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The Professor and the Madman (2019)
"Together we shall shrink the darkness, until there is only light."
I thought the story here was fairly compelling, though after a while I began to find it almost comical the amount of time and effort that was being put into defining the meaning of a single word. All for a good cause of course, because this was how the Oxford English Dictionary came about, but even with Dr. James Murray's (Mel Gibson) devotion to duty, one intuitively realizes that a project like this could never be finished. Finished in the sense that the language would at some point stop evolving. It's a pretty safe bet that 'emoji' wasn't in that first edition.
In an unusual pairing, Mel Gibson and Sean Penn are cast opposite each other here as meaningful collaborators, but it comes with a twist. Penn's character is a former Civil War Army surgeon found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity. The man truly is insane with regard to the conspiracy he holds in his mind of an elusive stalker who is intent on killing him. The narrative doesn't give even an inkling of anyone who might be out to 'get him', so to speak, and that delusion remains with Dr. William Chester Minor (Penn) throughout the story. However in his more lucid moments, Dr. Minor is repentant over the death of the man he mistakenly killed, and spends his entire prison life attempting to make it up to the victim's widow, both monetarily and by way of teaching the woman how to read. In time, Eliza Merrett's (Natalie Dormer) initial negative assessment of Minor turns to thoughts of forgiveness and love, an idea that Minor can't cope with in a rational way. Taking it to an extreme, Minor castrates himself to insure that he can never return favor back to the woman he caused to become a widow.
Penn, who I'm no fan of, really does do a remarkable job in the role of Minor, particularly during that phase of the picture in which he envisions no chance at redemption given Mrs. Merrett's ambiguous profession of love. As Mr. Murray struggles with his own efforts to move the dictionary process along, his relationship with Minor becomes personal upon repeated visits to the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum where Minor is held. With unlimited passion, Murray prevails upon the authorities to come up with a way to free Minor and provide him some measure of relief from both his imprisonment and his self imposed mental isolation. In due course, Murray himself is vindicated for the passion he put into his work at Oxford, and is allowed to continue leadership on the team that eventually fulfilled the mission some years following his death.
It's probably fair to say that not all viewers will find the film quite as intriguing as I did. It moves rather slow and the subject matter is rather tepid, so action junkies ought skip this one altogether. For others though, the picture can be quite engaging with a lot to offer if you're a fan of the principals and wish to witness some very fine acting. Gibson and Penn are both superb.
Dark Phoenix (2019)
"I don't know what's happening to me."
This movie was certainly not a hit with Marvel comic book and movie fans. I do have to admit that Sophie Turner appeared to be an uninspired choice for the title role of Jean Grey/Phoenix; she seemed lifeless and apathetic in the role. I would have seen her in 'Apocalypse' but have no recall of that as I write this. Not being a reader of the comic series, I have no idea how the story line might have been compromised, for that you'll have to take in some of the other reviews. I thought the picture started out on a fairly even keel, but as is always the case, things lead to a massive confrontation between rival forces that results in fiery explosions and non-stop battle action. My one biggest disappointment in the film is something that could not have been prevented. One of the things I always looked for in a Marvel based movie was the ubiquitous appearance of comic legend Stan Lee, who passed away in 2018. It was nice to see him get a tip of the hat here in the early credits. One thing I did notice was that James McAvoy's character, Professor Charles Xavier, hit the bottle an awful lot. Between Stan Lee's passing and the resultant movie, there might have been a compelling reason.
The Gambler (2014)
"A wise man's life is based around 'f... you'."
This is a tough movie to wrap your head around. Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is a literature professor by day and inveterate gambler the rest of the time. The only inkling we have why he gambles uncontrollably relates to a fatherless past and an inability to cash in on a skill that would put him in the stratosphere of money earners that only sheer talent can command. Wahlberg never imbues his character with any qualities that would make him likable, which makes it a mystery why student Amy Phillips (Brie Larson) takes a liking to him. If you think about it, Professor Bennett never once offered evidence of why he believed Miss Phillips was a dynamic writer, he only said so in class during his diatribe on how much he hated his job. For her part, she might have felt it so intuitively, but because Bennett seemed to be blowing smoke most of the time to his students, how would she ever know to take him seriously?
I have to say, in addition to the unlikable characters, some of the principal players looked physically as bad as I've ever seen them. Wahlberg, who lost sixty one pounds for his role, looked emaciated and weary, perhaps a function of the life style his character was living, but I thought he looked terrible. Jessica Lange, who portrayed his mother, looked like her face was made of plastic, and I'm sorry if that offends anyone but she didn't look like a real person. And what can one say about the shirtless John Goodman? If a Star Wars chapter ever needed a repeat appearance from Jabba the Hutt, Goodman looked like he could nail the part.
Story wise, not a lot of credibility on the part of Bennett's backers. After 'only' fifty grand in the hole, I couldn't imagine anyone fronting the cash Bennett was asking for to continue his losing spree. It all worked out of course, and one would have to assume he himself was the other unknown gambler who bet the house on the basketball game. There's a lot of reading between the lines in the picture's resolution to make this a Cinderella story, and a lot of question marks one would have following the end credits.
"He is something we found in the woods."
Not much creatively new or original here except for the idea of a potential super-hero gone bad. I had to groan when Tori Breyer (Elizabeth Banks) revealed the space ship her son landed in. It was derivative of the the story of baby Kal-el who eventually grew up to become Superman. Instead, and with no development of the character, Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn) grew up to be so evil that his own father took him hunting in order to put a bullet in his head. Bad move there, Dad; that heat vision only works one way. The film is presented as a horror flick, and there's your expected share of gore I guess, but the premise offered so much more and couldn't deliver. There's one scene that will make you squirm when the baby sitter takes a glass sliver to the eye, and if it happened to you, the film would be unwatchable. For anyone else, it still is.
The Mustang (2019)
"You think riding horses can change anything?"
It's not surprising that the hand of Robert Redford as executive producer might have been present to guide the filming of this story. His 1998 picture "The Horse Whisperer", in which he starred and directed, was an earlier showcase that demonstrated the power of healing inherent in the close relationship that can be fostered between a man and his horse. This story takes place at Nevada's Ely State Prison, where convict Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) is serving a twenty year sentence for murder due to his hostile temper. An illuminating scene in the story takes place during the therapy session with a handful of other convicted murderers, who tell their story and how a mere few thoughtless seconds resulted in years of imprisonment.
Both Roman and his 'therapy' horse start out as incorrigible. Actually, the horses in the story are not there as therapy animals, but as wild mustangs rounded up to be trained by members of the prison population singled out for the task. Following a twelve week cycle, the animals are then sold to police departments or other organizations that can utilize them for their newly acquired manageability. The sense of loss experienced by the trainers is visibly apparent in the case of Thomas Youngblood (Thomas Smittle), who's moved to tears when his horse T-Bird is sold at auction. The bond formed between man and horse can almost be compared to that of family, even after such a short period of time.
A side story regarding Roman Coleman's under age, pregnant daughter Martha (Gideon Adlon) seeking emancipation allows for a tentative look into his background and how he ended up in prison. Their strained relationship is rocky at first, but as Roman begins to learn more about himself by working with 'Marquis', he attains a level of perspective and patience that can be applied to human relationships. Though their final parting is somewhat ambiguous, Roman does gain some closure when he eventually receives a letter from his daughter with a picture of his grandson. It's a tender moment that could have been mawkishly sentimental if not for the assured guidance of first time film director, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre.
Fire Creek (2006)
"What am I still here for?"
A profound existential theme pervades the entire movie, as returning Afghanistan war veteran Jason Malek (Seth Packard) agonizes over the death of his friend and comrade on the battlefield. Traumatized by the fact that he survived the war and his buddy didn't, Jason also assumes guilt for not praying for his friend when he was asked to, having given up on his faith some years earlier when his own father perished in a warehouse explosion. Searching for answers that can never be found, Jason befriends a young boy who moves into his neighborhood with a father who grew up with Jason's dad. Ironically, both of his parents died in the same catastrophe that killed Jason's father. As this Christian themed story progresses, one can foresee the inevitable outcome as young Lou Coldwell's (Dayne Rockwood) father is revealed to have an inoperable brain tumor, while his estranged mother deals with addiction and poverty. It doesn't take a huge leap of faith to realize that Jason and his Mom will provide refuge for the parent-less boy when the time comes. As one door closes, another one opens for Lou, and at least one answer is provided to Jason for having survived a conflict that spared his life by inches.
Beast of the Yellow Night (1971)
"I think you'll find this new situation interesting."
This might merit your time if you've got nothing else to do, but with thousands of other films out there, why bother? After making a deal with the devil, businessman Joseph Langdon (John Ashley) turns into a version of the Wolf Man, interesting in itself because he also turns into a guy named Philip Rogers as well. There's a bit of the Incredible Hulk that's part of the transformation, as emotional stress seems to bring out the hairy side of Joseph/Phillip's personality. The makeup work appears adequate at times but not entirely consistent, and true horror fans looking for a frightful experience might feel slighted. There is one reason you might tune in, and that's for the few brief appearances of Mary Charlotte Wilcox as Phillip Rogers' wife. Very appealing to the eye, but it's not enough to carry the story. The title of the film holds promise, but ultimately it's a letdown. Try something else, why don't you?
Edge of Darkness (2010)
"Oh, by the way. Thanks for not killing me."
After a lengthy self induced hiatus from the spotlight, Mel Gibson returns to form in this conspiracy action thriller that has a lot in the way of intrigue going for it. If this were a horror flick, a couple of good jump scares were provided when Detective Tommy Craven's (Gibson) daughter is murdered right outside their Boston home, and in that roadside scene when Emma's (Bojana Novakovic) friend Melissa (Caterina Scorsone) secretly meets with Craven to tell what she knows about a militant environmental activist group that Emma was associated with. That deliberate 'accident' should have left her dead, but the story insisted she hang on a bit in the hospital which wasn't very realistic.
Oddly, I kind of liked the character of Jedburgh (Ray Winstone), who eventually turned out to be an advocate for Craven. The ambiguous nature of his role fit the story well, and I think he would have been right at home in a venue like "The X-Files" in an earlier era. What didn't seem quite plausible to me was government contractor Northmoor secretly making nuclear weapons for foreign powers. I don't know how that could have remained a secret, especially with a United States senator involved, so that was a major suspension of disbelief element in the story.
Knowing that he was going to become a victim of the same radiation poisoning that would have ended his daughter's life in due time, Craven's resolve is tested to the max as he zeroes in on Northmoor and it's crooked CEO Bennett (Danny Huston). There's something to be said about "...a guy with nothing to lose who doesn't give a s..t." The final scene was well crafted to afford Craven closure, even if it did take place in the afterlife. I thought that was a clever and effective way to bring the picture to a conclusion.
Steel Country (2018)
"Can you not see what you're doing?"
Disregard the relatively low IMDb 6.1 viewer rating as I write this. I thought this was a well crafted story of a mentally challenged young man who wouldn't let go of a suspicion that abuse was involved in the death of a small boy. Andrew Scott portrays Donny Devlin, bordering on autism but with enough wits about to him to begin asking serious questions that will put his own life in jeopardy. Starting out, my instinct was that the crime was going to be pinned on Donny because of his feeble demeanor, but that idea quickly grew cold as the story progressed. A key to Donny's persistence was revealed in a scene taking place in his bedroom where hung a banner that read 'Never Never Never Give Up'. Apparently, that motivation was at work as Donny came to butt heads with friends and foes alike in his attempt to come up with the truth.
There are some scenarios that work against the success of Donny's mission. I thought Dr. Pomorowski spilled too much info to Donny in that meeting at his office. There was really nothing to compel the doctor to offer the information he did, he could have simply denied any sort of relationship with the dead boy's mother. Digging up the boy's body though, that was certainly more than a bit over the top, something I don't think a rational person would do, but then again, Donny was operating on a different spectrum.
There's a way I think that the story could have provided an ambiguous ending but was negated by an earlier conversation between Donny and cop friend Max Himmler (Griff Furst). It was revealed that Sheriff Mooney (Michael Rose) was a good friend of abuse suspect Pomorowski, and hence the cover up in the death of Tyler Ziegler. Had that not been made known, an out could have been provided for Donny to have been exonerated for the crossbow shooting of the doctor. In a small town off the beaten path, hunting accidents will sometimes happen.
"The path to paradise begins in hell."
Picking up right where Chapter Two left off, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) finds himself on the run from an open contract hit registered by his friends at the High Table. I kind of like the whole idea of an elite organization keeping it's members in line with the threat of 'excommunicado', but there were many examples of the hierarchy reversing course and failing to follow through. Like the Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) giving Winston (Ian McShane) and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) seven days to vacate their base of operations. And how about The Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui) offering Wick a position back under the High table if he fulfilled a hit on Winston. The premise of maintaining a very strict standard of conduct for the elite assassin's guild was repeatedly undermined in the story line, and created a departure from Chapter Two.
As for the action, while at the same time I love it, have to admit that it gets so over the top that at times it becomes comical. Like the stable horses taking out Wick's assassins - priceless!! When Wick goes to Casablanca, it's the same old, same old after teaming with Halle Berry's character Sofia. With perfunctory breaks in the gun play to reload, the bullets keep flying and through it all, Wick and Sofia are practically invulnerable from the barrage of bullets flying their way, while the opposing body count mounts to triple digit proportions. It's so unrealistic that, as I say, you have to laugh after a while. Not to be outdone by Wick's fall from a high rise near the end of the story, smacking into fire escapes and plummeting to the pavement in as sure a way to die as any movie maker could come up with. And yet he survives! to set up the sequel that will be 'John Wick Four'.
Look, there's no way you can take any of this seriously, and I think this 'Parabellum' excursion really took the story line into fantasy land. But if you like this stuff, and I do, it can be an entertaining two hour diversion to vicariously live the assassin's life and come out unscathed. Physically that is, mentally I'm not so sure.
"Oh, you are sick!"
Well, I'm not going to say that I was never so relieved to have a movie end with regard to "Eraserhead", but it sure was an extreme exercise in physical and mental endurance. Nor am I going to say that it was a mind blowingly stupid film, because I'll leave that up to your own judgment. Fortunately it ran about a half hour shorter than your average feature film, so that was a plus. But my oh my, the images are disturbing and the story line is incoherent, other than the idea that the movie's protagonist Henry (Jack Nance) is caught in some version of a personal nightmare with a forced marriage resulting from a pregnancy gone wrong. There's not much sense you can make out of the story so any interpretation you might give it is as valid as the next person's I guess. And I usually go in for movie symbolism when you can connect the dots in a rational way but this was one step beyond. I will make the observation that David Lynch might have been inspired by Chaplin when he came up with the dinner scene with the dancing chicken. It provided the picture's most endearing line of dialog when Mr. X instructed Henry to "...just cut 'em up like regular chickens."
Something's Gotta Give (2003)
"Your heart attack could be the best thing that ever happened to me."
Whenever I see a movie similar to this, I often wonder how the principal actors in the story react to issues in their own life that they're representing on screen. Like Jack Nicholson here, sixty six years old when he made the movie, portraying a sixty three year old playboy who has a penchant for loving 'em and leaving 'em, as long as his girlfriends are under the age of thirty. Do the same thoughts of mortality and finding true love in one's life go through his mind in a way of life imitating art? The same can be said of Diane Keaton as well, about a decade younger than Nicholson but still dealing with the issue of aging in an industry that values youth and beauty. Well, I guess we'll never know unless they come right out and say it.
Enough philosophizing I guess. I thought this was a fairly good look at the foibles inherent in a relationship about to happen between a couple of characters who have a sense that the clock is ticking. Nicholson does a splendid job, but I have to say, Keaton is amazing with her facial expressions and reaction to situations at any given moment. The only time I thought she might have been forcing her emotions were in that writing scene right after Harry Sanborn (Nicholson) says goodbye to go back to New York. The alternately hysterical bouts of laughing and wailing came across as somewhat theatrical, but giving her the benefit of the doubt, added to the conflicted aspect of her character.
Say, keep an eye on Nicholson right after he's treated for his first heart attack and gets out of his hospital bed. It seemed to me he was channeling R.P. McMurphy, the character he portrayed in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", right after getting the electroshock treatments. That was a neat homage if in fact it was intentional.
The resolution to the story was to be expected, though I did find it difficult to accept that Dr. Mercer (Keanu Reeves) gave up his engagement to Erica Barry (Keaton) without much of a struggle. That happened off screen so there's not much opportunity to think about it at the time, but it was another one of those things I wonder about after a picture is over.
88 Minutes (2007)
"You have 88 minutes to live."
It's pretty standard for a movie thriller to throw in a few red herrings to keep the viewer guessing, but it seemed like every character in this picture might have fit that description. Even Jack Gramm's (Al Pacino) teaching assistant Kim Cummings (Alicia Witt), while running for her life along side her professor. The film did everything it could to plant virtually every character as a suspect to murder Gramm in the allotted time, that at one point I thought Jack's ex-wife turned lesbian (Amy Brenneman) was a potential bad guy. That part of the story alone had me scratching my head but I guess stranger things could happen than having your ex come back to work for you. But I'll say this, given Shelly Barnes was given an impossible work load over the course of the story, I'd say she was probably underpaid.
So, is this Pacino's worst movie role? I don't think I've seen him in any film where he didn't do a good job, so the fairest thing one could say is that he was a lot better as Michael Corleone and Frank Serpico. You can probably give the guy a break at this point, he's almost eighty years old.
"I'm gonna be free or die."
A number of the reviews I've read here on IMDb are decidedly negative on "Harriet", citing facets of her life that were inaccurately portrayed in the movie. I've seen enough films based on historical figures to know by now that historical accuracy isn't always of the most paramount importance when making a film. Whether the real life Harriet Tubman ever picked up a firearm isn't what's going to make me give the movie a thumbs down or not. Not knowing much about her history other than the dedication she showed in freeing as many fellow slaves as she could, I thought the picture did an admirable job of telling her story. Cynthia Erivo appears to have been an excellent choice to portray Araminta Ross Tubman, resolute in her quest to obtain personal freedom at the expense of her own life were she ever to be apprehended by Southern slave catchers. The hatred for Blacks and the cruelty slave owners were capable of is demonstrated by her former 'owners', notably Gideon Brodess (Joe Alwyn) and his mother Eliza (Jennifer Nettles). More so via dialog than by actual physical punishment; we are not witness to some of the horrors that were exposed in "12 Years a Slave", 2014's Best Picture Winner at the Oscars. An overall fine cast and compelling story makes this one of the year's best offerings, and certainly a contender for it's share of awards in due course.
The Egg and I (1947)
"Just wait till we get to the barn and I'll show you my Speckled Sussex!"
Let me pose a question to anyone who's seen both this film and the 1942 flick "George Washington Slept Here" with Jack Benny and Ann Sheridan. Who would you say had the more ramshackle house that the leading couple moved into to chase a dream? Quite honestly I couldn't tell after seeing both pictures, and wouldn't want to live in either one. Of course, both homes wound up as House and Garden fashion statements later on, notwithstanding the fire that burned out the MacDonald's in this picture.
This is the film that introduced Ma and Pa Kettle (Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride) to the movie going public, who became a huge comedy hit with a series of movies during the Fifties. You can see why with their homespun approach to country living and raising a huge family. This would not be your expected setting for a Fred MacMurray/Claudette Colbert team up, but they make it work as a transplanted couple intent on making it by raising chickens and selling their eggs. I hazard to think how many dozen they'd need to sell in order to survive from scratch, but that's the story and you'll have to go along with it.
I guess this would also have been the film to introduce those two spacey Indian characters going by Geoduck (John Berkes) and Crowbar (Victor Potel). Both returned to the Ma and Pa Kettle series portrayed by different actors over the course of that run. Richard Long, who played oldest Kettle son Tom in this story, also returned three more times during the Fifties, beginning with the first film in the series, "Ma and Pa Kettle". In an odd bit of movie casting trivia, Long appeared as the son of Claudette Colbert in the 1946 film, "Tomorrow is Forever"!
Don't Bother to Knock (1952)
"Did you ever take two called strikes, then hit a home run?"
Richard Widmark opposite Marilyn Monroe is a casting combination I never would have considered, and if you didn't know anything about the movie going in, you might think that they would be a couple at the center of the story. In a way they are, but in an entirely different way. Monroe's character is Nell Forbes, though I don't recall her last name being mentioned. As the story progresses, she becomes a very dark character, and it wouldn't be inaccurate to say that she displayed signs of mental illness. Though by that time, the scars on her wrist reveal a troubled past and you really don't know what you're in for. It gets really terrifying when it looks like she might push the young child she's babysitting out the window of a high rise! The entire tenor of the picture gets very bizarre at that point, as Jed Towers (Widmark, but again, where did the last name come from?) begins his transformation from a self centered heel into an 'understanding' human being. I have the term 'understanding' in quotes because it relates to his embattled relationship with hotel lounge singer Lyn Lesley (Anne Bancroft), and the word comes into play in a couple different parts of the film.
There's a very realistic looking scene near the end of the picture when Jed makes the save for the young girl Bunny (Donna Corcoran) which made me do a sit up and take notice. Grabbing Monroe's character by the shoulders, he quite violently knocks her to the ground as Bunny's mother reacts to her daughter's well-being. I had to replay that scene a couple of times because it didn't look faked, and appeared like Monroe took a pretty good slam to the ground.
Watching Marilyn Monroe in this film goes some way to dispel the idea that she was just a fluff actress. She might have been had she been typecast with the poofy glamor roles like the one as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk in "Some Like it Hot", even if that one did come out a few years after this one. Personally, I think she did her best work in 1961's "The Misfits".
I got a kick out of the line of dialog in my summary above. It was spoken by Elisha Cook Jr. in the role of Nell's Uncle Eddie, who well knew of his niece's troubled past. He was explaining to her how people with problems can recover to overcome them successfully, but all I could think of was how it was a premonition of Marilyn Monroe's future romance and eventual marriage to baseball great Joe DiMaggio. Sometimes things just work out that way.
"Now we've mastered the unbelievable, let's perform the impossible."
Funny how any number of IMDb movie reviewers hone in on the same characteristics of a film. While watching I had the sense that the story here was derivative of the Indiana Jones and Mummy flicks, and so did a lot of others. It's directed by Luc Besson in a humorous and amusing way, though I thought some of the CGI work wasn't up to par. Take the pterodactyl for example - considering how far we've come since 1993's "Jurassic Park", the flying reptile here looked mediocre by comparison, while the mummies, funny in their own way, were kind of stilted in their motion and mannerisms. The heroine, Adèle Blanc-Sec, portrayed by Louise Bourgoin, had a kind of edge to her personality that could have been improved with a bit more humor written into the character. The symbiotic relationship between Espérandieu (Jacky Nercessian) and the pterodactyl was an interesting touch, while the story of Adèle's sister Agathe (Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre) and her tennis accident was particularly gruesome. The elements all come together eventually for a satisfactory resolution, with Adèle simulating some of the Harrison Ford antics from the Indiana Jones series. It's entertaining enough in it's off beat way, but at the same time leaves one wanting for just a bit more.
The Art of Self-Defense (2019)
"I wish I could wear my belt all the time."
I'd have to agree with the DVD sleeve for this movie describing it as original and creative. For a film involving martial arts, it doesn't follow the standard type formula found in say, "The Karate Kid". No endless 'wax on, wax off' to make karate movements second nature, or the respect one is expected to have when undertaking martial arts for the first time. Hopefully, this doesn't give the sport a bad name, as the themes explored are diametrically opposed to what I think one would find being taught by most dedicated instructors today. Jesse Eisenberg was well cast here as the milquetoast sort of individual who tries to improve himself by taking up an art outside of his comfort zone, although I couldn't relate to his character being thirty six years old, even if that's his actual age when he made the picture. It's a bit difficult to categorize the film, not exactly parody or satire, and not exactly straight drama. Some of the situations are outlandishly ridiculous, yet are enough to make one squirm with their sheer brutality and lack of remorse. There's a level of absurdity reached when Casey (Eisenberg) buys the lot of fifty assorted color belts for the students in his dojo, even more so when his sensei Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) gushes over the gift of a black belt. The irony being that anyone can buy a black or a brown belt and who would be the wiser as it relates to a level of achievement. This is one story that probably won't leave you comfortable with it's resolution since it violates most norms of propriety, and might be expressed best in Casey's own words to his dead sensei - "I didn't play by the rules, but there never were any rules".
The Dictator (2012)
""How much do you charge for assassinations?"
It's too bad Sacha Baron Cohen routinely goes for the lowest common denominator in his films because there was some genuinely funny stuff here, but it's marred by all the crude and tasteless junk in between that he subjects the viewer to. Like really, do we have to see the star of the picture simulate masturbation as a first time experience and wallow in the radiant afterglow? Anyone watching this picture should probably do it alone as there's no telling who you might offend by including them in your viewing experience. Ben Kingsley would do well to have his agent try and expunge this title from the actor's resumé. Ditto for Anna Faris if she's contemplating serious roles. The eminent Chaplin filmed "The Great Dictator" in 1940 that skewered Adolph Hitler, but by no means am I comparing Cohen to Chaplin. The latter is well regarded as a genius in the film industry and made his mark making all sorts of movies. Cohen typecasts himself with this kind of nonsense and doesn't seem able to rise above it. At least he targets real life evil dictators like Idi Amin and Saddam Hussein with his lethal barbs. It would have been interesting if Sacha had been around in the Seventies to take on Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. What fun it would have been to see him cast his detractors to the alligators.
Annie Oakley (1954)
"No matter how fast you are..., there's always somebody faster!" - Episode #1.13 Hardrock Trail
The 'Annie Oakley' TV show aired from January 1954 through February 1957 with a total of eighty one episodes. I recently viewed about a dozen of the programs, and as a product of early television, the stories aren't very memorable and continuity errors were frequent. Like the show's contemporary, 'The Lone Ranger' it's comical watching today as Annie, portrayed by Gail Davis, miraculously shoots the gun out of an outlaw's hand while chasing at full gallop, or when the members of a dozen man posse pursue the bad guys and the riders three or four deep shoot straight ahead without regard for the men directly in front of them. Sometimes I just shake my head.
But if you're a fan of old time TV Westerns, the show did offer it's standard formula of right winning out over wrong, as the pretty Gail Davis was assisted by kid brother Tagg (Jimmy Hawkins), and nominal love interest, deputy Lofty Craig (Brad Johnson). The romance angle didn't seem to be played up much in the programs I've seen; the only time Annie and Lofty embraced with a kiss was in the second episode titled 'Annie Trusts a Convict', and then they were interrupted by outlaws barging into the sheriff's office. Like Roy Rogers, Annie rode a golden palomino, not quite as large and handsome as Trigger, but still a fine looking animal. Tagg usually rode a Pinto pony, and with the show spanning three seasons, it's kind of remarkable to see how much actor Hawkins grew over the course of the series.
'Discovered' by veteran cowboy actor and singer Gene Autry, Davis appeared in a number of Autry's 'B' Western stories as different characters, and made her way into this series produced by Autry as a 'Flying A' production. During these early series, it wasn't unusual to see the same character actors show up multiple times. Even watching a limited number of shows, I caught repeat appearances by Harry Lauter, Tom London, Myron Healey, Stanley Andrews and Don C. Harvey. It wasn't unusual either for example, for someone like Lauter to be a bad guy in one show, and a sheriff in another. Viewers back in the day might have been confused by this, but it was pretty much par for the course.
The opening of the show was classic, and also prone to a continuity problem of sorts. As the narrator extols Annie's exploits for hard ridin', straight shootin', and suspense, we see Annie standing atop the saddle of her galloping horse while shooting at a target consisting of a playing card, the nine of spades. She scores her customary bull's eye, however it doesn't appear that the holder of the card held it in his outstretched hand, but directly in front of him from where he shows the card to the audience. I always get a kick out of that wondering just how good a shot Annie Oakley really was!
Still, you have to credit the show's developers for creating the only female Western hero to star in her own show. One could counter with Dale Evans, but she was a companion and sidekick to husband Roy Rogers. Annie combined beauty with athletic skill and sharp shooting, and was an instant hit when the show aired in the mid-Fifties. She found herself in all kinds of situations, and wasn't fazed by wearing her holster and guns over a party dress! You can catch that scenario in episode #1.13, 'Hardrock Trail'.
The Rainbow (2019)
"Listen kid, once upon a time there was a special place, it was called The Rainbow." - Gene Simmons of Kiss
I just watched this documentary twice in a row and have to admit to being just a little confused until I did a further internet search. The title is "The Rainbow", but the first half if not more of the film is about the formation and history of the Whisky a Go-Go nightclub in Los Angeles, located at 8901 Sunset Boulevard, or as the locals would have it, the Sunset Strip. Opening on January 16th, 1964, it became the premier location for all manner of celebrities to hang out back in the day, with virtually every name band performing there at one time or another. Quoting Gene Simmons of the band Kiss - "When you first start out, and before you figure out your game, the Whisky's the place to do it."
At the outset however, the owner wasn't much of a businessman, so he called in a friend named Mario Maglieri to run things who cleaned house with the staff and put in people he could trust. In on-screen interviews Maglieri comes across as a gruff, insensitive, but colorful character who brought up his son in the business, and with the passage of time, his grandson as well. In 1972, Maglieri opened The Rainbow Room at 9015 Sunset Boulevard, however as the narrative progresses, it's never made clear that both establishments operated independently. It's almost as if the Whisky became The Rainbow over a period of time. That's because both operations resembled each other so much and both became meccas for rock stars to be seen at. It's quite appropriate to say that both locations were where rock groups came to see other rock groups perform.
Some of the personalities interviewed for this rock-doc include Gene Simmons, Ozzy Osborne, Mickey Dolenz, Slash of Guns N' Roses, Lita Ford, and all three generations of the Maglieri Family. Lemmy Kilmister of the heavy metal band Motorhead also offers his comments, and was such a mainstay at The Rainbow that he was honored with his own statue at the club following his death in 2015. They all speak of reverence for The Rainbow and the Maglieri's, especially founder Mario, who would often feed down-and-out starving musicians who were just starting out and could barely afford a place to stay.
The documentary offers a treasure trove of trivia for music fans. For example, it's mentioned that The Doors were hired for fifty dollars a week before they broke out with 'Light My Fire', and opened for Johnny Rivers! Chicago performed there as the house band when they were still known as the Chicago Transit Authority (the name of their first album), their first gig opening for The Velvet Underground. Mickey Dolenz, who to me seemed like an unlikely member, described his association with a very limited club organized by himself, Alice Cooper and Keith Moon of The Who, calling themselves the Hollywood Vampires. That vaunted circle included Harry Nilsson, John Lennon and Ringo Starr. Their 'meeting room' was on the top floor above The Rainbow and except for their guests, no one else was admitted.
Both The Whisky and The Rainbow are still going concerns, though as the documentary mentions, their heyday is long past, even if they still offer a venue for up and coming bands in LA. Third generation Mikael Maglieri has proven himself a capable businessman and booker of talent, with the aim of bringing The Rainbow back to it's former glory. Music fans will find a lot to savor with this picture, even if no actual music is heard and no bands are shown performing except in a limited collage of stills. It capably explains in it's limited format the transition of the American music scene from the rock n' roll era of the Sixties and Seventies through the hair and heavy metal presence of the Eighties and the Grunge era of the Nineties. Die hard music fans shouldn't miss this, and if you read this first, might not be as confused as I was upon first viewing.
Dead Man Down (2013)
"I saved your life. Now you're gonna give me back mine."
The film is both a revenge thriller and an assassin flick. You might not make that connection at first until Victor (Colin Farrell) makes his first move against the gang leader that inadvertently wiped out his family in a targeted mission. An early scene in which a cryptic note is removed from a dead man's hand becomes a focal point when it's revealed that the note had two parts, and gang boss Alphonse (Terrence Howard) has to retreat from a tactical error he made. The dynamic between Victor and Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) isn't a love story so much as a mutual arrangement to extract revenge for personal wrongs, and actor Farrell's long brooding stares at Beatrice have a tendency to make one uncomfortable. He looks like he could go off on her any moment until she makes a critical save at a point Victor could have been toast. Victor's relationship to his gang boss comes as a minor twist as he explains to Beatrice his real identity as former family man Laszlo Kerik. The rest comes off pretty much as expected as the race to put Victor away is met with loads of gunfire and a well executed bombing providing some good visuals. It's an OK thriller but when it's over you'll be asking yourself a couple of questions - like what will happen to the goon who scarred Beatrice for life, and maybe the bigger puzzler - who's the guy buried in Laszlo Kerik's grave?
Le Mans (1971)
"On this circuit, the world's most famous motor race is run."
I've read criticisms of this film stating it has no plot and the story line is non-existent. I didn't find that to be the case, though it does come across more as a documentary than a fictionalized story. I'd have to agree it's a must see for racing fans, and even though I don't consider myself to be one, I found it interesting enough to hold my attention. Steve McQueen has been a favorite of mine since childhood watching his Western series "Wanted: Dead or Alive", translating his passion for acting to a side pursuit of auto racing. What shocked me more than anything else in this picture was how old McQueen looked at the age of forty one, that's something I didn't quite expect. The movie's theme can best be summarized by McQueen's character, Mike Delaney, explaining to Lisa Belgetti (Elga Andersen) why men like him pursue a sport that's extremely dangerous and could lead to death - "Racing's important to men who do it well. When you're racing, it's life". Modern day viewers not old enough to have viewed McQueen's rise from TV Western star to iconic celebrity status, probably won't recognize gal pal and future wife Ali McGraw watching the first entrance of the racers to the Le Mans track. Today it might be considered an Easter egg, but back then it was one of Hollywood's hottest romances.
The Dead Don't Die (2019)
"I'm saying, full-on zombie apocalypse, baby!"
I don't go in for the straight zombie flicks so much, but I do enjoy the parodies. This one held promise at face value but fails to live up to the standards of "Zombieland" and "Shaun of the Dead"; 'Shaun' was especially hilarious. What I liked here was the dead-pan sensibility of Bill Murray's character, the police chief of a fictitious town called Centerville (unless this took place in Virginia, because there IS a Centerville there). But it seemed like the running gag of Deputy Sheriff Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) and his repetitious 'going to end badly' mantra did get a little tiresome after a while. Easter eggs abound for those intent on finding them, the characters of Posie Juarez and Zelda Winston were portrayed by actresses who's real names were slightly modified, i.e., Rosie Perez and Tilda Swinton. And if you have to, go back and take a second look at Hermit Bob (Tom Waits), a dead ringer look-a-like for the Cowardly Lion in "The Wizard of Oz" but without the lion suit. Overall though, the film tends to lose energy as it goes on, and the transition near the end of the story with Samurai mortician Ms. Winston going Zombie X-Files didn't have any kind of connection to the main plot at all. I expected just a bit more from the undead concept than what the picture offered, but at least it was a kick seeing Bill Murray graduate from a ghost buster to a zombie killer.
"Well, everything's right in THIS world, kiddo!"
I'm a Neil Gaiman fan when it comes to his novels and comic book work, though I admit I've come across a miss or two among his hits. I never read 'Coraline', so I don't know how to compare it to the movie as others have done on this board. Be that as it may, I thought it was a pretty clever story utilizing the alternate reality the main character discovered by crawling through the tunnel behind the brick wall. It reminded me a little of 'Alice in Wonderland' where she met up with all the weird inhabitants of that fairy tale land. This film is a bit on the dark and scary side I would think for real young kids, with Gothic elements exhibited by the characters both 'human' and 'animal'. There was a point in the story when I thought it was all over, but the final denouement was still to come with the defeat of Other Mother. As animated films go, this one was original and creative with a compelling message of not accepting things at face value until you've taken the time to understand what's behind the facade. For that, Coraline had a pretty good head on her shoulders.