brutality is only surpassed by his unpredictability. The Cohens have crafted an intricate story that does peter out toward the end, but for the majority of its running time, will have you literally holding your breath. Not quite up the standards of their classic FARGO, the film is still practically a classic that improves upon repeat viewings and reinforces Joel and Ethan Cohen as filmmakers to be reckoned with.
The Dark Knight (2008)
A Dark and Brilliant Comic Book Epic...the best of its Kind
I was afraid that THE DARK KNIGHT would not live up to the hype and to everything I had heard about the film, but the film not only lived up to the hype but effortlessly surpassed it. This epic sequel to BATMAN BEGINS(a film which, BTW, put me to sleep)is a directorial triumph for Christopher Nolan (robbed of a Best Director nomination), who has mounted the ultimate comic book fantasy on an epic scale and has produced a mesmerizing epic that dazzles from start to finish as Nolan takes us back to Gotham City where we find the Caped Crusader battling mobsters, his own conscience, and of course, the Joker. Nolan's intricate screenplay never fails to hold interest, bringing us a variety of new and beloved characters and balancing their time on the screen with effortless grace. Nolan's attention to production values is to be applauded with particularly impressive cinematography and art direction and he evokes performances from his cast that are uniformly superb right down the line with standout work from Christian Bale, who brings even more of a tortured intensity to the enigmatic Bruce Wayne/Batman than he did in the previous film and Aaron Eckhart who turns in the performance of his career as good guy turned bad Harvey Dent aka Two Face. And what can be said regarding the performance of the late Heath Ledger that has not already been said? I didn't think Ledger could possibly be as good as everyone kept telling me he was but I was wrong. This is a performance that stands alone and should be studied by acting classes. Dead or alive, Ledger richly deserved the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for one of the most mesmerizing performances of the decade, that even made Nicholson's Joker in the 1989 Tim Burton film pale in comparison. This performance is electrifying and gutsy and more than anything, it's tragically and beautifully human...Ledger doesn't allow the Joker to just be a cartoon, he fleshes the character out as a three dimensional human being whose tragic flaw is simply wanting to be loved. Ledger doesn't make a false or unbelievable move in this film...it's a deliciously thrilling performance that is to be savored repeatedly, just like the rest of this comic book masterpiece.
Big Night (1996)
The Brilliant Little Sleeper that Nobody Saw
BIG NIGHT is the utterly charming and richly entertaining sleeper of 1996 that nobody saw and it's really a shame. This is the story of Secundo and Primo, a tight pair of Italian brothers who run an intimate Italian bistro in 1950's Brookyln who are facing bankruptcy until a business associate, so impressed with their food, promises to have his good friend, jazz musician Louis Prima, come to the restaurant for dinner and it is the preparations for this "big night" that send the brothers and everyone in their orbit into a tailspin. This joyous celebration of everything that is Italian-American completely envelops you with an almost voyeuristic atmosphere and characters who vividly touch your soul. The brothers are flawlessly played by one of our most solid and underrated character actors, the brilliant Stanley Tucci and MONK's Tony Shaloub and neither actor has ever been more appealing on screen. Tucci's Secundo is smart, sexy, charismatic, and generous of soul and Shaloub's Primo is an arrogant boob who always remains likable. Tucci co-wrote and directed this gem with actor Campbell Scott, who also appears briefly as a slick-talking used car salesman and Tucci and Scott's one scene together is a standout, but it is the atmosphere and rich characterizations that take center stage here...Ian Holm steals every scene he is in as the brothers' benefactor and Minnie Driver, Isabella Rosellini, and Allison Janney are impressive as the women in the brothers' lives. This movie is a joy from start to finish and made me wish that I was Italian. If you've never seen this one, please, treat yourself...and don't see it while you're hungry!
Lee Remick's luminous presence makes this one worth checking out...
A charismatic and heartbreaking performance by the late Lee Remick is the centerpiece of TOUGHLOVE, a relative interesting 1985 TV-movie, originally aired on ABC, that is made to be much better than it is because of Lee Remick's performance. Remick and Bruce Dern play upper middle class suburbanites who are at their wits' end regarding how to handle their teenage son, whose drug addiction has his life spiraling out of control and is slowly and methodically destroying their family. Having tried everything thing else, the couple turn to an organization called Tough Love, which teaches parents to go on the offensive with out of control children: If your child is constantly staying out past his curfew, lock the front door at curfew and put the dead bolt on or if your child gets arrested, don't bail him out, let him experience the consequences of his actions. This film chronicles the couples' initial reluctance to be so harsh with their child but soon learn that Tough Love is the only thing that affects their son's behavior. Remick is the conflicted mother, torn between wanting her baby home with her and knowing that as long as she continues to baby her son, he will never change. The scene where they learn their son is in jail and refuse to bail him out is sad and brilliant. Dern and especially Remick give superb performances as does a young Jason Patric as their troubled son, Gary. Despite an ending that's a cop out, this is pretty compelling stuff for most of the ride, thanks primarily to the work of the amazing Lee Remick.
Love Field (1992)
A Sad and Intimate Character Study Set in a Turbulent Time
Michelle Pfeiffer's Oscar nominated performance anchors 1992's LOVE FIELD, a surprisingly moving marriage between character study and buddy movie that draws the viewer in with the draw of vividly human characters involved in a somewhat over the top story that manages to hold our attention due to the extreme likability of the two main characters. Pfeiffer plays a Dallas beautician named Lurene in 1963, who is so devastated by the assassination of JFK that she decides, against her husband's wishes, to travel to Washington DC to attend JFK's funeral and, en route, befriends a black man (Dennis Haysbert)traveling with his daughter, and the relationship that develops between the two when circumstances find the three of them on the run together. The story taken on an unexpected richness because these two people are part of the racially turbulent 1960's and because of the beautifully evocative performances from the stars. Pfeiifer, in particular, gives us a sad and slightly pathetic creature, wearing a platinum blonde Mariyln Monroe wig that seems to represent her desire to be someone else, her Lurlene is slightly ditzy, bored,lonely, but with a heart as big as all outdoors and the quiet dignity that Haysbert brings to his character in this tense situation is on target. Brian Kerwin also scores in the most significant role of his career as Lurene's abusive brute of a husband, but it is the performances and chemistry of the two stars that make this journey a memorable one.
The Queen (2006)
An Intimate Look at a Public Icon....
Helen Mirren's complex and mesmerizing Oscar-winning performance anchors THE QUEEN, an intimate story told on a grand scale, documenting, in what could only be a blend of fact and speculation, the movements of the royal family, Queen Elizabeth II in particular, during the days following Princess Diana's death. Peter Morgan's uncompromising screenplay hypothesizes much of the Queen's thoughts and emotions during this difficult period as this story takes us into extremely private moments with the conflicted monarch of which no one could be privy, but basically, this story portrays the Queen as an icy and cold-hearted harridan who is curiously unmoved by Diana's death and does nothing to publicly grieve or acknowledge the Princess, who by this time, was already divorced from Prince Charles and had basically turned her back on the Royal family. The film shows how Englanders' begin to public air they resentment of the Queen for her actions, or lack thereof, and her battle of wills with Prime Minister Tony Blair, who tirelessly advocated that the Queen acknowledge Diana publicly and what she had come to mean to the rest of the world as "the People's Princess." Stephen Frears' bold direction does not sugar coat the screenplay, which doesn't necessarily paint the title figure in a flattering light, but puts a human face on this mysterious icon. Mirren's delicately nuanced performance is breathtaking and Michael Sheen (FROST/NIXON)proves to be a formidable screen presence in his interpretation of Tony Blair. Mention should also be made of James Cromwell as Prince Phillip and Sylvia Syms as the Queen Mother, who also make the most of their screen time, but it is the bold screenplay and Mirren's artistry that make this film sing.
Into the Wild (2007)
A Tragic and Moving Personal Journey and a Triumph for Penn and Hirsch...
INTO THE WILD is a terribly sad and emotionally gripping cinematic journey, incredibly based on a true story, about a young man named Christopher Johnson McCandless. who after graduating from college, decides to forsake his cushy upper middle class lifestyle, change his name to Alexander Supertramp, and journey across country,with nothing but the clothes on his back, with his eventual goal being to travel to the Alaskan wilderness. Sean Penn's meticulous direction and eloquent screenplay take us on a cinematic journey quite unlike anything we've seen before. This is not an easy watch...there are several moments in this film depicting what Chris has to do to survive in the wilderness that completely redefine the phrase "roughing it" and definitely make this a film not for all tastes. but if you can stomach it, the journey is worth it and will leave a lump in the throat. Emile Hirsch is impressive in the physically and emotionally demanding role of Chris, probably the strongest performance of his career. Oscar winners William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden appear as Chris' parents and Vince Vaughn, Catherine Keener, and in a performance that earned him his first Oscar nomination, Hal Holbrook, also score in brief supporting roles. The film is also beautifully photographed with some breathtaking scenery but it is the work of Penn and Hirsch that make this deliberate journey worth your time.
A dazzling textbook example on how to revive a classic musical...
This 2000 recording of the British revival of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical was dazzling from start to finish...a beautiful revival of the classic rock opera that shows exactly how to revive a classic musical...this production has re-thought the show for the new millennium, given it some new visual trappings, through some inventive staging, has refocused the relationships in the show, but most of important of all when reviving a musical, it has remained true to the original piece. This rock opera chronicling the last seven days in the life of Jesus Christ was first brought to the screen in 1973 by director Norman Jewison, who copped out a bit by presenting the story as a show being presented by a group of traveling players...no such breaking of the 4th wall here...directors Gale Edwards and Nick Morris have opted not only to present the story as real and in a somewhat contemporized setting, but thanks to some effective staging and camera-work, have focused the show where I always thought it really belonged...on the twisted relationship between Jesus and Judas Iscariot, which I have always felt was the crux of this musical but tends to get lost in most productions of this show due to a lack of actual vocal interaction between the two characters, but putting the show on tape allows camera-work to come into play beautifully, adding an entire new texture to this tragic relationship, perfectly conveying the conflicted emotions of love and guilt and resentment both these men supposedly felt for each other. The classic Webber/Rice score is presented intact and includes "Heaven On Their Minds", "I Don't Know How to Love Him", "Everything's Alright", "King Herod's Song", "Hosanna", and "Superstar." Contemporary settings are a big plus here...the office where Ciaphas does "This Jesus Must Die" seems to be a definite wink to Darth Vader in STAR WARS and the idea of Pilate actually being undressed and in bed for "Pilate's Dream" was inspired. The entire cast is first rate with special nods to Glenn Carter (Jesus) Jerome Pradon (Judas), Fred Johanson (a bone-chilling Pilate) and Michael Schaeffer (Annas). For fans of the show a must see and it could make converts of non-fans. Breathtaking from start to finish.
A Feel Good Tearjerker...
MASK is the 1985 comedy-drama based on the true story of Rocky Dennis, a sensitive and highly intelligent teenager who, because of a debilitating disease, has a severely disfigured face that has made him an outcast outside of his family and the social circle surrounding them (basically a biker gang, who are savagely protective of Rocky). The film focuses primarily on Rocky's relationship with his mother Rusty (Cher), a free-spirited independent woman whose history of drug and alcohol abuse and sexual promiscuity has been such a concern to Rocky that it's sometimes hard to tell who's raising who in the Dennis household. The film is basically unfolds as a series of vignettes, highlighting the ups and downs of Rocky and Rusty's relationship, which seems to rise above everything else that happens in their lives. No matter what Rocky and Rusty go through, their love for each other rises above everything and makes all their fallacies fade to the background. Peter Bogdonovich's evocative direction is a big plus here, knowing where to mine the laughs and the tears and the film contains plenty of both. Cher gives the performance of her career as Rusty Dennis (even better than her Oscar winning turn in MOONSTRUCK) and an unrecognizable Eric Stoltz hits all the right notes as the soulful and intelligent Rocky. Sam Elliott is solid as Rusty's on-again, off-again boyfriend Gar and Laura Dern shines as a blind girl who Rocky falls for. Mention should also be made of Dennis Burkley as a slow-witted family friend and of Richard Dysart and the late Estelle Getty who register in one scene as Rusty's parents. Don't miss this lovely emotional drama that perfectly blends laughter and tears to maximum effect.
Stay the Night (1992)
A Gripping and Emotionally Manipulative Film anchored by two Powerhouse Performances...
STAY THE NIGHT was a 1992 TV movie, originally aired in two parts, that centered around a small town trollop named Jimmy Sue Finger (Barbara Hershey), trapped in a loveless marriage, who drifts into an affair with a local teenager (Morgan Weissner)and eventually talks the boy into murdering her abusive husband so that they can supposedly be together. After the boy does the deed and is promptly sent to prison, Jimmy Sue pretends to be devoted to him by visiting him regularly in jail, but never reveals her part in what happened so the boy's mother (Jane Alexander) embarks on a mission to get Jimmy Sue to confess that the murder was Jimmy Sue's idea by cozying up to her and pretending to be her best friend in an attempt to get Jimmy Sue to casually reveal the truth about what happened. This is a well-made drama that will wreak havoc with your emotions, thanks primarily to a strong screenplay and the riveting performances by the two lead actresses. Hershey, in particular, making the most out of a truly despicable character, is just spectacular in a performance that earned her an Emmy nomination. Alexander, splendid as always, matches Hershey scene for scene as the conflicted mother who finds herself feeling some guilt as she finds her personal feelings about Jimmy Sue getting tangled up with her mission. Morgan Weissner is sincere as the boy who is the object of the drama and Earl Hindman ("Wilson" of TV's HOME IMPROVEMENT) is also effective as Alexander's husband and Weissner's father. It's emotionally manipulative, like Jimmy Sue Finger herself, but it hits the bullseye.
A smart and funny romantic comedy...better than you might expect...
PLAYMATES was a 1972 ABC Movie of the Week which starred Alan Alda and Doug McClure as a pair of divorced dads who meet during a weekend outing with their kids, who strike up a friendship and start hanging out together. Their relationship becomes complicated when the two men introduce each other to their ex-wives and they start secretly start dating each other's exes. This formulaic romantic comedy isn't groundbreaking in any way but it does boasT a surprisingly deft screenplay and energetic performances from a willing cast. The connection between Alda's sophisticated businessman and McClure's blue collar everyman is a big plus as is the casting of Barbara Feldon as Alda's ex and Connie Stevens as McClure's. The clever script and the rock solid chemistry of the four leads make this film an unexpected delight that still holds up remarkably well, despite some dated elements.
A Lavish Musical Spectacle that Fails to Sustain Interest to the End
The final musical directed by the legendary Vicnente Minnelli, ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER, is the expensive and lumbering 1970 film version of the 1965 Broadway musical, revamped to fit the talents of Barbra Streisand. In her third feature film, Barbra plays Daisy Gamble, a college student who we learn has ESP and the ability to make plants grow VERY quickly, who seeks the help of a college professor, Dr. Marc Chabot (Yves Montand) in helping her to quit smoking via hypnosis. While under hypnosis, Chabot discovers Daisy had a previous life as a 17th century temptress named Melinda Tentrees, who he falls in love with, but has to deal with the dull and annoying Daisy to get to the ever fascinating Melinda. This inventive Broadway musical has been dramatically re-tooled into a Barbra vehicle and despite Minnelli's still evident eye for color and cinema landscape, this long lumbering film fails to sustain interest until the end, despite some lovely scenery and breathtaking period costuming by the legendary Cecil Beaton. Streisand and Montand have no chemistry whatsoever and Bob Newhart, Simon Oakland, Larry Blyden, Elain Giftos, and Jack Nicholson (!?!)are wasted in pointless supporting roles. The severely tampered with Burton Lane-EY Harbug score includes "Hurry, It's Lovely Up Here", "What did I have that I Don't Have?", "Melinda", "Go to Sleep", and "Come Back to Me." For hard-core Streisand addicts only.