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Good Will Hunting (1997)
Psychiatrist as hero.
This is an intense movie and includes many strong performances, capped off by Robin Williams's, which is probably the best cinema performance of his career. The movie deals with a lot of social and psychological themes - denial, repression, social marginalization, self-esteem, love - without becoming corny or a spoof. That is, the story can be taken seriously, and for Hollywood, which has a track record of reducing event he most complicated issues to the most simplistic level, this is a major accomplishment. The title character, Will, played admirably by Matt Damon, really serves as a metaphor for every person unable to actual their potential. Minnie Driver's performance is especially powerful, but this is Robin Williams's movie. His performance as the treating psychiatrist who is able to break through Will's resistance and defenses may be the positive portrayal of a mental health therapist in cinema history. This movie should be watched by anyone who is interested in mental health and by the public in general because this movie is about us.
The Nutty Professor (1963)
A wonderful movie.
This movie is remarkable and entertaining. It is part comedy, part science fiction and part social commentary. Jerry Lewis is brilliant. He plays three aspects of the same character - an over-intellectual introvert; a pushy and obnoxious extrovert; and a toddler. Lewis carries the movie. The story is endearing. It depicts a man struggling to be taken seriously, and the extremes he is willing to go to obtain happiness. Stella Stevens is wonderful as the female lead. She is perfect for the role of college student and confidante. Several scenes are hilarious, especially the one involving the meeting between Buddy Love and the bossy president of the college, played by Del Moore. The story is a take off on the Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde format, but with an amusing spin and an upbeat resolution. Jerry Lewis is both goofy and sharp. He also sings several songs, revealing an excellent singing voice. This is a wonderful movie.
The November Man (2014)
Misguided, implausible story.
A good spy movie has to have a plot that is plausible. That is something this movie lacks. As a result, there is no differentiating the good guys from the bad, producing a story that is ludicrous and muddled. And when stagy acting is included in the mix, as is the case in this movie, the results are a tepid, predictable, cliché-ridden extravaganza. This movie has all the trappings of a major cinematic work - multiple settings, lots of noise, a major star, violence, profanity - typical for major productions today, yet they do not come close to making up for the movie's shortcomings: predictability, shallow characters, almost non-existent character development, all of which produces little, if any, dramatic impact. As for the premise of this story, that the US and Russia somehow conspired to provoke a war, that makes no sense whatsoever and stretches literary license to the limit, and if that premise does not make any sense, and it does not, then the entire story falls apart. Also, this movie continues the trend of demonizing Russians in ways that the Germans were demonized in the 1940s, except the Russians are neither Nazis nor enemies. So why demonize them? Pierce Brosnan gives a good performance as a spy with a conscience, but his presence cannot save this movie. Why portray the CIA and Russia as bad guys when there are already so many other parties throughout the world for whom such a label can be applied?
Let's Be Cops (2014)
Amusing and entertaining, to a point.
This movie is a take-off on Three Amigos. It's not about the police; it's about actors. Movies that parody actors is a well-established genre. In this case, the parody is amusing, and at times outright funny. Damon Wayans and Jake Johnson work well together as a comedy team. Like with Tropic Thunder, they are actors who find themselves in a situation where their acting skills actually pay off. Although the story is contrived and superficial, it's a comedy so that is to be expected. The movie avoids making any political statements about the police and sticks to trying to generate laughs. Russians are portrayed as bad guys and in overtly stereotypical ways. This is part of an ongoing trend in movies of demonizing Russians, a practice that is loaded with social and political connotations. The Soviet Union is gone, The Cold War is history and during World War Two the Russians were allies of the United States.
Annie Get Your Gun (1950)
One of the great movie musicals.
This movie is wonderful. True, it takes huge literary license in its depiction of Annie Oakley's relationship with Frank Butler, but so what? The movie contains at least seven songs that have become standards in American musicology and strong acting by the entire cast, led by Betty Hutton who plays Annie. Not only does Hutton sing and dance and carry the movie, she bears an uncanny resemblance to the actual Annie Oakley, and in fact both hailed from the same part of the United States. Although somewhat contrived, the story maintains enough plausibility to keep the audience's attention and give more meaning to the songs. Betty Hutton's presence is critical to this movie's success. This is an example where casting really mattered; where the story is driven by the actors, and where all the elements necessary to make a successful movie meshed. For pure entertainment this movie is the top.
The Expendables 3 (2014)
Perhaps the worst major motion picture produced in the 21st century.
For those who enjoy wasting their money and time watching bad movies, this movie will be a joy. But for those who value artistic excellence and high quality entertainment, you are now warned: stay away! This movie is a cinematic disaster. One could attribute this tepid result to poor acting, but that would be charitable because there is no acting. The acting isn't even cheesy; it is non-existent. Except for Mel Gibson, every member of the cast is merely reciting lines. Some of the so-called performances are downright shocking in their shallowness. Perhaps the most egregious example is that of Antonio Banderas. His clownish performance in this movie has to be the nadir of his career. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a shadow of his former self. It could also be said that the movie lacks a compelling story. That too would be giving the movie too much credit. What is supposed to pass for a story is so unoriginal and so lacking in depth as to render it superfluous. The actors recite lines, but the lines do not form a story. No character is ever developed enough to warrant empathy or any other audience reaction. If only the cast were playing caricatures of their former roles, then maybe that would have generated some excitement or at least laughs. But sadly, they're not even caricatures. The movie does include several scenes with unintended humor, but this movie is not a spoof. It is a serious attempt to present an action and adventure motion picture, and the attempt fails. If this movie was played for laughs, then maybe there would be something positive to write about, but that would have required that the cast actually be comical and act and not just show up. There's no point in assigning blame for such a poorly produced production; it does not matter. Over-the-hill action actors may have a place in cinema, but this movie is not their venue. Give them a good story, solid direction, and interesting lines and maybe the result would be satisfactory. It happened with the Wild Bunch (1969); there's no reason why it can't happen again.
The Lady from Shanghai (1947)
Rita Hayworth at her best.
This movie features a toned down and austere Rita Hayworth who owns this movie. She makes this movie happen. Her presence so dominates the screen that the rest of the cast, including Orson Welles, are practically obscured. The entire story revolves around her, and with good reason: Hayworth's incredible screen presence. The close ups, the wide-angle shots and all other shots in-between show Rita Hayworth at her most glorious best. But there is more to this movie then just Rita Hayworth. The movie tells an intriguing story that is full of suspense and has a surprising ending. The location shots in Acapulco and San Francisco are fantastic. The movie also captures the essence of the American courtroom, and how passion can cause people to make irrational decisions with tragic consequences.
20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932)
This movie may have been released decades ago but its theme resonates today. Although the story is presented in a stagy and melodramatic manner, that in no way negates its power as a tragedy. The movie depicts the wasting of human potential. It's about pent up anger that distorts one's conduct. It's about the institutionalization and dehumanization of the individual. The social message is clear: anyone who winds up in prison is doomed. The principal character, Tommy O'Connor, played by Spencer Tracy, symbolizes all the troubled, angry, alienated and damaged people for whom the only solution is incarceration. Betty Davis plays his loyal girlfriend. Yet, as the movie so aptly shows, even someone deemed incorrigible is capable of acting responsibly and even honorably if treated with compassion. Tracy gives a convincing performance as a cynical and hard-bitten gangster who redeems himself, but at a high cost. To find out what that high cost entails, watch the movie.
Rumble Fish (1983)
It's about consciousness-raising.
This is a message movie. Everything in this movie is meant to have deep, symbolic meaning. The problem is: trying to decipher those meanings. If a story cannot be understood, then the movie loses its value as drama. The principal character, Rusty James, is a young man trying to find himself. The setting for the story is surrealistic, which gives the movie a certain off-beat avant-garde quality. Although a wise-guy, Rusty James has certain endearing qualities, which makes him someone with whom the audience can empathize. The movie is about consciousness-raising. When his older brother, played by Mickey O'Rourke, enters the story, Rusty James is forced is deal with the emptiness of his life. To find out how he deals with that revelation, watch the movie.
Rear Window (1954)
James Stewart at his best.
James Stewart fans will enjoy this movie. Stewart drives this movie forward. The movie also provides an interesting glimpse of contemporary urban life. Although the movie is a crime drama, it depicts the compartmentalization of existence and the isolation of individuals in large groups. People live in the same building, yet there is no sense of community. A murder can take place and nobody would even know it. The most nefarious acts could take place and nobody would know it. People living in close proximity yet emotionally so disconnected. This is captured by this movie. The social statement may be unintentional yet it is unmistakable. The format of the story itself does not seem complicated: a man watches his neighbors and believes that something bad has happened. The problem is in trying to prove it. Hitchcock uses several clever devices to heighten the suspense. But it is the acting of James Stewart that takes precedence. This is James Stewart at his best.