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Foxcatcher (2014)
unbelievably awful, 27 November 2015

I have a book called "Flesh and Fantasy" which explains how to win or be nominated for an Oscar. One way is a false nose.

Steve Carrell (with a false nose) stars as John Dupont in "Foxcatcher" from 2014, also starring Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo.

"Foxcatcher" is the story of two brothers, 1984 Olympic Gold medalist in Wrestling, Mark Schultz (Tatum) and his brother Dave. Mark is invited by the fabulously wealthy John Dupont to train at Foxcatcher Farms and form a team, with the goal of winning the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Schultz agrees and is excited for a chance to do something on his own, away from his well-known brother Dave (Ruffalo).

Dupont feels that he does not have the respect of his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) and wants the wrestling team to help him gain not only her respect but to boost his ego. Mark becomes increasingly more dependent on his approval.

However, all that glitters -- Mark finds himself involved in things that could wreck his training, both physical and psychological. Dupont then has Dave come in as a trainer. The end of the story is tragedy.

Well, the whole thing was a tragedy. It was so dull, it was practically done as a documentary - and not a particularly interesting one, I might add. The pacing was sleep-inducing.

I blame the director for absolutely everything that went wrong. Steve Carrell probably studied DuPont and gave an accurate portrayal. Given Dupont's psychological problems and lack of self-esteem, Carrell's flat affect, both in his lack of expression and flatlined voice, were correct.

The only problem with that is, it's hard to recognize how deeply disturbed he was when everyone around him is acting the same way. Channing Tatum spent the whole film looking like a dumb jock and muttering. The homoerotic part of their relationship is shown, but since Tatum acted no differently than he did in the beginning, it's hard to say if it bothered him or not. He does, however, frost his hair.

Mark Ruffalo does the best he can.

Obviously from the reviews, people read into it a lot more than was there, and that's good. If everyone had the same opinion, it would be a pretty dull world - almost as dull as this movie.

a real tear-jerker, 26 November 2015

Norma Shearer, Leslie Howard, and Frederic March all shine in "Smilin' Through," from 1932 MGM.

The story takes place during the latter part of the 19th Century. It concerns an old man, John (Howard) who has been alone since the death of his fiancé, Moonyen Clare. He sits near her grave often, imagining at times that he can hear her. When a close friend prevails upon him to take in Moonyeen's niece, at first he refuses, and then relents after he meets the child, Kathleen.

Kathleen grows into Norma Shearer and remains close to her uncle. Everyone expects her to marry a young man, Willy. One night, she and Willy are caught in a rainstorm and find shelter in an old house. A man, John (March) enters; it was his father's house. He and Kathleen are instantly attracted to one another.

When John finds out about the romance, he has a violent reaction and insists that Kathleen never see John again. She says yes, but she can't stay away from him. When John is about to go into the service during World War I, she decides to tell John the truth and marry Robert.

What a beautiful, well-acted film. Some of it may seem overly dramatic, but it's a touching story about eternal love, and how those we love are always with us somehow.

Really needed a box of tissues for this one. Highly recommended.

doesn't make it, 25 November 2015

And a big yawn goes to "The Venetian Affair" from 1966.

Based on a Helen McInnes novel, none of which made successful films, it sports an interesting, if not great cast: Robert Vaughn, Ed Asner, Boris Karloff, Elke Sommer, and Karl Boehm. The most interesting things about it are Karloff and the shots of Venice, my favorite city. I wish it had been in color.

The beginning makes one think you're really going to see something. An American diplomat detonates a bomb during a conference on disarmament in Vienna. There doesn't seem to be any reason for him doing so, and the USA doesn't want to be blamed. They start looking for reasons.

Vaughn, playing a drunk named Bill Fenner, who is ex-CIA, is sent back into action by the CIA. He has an ex-wife who is a turncoat, and the CIA is sure he can locate her. They think she might have been involved or at least know something. Fenner never got over her, though you wouldn't know it since he propositions every woman he meets.

It becomes confusing from there -- and boring. Slow pace, and Vaughn was not the stuff movie stars are made of. It's normal when you have a big success like Man from U.N.C.L.E. to try your luck at films, but not everyone succeeds.

Despite what some people state on this board, that people who don't like this movie were expecting explosions and all sorts of car chases and CGI, etc, I didn't care about any of that and never have. It's just not a very intriguing film. All I ask from a spy film is some suspense and a really good story, along with the acting.

During this time, we had the James Bond films with all their gadgets, and U.N.C.L.E., and the producers tried to attract both audiences. A very routine film.

Taken 3 (2014)
you know after Taken 2 we were in trouble, 23 November 2015

I didn't see this movie in the theater, I saw it on Netflix. So that is why I am perhaps a little more forgiving than most of the other reviewers.

In Taken 3, Bryan Mills, an ex-government operative, is the prime suspect in the murder of his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) after receiving a text from her asking to meet. As he's trying to revive her, the police enter.

The rest of the film is occupied with car chases, explosions, and fights. It moves quickly, and all has to do with a Russian bad man attempting to recover some money. That's a real Macguffin, because it really just had to do with watching Mills escape Forest Whittaker, the cop after him, and others. Its purpose is also to bring this series of films to a merciful end.

When I watch an action movie I suspend all sense of reality and just go with it, otherwise, like others here, I would drive myself nuts. I couldn't believe some of the things Liam Neeson survived. He was Superman, Aquaman, and some other man all at once. Huge explosions, buildings blown up, cars on fire, and out he walks. A miracle.

I just read "Murder on the Orient Express" is being done again. This film is a good example as to why. No one, it seems, can come up with a decent idea.

LOVED the music and the back story, 22 November 2015

"Jersey Boys," from 2014, is based on the smash hit Broadway show and directed by Clint Eastwood. He might seem an odd choice, but he's a man who loves music and is an excellent director. The only time I haven't liked one of his films was "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" - pretty awful.

"Jersey Boys" tells the story of the Four Seasons, from their felonious beginnings to their attempts to break through into the music scene, their name changes, the success, and the burdens that came with it.

This doesn't feel like a musical, which is one of the things I liked. The music was fabulous, and rather than have a character break into song, we see them performing. I love movies like this or an old- timer's concert because one forgets how many hits they had. I remember seeing Tom Jones in person and how each song was so familiar. The movie is a treasure trove of great music.

John Lloyd Young repeats his Broadway star-making role as Frankie Valli. He is the only performer in history to win every single award given in the theater: Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Theatre World Awards.

He clearly understands Valli's talent, ambition, angst, and heartbreak. One of his scenes, over the song "My Eyes Adored You" will leave you in tears. What a talent.

But everyone here is top notch: Christopher Walken as Gyp DeCarlo is wonderful as a mobster who adores Frankie's voice; Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio, Mike Doyle as Bob Crewe, Vincent Piazza as Tommy Devito, Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi - all fantastic.

The end is sensational. I enjoyed every minute of "Jersey Boys."

Parnell (1937)
MGM version of a controversial figure's story, 22 November 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Just not good.

"Parnell" from 1937 stars two of MGM's greatest, Clark Gable and Myrna Loy, in the hopes, I guess, that people would go to see it. I wasn't there so I don't know if they did but I doubt it.

As someone here said, the roles would have been better suited to Spencer Tracy and Maureen O'Sullivan.

Parnell, who died at the age of 45, was a controversial figure with a complicated political career. And the film does show some of what he went through, including false accusations that he supported the murders of two people in power, the trial, and then suit against the newspaper.

Other problems followed, but the film is most concerned with his torrid romance (well, not in this movie) between Parnell and a married woman, Katherine O'Shea.

Now, in the movie, they don't get married. In real life, they did. And as far as a torrid affair, I'll say - she had three of his children while she was married. The couple wasn't married very long -- from June of 1891 and he died in October 1891 of stomach cancer. However, he also suffered from kidney failure. He is shown, not very convincingly, as ill in the film.

The film is very melodramatic, with Loy relying on the melodrama to get her through her role. Gable could not have been more wrong - he did not have a great range as an actor, and this called for at least more than he had. He was a charismatic, rugged, gorgeous, charming man who radiated a lot of warmth, all of which made him perfect for many roles. Not this one.

I spent time during this film dwelling on why mustaches went out of style. I decided Hitler and mens hair requirements during World War II caused them to go out of style. Gable looked great with and without one, and of course, he kept his as it was one of his trademarks.

Parnell is not a good movie, and it was hard to concentrate on it.

Cagney as an idiot boxer, 22 November 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Winner Take All" is a 1932 precode film starring James Cagney, Marion Nixon, Virginia Bruce, and Guy Kibbee.

Cagney plays Jim Kane, whose manager (Kibbee) sends him to a health farm in New Mexico to rest and recharge. There he meets Peggy, a former nightclub singer, who is there with her sick son (Dickie Moore, always pathetically sympathetic) and in need of money to prolong her stay.

Though he's not supposed to be boxing, Jim goes to Tijuana in order to fight and win her the money. $600 in those days was equivalent to $10,000. Expensive place.

When his stay is over, he leaves the health farm, but he and Peggy are in love and he'll be back. He becomes a big winner and attracts a woman who is captivated by him Joan (Virginia Bruce). Apparently she's holding out for a commitment because, despite her sexy clothes, he can't get to first base. He even has plastic surgery for her, to fix his nose and ears. He wants to marry her.

Out of guilt or a sense of responsibility, he sends Peggy postcards occasionally but she's no fool, she can tell the bloom is of the proverbial rose. So Peggy comes to New York to find out what's going on.

Jim confesses everything to her. He's given four $20 seats to Peggy, who is en route to a ship that's going to take her and her current beau on a long trip.

In the end, Jim gives Peggy the engagement ring he intended to give Joan, and all is well.

Since this was precode, you could not be sure of the ending, but it turns out to be fairly predictable.

This film is okay but not great, with Cagney playing an uneducated, dumb boxer who, for the sake of Joan, tries to get some class -- at one point he says, "I don't want any part of that Shakespeare guy. He's the one that ruined Gene Tunney."

As always, Cagney is energetic, and his character is volatile and will knock someone out at the drop of a hat.

I would not have ended the film like that. Had I been Peg and he told me he wanted to marry someone else AFTER she made the trip from New Mexico to New York, I would have accepted his ring, pawned it, and been gone on the next train. Oh well.

Two stories about him come to mind. One was told by Harold Kennedy, who had a small part in the film "Run for Cover." He was supposed to run into a room and give Cagney some news. When they rehearsed it, Cagney was lying down and mumbled his response. When they filmed it, Cagney jumped up, grabbed him and started screaming.

The second story was told on "Jeopardy" by a man who had once worked in a restaurant. A man wearing an old raincoat walked in. He looked almost homeless. "It turned out it was James Cagney," the man said, "I never spoke to a sweeter person in my whole life."

A unique star - a unique person - a great talent. Always worth seeing.

interesting but not because of the story, 22 November 2015

In the good old days of live TV, there were many of these shows - The U.S. Steel Hour was one, there was Playhouse 90, Schlitz Playhouse, Lux Playhouse, etc. They attracted big stars and were done expensively. In the costume drama "The Thief," the stars are Paul Lukas, Mary Astor, James Dean, Diana Lynn, and Patric Knowles. Pretty impressive.

Dean plays Fernand, a young man in love with the married Marie-Louise Voyson (Lynn) married to Phillipe (Knowles.) When money goes missing, Fernand admits to it, to his father's (Lukas) horror.

Dean doesn't have much to do, but I thought he was good. He's not an angry, rough teen here, but high-class French, and I think he acquits himself well and in period. If he seems awkward, I'm sure it's because of the nerves of live TV or lack of sufficient rehearsal.

As usual there were people who hated working with him; this time it was Paul Lukas. On East of Eden it was Raymond Massey. I'm seeing an older man pattern here.

I'm not sure Dean was really difficult or just liked to press certain people's buttons. I'm convinced that neither he nor Brando had the eccentric personalities they pretended to have. But if they could get away with it and call their self-indulgences the eccentricities of great actors, they would.

I would say if you have a chance, definitely see this and any of Dean's television work. There is so little of him available; these TV shows give more of an idea of the range he could have developed.

The real woman in gold, 22 November 2015

Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds star in "Woman in Gold" from 2015, a true story about the quest of Maria Altmann to recover art stolen from her family by the Nazis in Vienna, the seat of anti-Semitism in Europe.

I just want to point out, to answer some of the reviews, that this is not a documentary, it's a movie. Movies combine events, change them around, omit them. No one wants to watch a tedious film that recognizes that it took a huge amount of time to get to the Supreme Court. If you want the actual, factual story of Maria Altmann's journey, you will need to read about it or see one of several documentaries. Films are meant to pique our interest.

Altmann speaks with a young attorney, Randy Shoenberg, about recovering The Woman in Gold, a painting by Klimt that is considered a symbol of Vienna. Klimt in fact painted a series of stunning portraits of Altmann's aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, who died of meningitis at the age of 44.

In her will, she asked her husband Ferdinand, who had seen the writing on the wall in Vienna and fled to Prague, to donate the paintings to the Austrian State Gallery.

Although he has just started a new job, Shoenberg travels to Vienna to see the will. Along the way there are flashbacks of Vienna in the '30s, where the Bloch-Bauer family lived in opulence. When the Nazis came to their home, they stripped the place of everything valuable - and there was a lot -- and put the family under house arrest.

Maria and her husband, an opera singer, manage to escape in a harrowing scene. In flashbacks, Maria is played by the remarkable Tatiana Maslany, the star of "Orphan Black," who looks incredibly like a brunette Mirren.

This is a touching, beautifully told story of one man's sacrifice and determination and a woman facing up to her past in order to seek justice.

Helen Mirren is one of my favorite actresses - here, she is a vibrant, energetic octogenarian who finds the struggle for the painting uncomfortable - several times, meeting a roadblock, she is ready to wash her hands of it, but Schoenberg won't let her. It represents her family to her, and some uncomfortable memories. You can see all of that in Mirren's multilayered performance.

Reynolds is excellent as a young man who believes in taking a chance - - he started and failed in his own law practice - and in this case, going for the gold, despite the fact that he has a wife (Katie Holmes), a baby, and one on the way, and an intolerant boss. It doesn't faze him and when Maria wants to quit, he is furious.

I disagree that there was no connection between them. In fact, there is a deep one. The quest for the painting comes to represent to him what it means to Maria

I highly recommend this film. There are tons of movies about the horrors perpetrated on Jews by the Nazis. The recovery of stolen art is one part of that horror. "You see a painting," she tells a group. "I see my aunt."

Korean War drama, 19 November 2015

John Hodiak, Stephen McNally, and Linda Christian are on a "Battle Ground" from 1952, produced by Allied Artists, a poverty row company. The film also features Martin Milner and Jack Larson, both of whom recently died.

Danny (Hodiak) is a Marine, a vet of WW II, who re-enlists to fight the Korean War. He's a combat photographer and joins a photo unit. To his dismay, his rival, Mitch (Stephen McNally) is on board as well. Jeanne, a nurse with the Italian Red Cross (Linda Christian) is the person who stands in between these former friends.

Mitch, in fact, is now engaged to her, and she's dropped Danny, who left her in Rome during the last Rome. Danny keeps trying, however. engaged to the girl Danny left behind in Rome during the previous war.

I have to say I found this a pretty friendly rivalry. Danny made no bones about trying to get Jeanne back, and a secure Mitch took it with good humor. They also worked very well together, at one point going behind enemy lines.

Lots of battle sequences -- it moved along but was still on the boring side.

Jack Larson, who went on to play Jimmy Olsen on "Superman," was a dear friend and a wonderful man. He's adorable here. It's sad that Jimmy wrecked his acting career, but he went on to produce and write librettos. I wish he'd written the book; he had the most wonderful stories.

Martin Milner is also easily recognized by Baby Boomers, thanks to "Route 66." He worked in movies from the time he was a teenager.

Hodiak and McNally both gave good performances. Linda Christian, despite the ads for the film, isn't in it all that much. She was a real beauty with a gorgeous figure, and also very intelligent. In 1952 she was married to Tyrone Power, and their wedding in Rome in 1949 was bigger than any celebrity wedding we see today, getting a full spread in Life magazine, and coverage everywhere, with 10,000 people outside the church. Cruise and Holmes married in the same place and there 1000 people outside the church.

Just so-so; all of these people made better films.

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