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The Act (2004)
Beautiful and poignant, this is a short that evokes the power of the great short stories of O Henry. If you get a chance to view it, be prepared for a stab into the heart of the truth of love and the need for all of us to laugh at the essence of our very existence. The lead, Rosy, is performed with incision followed by the evocation of loneliness, and closes with beauty and sweetness. As someone who has practiced the craft of stand up long ago, this reviewer can attest that Debra Jo Rupp's creation of the tough female comic is true but truer is the fact that so many people with quick wit holding a microphone often belies the sadness or anger or grief within. Not a short to be missed!
Excellent Apocalytic Drama
Having seen only two episodes, I am mildly surprised by the effectiveness of this well presented drama. A relationships-based drama, focused around the family of the Mayor (Gerald McRaney) of a small town, Jericho, thus far the acting and writing is top notch. Tense story lines have been the mark of Jericho thus far. Reminiscent of 24, Jericho is setting up well, and I look forward to the unwinding of the story of a few thousand people struggling to survive and overcome the aftermath of a multiple strike atomic holocaust coast to coast in America's metropolitan centers, leaving Jericho an island of life and hope. Of particular note is the acting of Allison Scott, the acting of Skeet Ulrich, and the understated but grounding performances of both McRaney and as his wife and the matriarch, the always fine Pamela Reed. It will be interesting to see if this strong start can be sustained, or if the storyline will wear thin. The executive production team is youthful but in combination has significant experience in film and in relationship-based TV that bodes well. In order for Jericho to survive, and it should, the tension needs to be maintained for the central family, for Jericho's attempts to survive, for the people of Jericho to maintain their humanity and their optimism, and for the outside world to impinge in a way that makes the struggle for the better parts of our human condition endure. Mighty big tasks, but my hope is that this intelligent, sensitive, and provocative program survives too.
The Big Game (1936)
Some of the more realistic football scenes on film
Although the film is not one of the best sports films ever made, and the storyline is droll and trite, to my surprise, some of the action sequences using the actual actors were more realistic than most football films; especially of this era, and especially with this sort of story. No poorly acting pitching as Ronald Reagan showed in "The Grover Cleveland Alexander Story" or odd batting stance of Anthony Perkins as Jimmy Persall in "Fear Strikes Out" or faked boxing as in "Rocky". This is a dated film per the acting, direction, plot, and so forth, but this actually adds to its charm. Was America actually this way: polite, articulate, innocent? My guess is that it actually was in this era. James Gleason as usual is excellent, the settings nostalgic even to someone far too young to have memories of the time, and a young Andy Devine is fun to watch and listen to with his trademark squeaky and broken voice. Of much interest to me is the first-time screenwriter is Irwin Shaw who later would become one of America's most renown novelists with "The Young Lions", "Rich Man, Poor Man", Beggarman, Thief", and "Evening in Byzantium". Additionally, this film cast actual college football stars, including the first Heisman Trophy winner, Jay Berwanger from the University of Chicago and the immortal King Kong Klein. For these reasons, this film is a must for the sports film buff. As a work of art, this film fails; but as a guilty pleasure it scores high.
Cannery Row (1982)
Greatly underrated masterpiece
When this film was released, it was under-marketed and for studio-based political reasons, all but buried. Additionally, some critics tried to frame it as a failed attempt at "art-house" cinema. However, this simply is one of the best films ever made of a Steinbeck work, and one of the best films of the 1980s. Poignant, masterfully photographed, funny and sweet, brilliantly acted and directed, it is a must see for anyone who loathes mainstream American film making and yearns for literate cinema. Nolte is at his best, acting with a magnificent range. Winger is perfect as Suzy. The adaptation of Steinbeck's "Sweet Thursday" is spot on. The ensemble acting of the tramps led by one of the greatest character actors of all time, M. Emmett Walsh and Frank McRae and the soundtrack including Doctor John's piano stylings, make this a film of metaphor and wonderful enchantment. If you haven't seen this film, turn off your phone, light a fire, and settle in for the ride of your life, emotionally and artistically.
The Ryan Interview (2000)
Not only is this an incredible work, under-seen and underrated, it is also the last work on film of one of American cinema's greats, in my opinion--Eddie Bracken. It is sad that this actor has not received the accolades he deserved for his body of film and stage work especially in his screwball comedies and Broadway musicals, and it is in this film that he showed his mastery and range. Miller's writing was crisp and insightful to the end and I highly recommend this film. Ashley Judd was excellent also. Watch this film with an eye on the history of American theatre and film. No playwright can match Miller, no young actress has shown more range than Judd, and few master actors can better Bracken in his power, comedy, or ability to move from the stage to the screen and back to the stage or from screwball comedy to drama as Bracken did. Anyone who would like to experience what I am suggesting need only view Bracken's work in Preston Sturges' films Miracle of Morgan's Creek or Hail the Conquering Hero and then watch Ryan's Interview. A wonderful capper to a great career. Bracken will be missed as will, of course Miller.
Roller Boogie (1979)
Not fun....it was meant to be taken seriously
This is absolutely one of the worst movies ever made. And contrary to another comment on the movie, having lived in Southern Cal during this period and being the age that this movie was aimed at, it was meant to be taken seriously for the disco crowd that was running rampant just prior to and during its release period. The acting is horrible, the milieu it represents is horrible, the writing is horrible, and the premise is horrible. Let me say that a LOT of people went to see this film upon it's release--the superficial, appearance oriented, self-centered disco freaks. Pure commercial slop intended to capitalize upon a temporary and silly craze.
Biopic at its best
Taylor Hackford has crafted one of the best and most unflinchingly honest biopics ever made. The writing is excellent, the period scenery and costuming accurate, and of course, the acting is incredible. Who would ever thought when Jamie Foxx was appearing on "In Living Color" (despite his hilarious comic acting) that he would quickly become one of America's greatest dramatic actors? The supporting cast is superb, from Curtis Armstrong to Sharon Warren, but especially the tour de force performances by Clifton Powell, Bokeem Woodbine, Kerry Washington, and in a break out performance that should garner a supporting actress nomination--Regina King.
This is a movie that should sweep the Oscars and endure for generations to come. The only drawback is the feeling that the ending came too soon (despite the 150 minute running time), just as Ray Charles' sudden end of life came so suddenly. Powerful, powerful, powerful. A must see.