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I also write for Influx Magazine--where many of my opinions and reviews are also posted.
Enjoyable but it doesn't quite hit the mark...
"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is an enjoyable old film. However, it does have a big strike against it. The studio really made this a Danny Kaye film instead of basing it closely on the James Thurber story. Had it stuck closer and featured less over- acting by Kaye, the film would have greater lasting power today. Instead, it occasionally is cringe-inducing and also has way too much in the way of intrigue.
Danny Kaye plays the lead. At times, he's wonderful as well as charming and likable--and at other times he does much more of his Borscht Belt shtick instead of remaining true to the character. So, while I liked Mitty's little regressions into the fantasy world in the story, here they often are just excuses to have Kaye do his act--such as the weird linguistic exercises that folks apparently thought were funny back in the day. I seriously doubt it would go over very well today. If they'd just stuck to him having charming little day dreams like the Thurber ones, it sure would have worked better. Including a plot about Nazis and stolen Dutch art as well as the stand-up routines just tended to derail the otherwise excellent story. Worth seeing but far from Kaye's best work and unfortunately it really did little with the wonderful original source material.
What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)
Whether or not you've heard of Miss Simone, you really should give this film a try.
I've got to be up front about this...I don't remember hearing anything about Nina Simone before I watched this film. While she was a very famous jazz performer, her meteoric career all but fizzled by the time I was a very young child. I also am not a particular fan of modern jazz, either. So in some ways, I am not the ideal audience for this wonderful new documentary from Liz Garbus. However, because of my work in the mental health field, the film really resonated with me and I think you should give it a look as well. Apparently, Netflix ALSO thinks you should be watching it, as they send out a mass emailing to many people recommending you see this new film--which you now can thanks to their streaming service.
Nina was a child prodigy at the piano. However this was back in the 1930s...and she was a tiny black girl growing up in the South. Yet despite the racially charged climate, she had a spark of genius-- such that despite the times, she was helped by people to help realize her dream of being a musician. However, instead of the concert classical pianist she was trained to be, she sort of accidentally fell into the jazz industry and was soon known at least as much as her singing as her genius at the piano. This led to a lot of financial success in the 1950s and into the 60s and life was looking grand for this lady.
So how, then, at the height of her fame did Simone's career start to slip? And why did she walk away from this life? This confusing journey about mental illness, to me, is the most interesting part of this documentary. While it's not perfect (a lot of her more bizarre behaviors later in life are omitted from the story as well as her second marriage), the film is extremely rare in quality and is extremely well made. Considering that Simone died from cancer over a decade ago, this should have been a very tough film to make. Yet, fortunately, they had recordings and diaries of Simone speaking her mind and explaining her strange journey through life. Garbus also was fortunate to have Simone's daughter's cooperation as well as her first husband and friends--giving you amazing access into Simone's world as well as into her mental illness that impacted but never destroyed her career. This sort of access alone is more than enough reason to see this film.
By the way, if you like this film, also trying watching another great Garbus documentary, Bobby Fischer Against the World. The character in this film is, in many ways, much like Simone--with lots of brilliance as well as lots of personal demons.
Finding Fanny (2014)
While a bit thin on plot (like most road movies), it's enjoyable and very different from the usual offerings from India
When many outsiders think of Indian films, they immediately think of the Bollywood spectacles--movies with lots of singing and dancing and plots usually involving romance. There's nothing wrong with these films, though there is certainly a rather sameness to many of them. But, although here in the States these are mostly the types of films they import from India, there are other films from this movie-making powerhouse--films with much more subtlety, depth and, amazingly, not a song in the entire movie!
"Finding Fanny" is a sweet road movie with five disparate characters traveling from the Goa area to find an elderly man's love of his life--a woman he never really got a chance to tell how he feels. For decades he's been living with this and now he's finally gotten up the nerve to seek her and his friends are accompanying him on this journey. However, this plot is pretty much an excuse to show a variety of characters with a variety of interesting back stories.
The bottom line is that if you MUST have a strong, plot-driven movie you may just be disappointed in "Finding Fanny". However, if you like really solid and realistic acting and a gentle directorial style, you will find the film more than satisfying. In many ways, this felt like I was watching a nice indie film as opposed to a film from a movie-producing juggernaut like India. Well done and worth seeing, though the death of one of the characters late in the film was certainly very strange and was dealt with in a way that left me a bit baffled.
While the film has a few lulls here and there, it's a pleasant view.
Melanie is a sad lady. She's not particularly attractive and she's a pushover with everyone she knows. They know she's 'nice' and everyone takes advantage of her--her neighbor, her boss...even her own family. It's been this way her whole life. However, when her horrible cousin and her no-good friends decide to play a horrible 'joke' on her, Melanie snaps. No more Miss Nice...now she's out for herself and to give everyone a bit of payback.
I generally liked this film, but must say that it was a bit uneven. Some of Melanie's actions are funny and easy to justify, though her cruelty towards animals is odd and disturbing. Being cruel towards the jerks around her was easy to enjoy...seeing her keep a cat in a covered trashcan for a couple days and tie a dog's leash to a bus' bumper seemed over the top and didn't fit with the character. Still, on balance it was quite good.
By the way, another French film that has some similarities but is far superior is "Tatie Danielle". This wicked old lady is MUCH worse than Melanie but NEVER was nice. And, she's SO over the top mean that the overall film is hilarious and quite entertaining.
It's Entertainment (2014)
"It's Entertainment" is a terrible film. I tried watching it and soon found myself hating it--mostly because the main character was unlikable and obnoxious. How could the filmmakers expect folks to care about him or the plot if he's THAT big of a jerk?!
Akhil (Akshay Kumar) is a poor guy who wants to marry a nice girl. But her father isn't so nice and demands that Akhil FIRST become a millionaire before he'll give permission. Soon after this, Akhil learns that his father is NOT his father--he stole the child after a major accident so that he could collect settlement money! Akhil then VERY coincidentally learns his real father was a mega- millionaire...and he just died with no heirs. Akhil hops a plane to Thailand and tries to claim the money...only to learn that the dead millionaire's dog is the sole heir!
As I mentioned above, the main character, Akhil, was just so incredibly obnoxious. You cannot care a bit about him and his adventures all consist of him trying to get rich with little effort. But to make it worse, the insane director insisted on adding 'funny' sound effects throughout the film--like BOING and SPLAT sounds. If I'd been watching Krusty the Clown, this might have worked-- otherwise, it just made a tedious film all the more tedious.
February 30th (2012)
A nice idea for a story but the execution left a lot to be desired
This is the story of a guy who is ALL bad luck. He touches something, it breaks. Not surprisingly, when the film begins, his girlfriend is breaking up with him, as she is tired of all these accidents. His job as a salesman isn't going well either, as whenever he shows off an apartment, something AWFUL happens. He's been warned...make a sale or lose his job. However, he soon learns a possible solution--find another person with such awful luck and they'll cancel each other out and result in wonderful luck. Well, he has found such a woman and whenever she is near him, he can sell ANYTHING to ANYONE!
So if this idea is unique, why didn't I like it? The big problem was the broadness of the character as well as the writing. The guy was basically an Egyptian version of Urkel--too geeky to be the least bit believable. Plus if he'd had bad luck it would have been funny. But his luck was ALWAYS bad and the entire film just seemed over the top and lacked subtlety--so much so, that over time the film became tiresome and difficult to stick with or care about--and that is how I found myself after an hour of this tediousness.
Yet another example of a historical show that is, in fact, crap.
Over the past couple decades, I've noticed that with so many channels on TV devoted to history and so many shows, they'll sometimes do or say anything to get our attention. Shows implying Jesus was an alien or that the Egyptians were helped by aliens are the rage--as are dopey shows like "Secret Societies". Why do I say dopey? Because they are short on facts, big at making mild accusations with no clear proof and feature self-proclaimed experts who are just idiots trying to promote themselves and their books. Because of this less than historical approach, crap like this show gets made.
Now I would have loved to learn more about groups like the Illuminati, The Knights Templar and the Freemasons. But instead of giving us history and interviews with its members, it's a long succession of tired 'experts' making wild and seemingly baseless claims. According to these idiots, the Knights Templar are actually now the Freemasons-- who cares that there was a 400 year gap between the end of one group and the creation of the other...thousands of miles away! Who cares that these folks claim the Illuminati and Freemasons started the United States if they cannot prove this?!
The bottom line is that the "History's Mysteries" folks really blew it with this one. It's all insane conjecture and 'what ifs' instead of history or hard evidence. A thorough waste of my time.
Amazing Stories: Miss Stardust (1987)
Just nearly terrible...
Dick Shawn plays a public relations man whose life took a HUGE change when some guys approach him with the idea of a Miss Stardust beauty pageant. The idea sounds good and the guys promised him lots of money...so what's the problem? Well, a giant Cabbage Man (Weird Al Yankovic) arrives in the midst of the pageant and cries foul! After all, the contestants are all human and don't at all represent all of space! Either change the name or allow aliens to compete is his demand! He finally vows to bring three NEW contestants--all from this solar system. And, if one of them doesn't win, he implies there will be serious trouble! Yet, despite this, a secretary (Laraine Newman) may just hold the key for saving everyone.
This is not a terrible episode...just a nearly terrible one. While I love Weird Al and am planning on going to one of his concerts in a few weeks, here his acting was just too broad--as was the direction. Choosing to insert lots of goofy sound effects into the show also was a sign that the series was moribund...and fortunately, it turned out to be the final episode for one of the most uneven and often poorly written anthology shows ever made.
Amazing Stories: Moving Day (1987)
Alan Webster has a very unusual set of parents--just how unusual, he has no idea! One day Dad informs him they'll be moving soon. This is tough for a teen to take...but when he discovers a hidden underground base, things get REALLY weird. When his folks then inform him that they are aliens, and he is one too, that's just too much for a kid to take!! They're returning to Alturus...and soon!
The show features a very nice and safe ending--one you'll probably MILDLY like. However, I really think it could have been better--such as learning that they're leaving because the Earth is about to be destroyed! Not a terrible show--and that's something since so many have been. But also not a particularly great one.
Amazing Stories: Without Diana (1987)
WWII ended only months ago and a father worries that his daughter doesn't understand why we was gone for many of her formative years. Considering he was fighting in the war, you can only assume his 8 year-old is a moron--else wise she would have known where he was, why he was gone and the sorts of things he was doing! During a picnic with her girl scout friends and her parents, the kid disappears. The police arrive and tell the parents that there's quicksand near the park (?????????????????????) and perhaps she wandered into it and died. Quicksand...right next to a park...right!!
A whole bunch of years suddenly pass and the parents are now oldsters. As she lies in bed waiting to die, the mother is saying that their past decades were a waste--due to false hope that their daughter would somehow return. They apparently wrote a book about all this and how craptastic their life was due to the disappearance of the kid. The husband, in response, whines about how he cannot live without her. Suddenly, there's a knock on the door...their little wayward brat has returned home--and she looks just like she did in 1946.
From my description, you can tell I didn't like it. The show was manipulative, saccharine and just didn't make any sense. Well made, technically, but as was too often the case with the series, it was apparently written by chimps...