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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
Monroe and Russell Shine in this Classic
GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES is the sparkling 1953 musical comedy based on the Broadway musical that made Carol Channing a star and here does the same thing for another blonde...namely Marilyn Monroe. Monroe shines in the ultimate dumb blonde role: Lorelei Lee, who along with best pal Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell) are a couple of showgirls being tailed by a private detective hired by the father of Lorelai's latest beau, to get the goods on her.
The razor-thin plot is so not the issue here. The issue is the performances by the film's stars that absolutely light up the screen. Monroe, in particular, found the role of a lifetime here as Lorelei Lee, the seemingly dim-witted gold digger with a nose for diamonds and rich men, who has no shame about using her obvious physical assets to get what she wants. This is the role that most people look to when they say that Monroe was just a "dumb blonde", but if you watch closely, Monroe is just playing a "dumb blonde" and doing it better than probably anyone ever did. And never was there a clearer example of why the camera just loved Monroe.
Though the film is clearly Monroe's showcase, Jane Russell never allows herself to be blown off the screen and performs impressively alongside Monroe as the wisecracking Dorothy Shaw. Russell proves to have the same skill with a wisecrack that actresses like Thelma Ritter and Eve Arden did.
Elliott Reed, Tommy Noonan, Charles Coburn, and young George Winslow offer solid support in supporting roles as the various men (and boys) involved in the misadventures of Lorelei and Dorothy.
Musical highlights include the ladies' opening number, "Two Little Girls from Little Rock", "Bye Bye Baby", "Ain't Anybody Here for Love?", and Monroe's iconic "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend", a number that has become a permanent part of cinema pop culture.
Aided by breezy direction from Howard Hawks, this is a delightful musical comedy classic which features two beautiful and talented ladies front and center at the peak of their charm.
Ferrell and Company Strike Gold Again
Will Ferrell and his growing rep company provide some of their biggest laughs ever in TALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE LEGEND OF RICKY BOBBY, another of Ferrell's sports-oriented comedies that takes a popular American sport and turns it on its ears.
Ferrell plays the title character, an arrogant and dim-witted stock car driver, whose winning philosophy was based on something his father said to him as a child, whose life is altered forever when he has a serious accident and after a lengthy rehab, tries to resume his life and learns that his best friend has moved in with his wife and kids, taken over his career, and has to depend on his long lost father to take his life back.
Ferrell and Adam McKay have concocted one of the smartest and funniest screenplays in comedy history which takes effective pot shots at the stock car driving industry as well as the advertising industry as well. McKay's energized direction is also a big plus, but its Ferrell and his winning cast that really make this one shine.
Ferrell is hysterical, as always, and gets solid comic support from the always reliable John C. Reilly as Cal Naughton, Ricky's best friend who finally takes advantage of his chance to move out of Ricky's shadow, Leslie Bibb as Ricky's gold-digging wife, David Keocher and Michael Clarke Duncan as members of Ricky's pit crew, Jane Lynch as Ricky's mom, and in a performance that comes as close as I have seen anyone to steal a movie from Will Ferrell, Gary Cole as Ricky's derelict Dad, whose training sessions to get Ricky back on the track are hysterical. Sascha Baron Cohen provides some giggles as well in a sexually androgynous variation of his BORAT character.
The film provides solid laughs from beginning to end, especially for Ferrell fans. Check out this comic gem.
License to Wed (2007)
Considering the talent involved, a real disappointment...
LICENSE TO WED is a sophomoric and offensive "romantic comedy" that centers around Ben Murphy and Sadie Jones (THE OFFICE's John Krasinski and Mandy Moore), a recently engaged couple who, prior to taking their vows, agree to take a course on marriage being conducted by Jones family friend, Father Frank (Robin Williams), which includes things like classes on carrying the bridge across the thresh hold, role playing, animatronic babies, and blindfolded driving lessons. Pedestrian direction and a screenplay that offends at every turn provide further twists of the knife in this childish and predictable comedy that is an embarrassment to all involved. They lost me when Father Frank actually planted electronic listening devices in Ben and Sadie's home and it just goes downhill from there. John Krasinki's easy going charm almost makes the film worth sitting through, but not quite. Even Williams looks embarrassed to be trapped in this debacle.
A Surprisingly Effective Comic Fantasy for Grownups...
The 2007 film ENCHANTED is a deft and imaginative musical/comedy/fantasy that breaks several cinematic rules in its execution of a richly entertaining story that intrigues and delights the viewer. The film opens as an animated fairy tale where we meet Giselle, a princess who, shortly before her marriage to Prince Edward, is magically transported to modern day Manhattan, thanks to Edward's mother, the requisite Evil Queen, where she is befriended by an attractive attorney and single dad. Giselle's fish out of water experiences in Manhattan blend seamlessly with the arrival of Prince Edward, the queen's henchmen, and the Evil Queen herself, who also arrive in New York to return Giselle to the kingdom of Andulasia. The story takes most of the turns it's expected to, but the journey there is the fun here, as the the old cinematic chestnut of the fish out of water, is dusted off and refashioned into a contemporary fantasy filled with child-like imagination and adult sensibility. Amy Adams is perfection as Giselle, the princess transported to modern times who believes that love is everything, animals clean house, and pigeons deliver flowers. Adams' wide eyed sincerity and clear as a bell singing voice help to make this performance the flawless marriage of actress and character. Patrick Dempsey and James Marsden are attractive as the single dad who Giselle falls for and her fairy tale prince who want her back. Timothy Spall provides some funny moments as the Queen's henchman and there is a brief, but fabulous scenery-chewing turn by Susan Sarandon as the Evil Queen. Tony winner Idina Menzel (WICKED) also scores as Dempsey's girlfriend (BTW, note to continuity dept: during the course of the film, we see advertisements for WICKED and for RENT, two Broadway shows supposedly running at the same time, that both starred Menzel, but I digress). The film is energetically directed by Kevin Lima and the surprisingly clever song score is provided by Alan Mencken (THE LITTLE MERMAID) and Stephen Schwartz (PIPPIN; GODSPELL). Top it off with some top-notch visual effects and cinema's most durable sidekick, Pip the Chipmunk and you have all the ingredients for a first-rate adult fairy tale that provides some big laughs in addition to the expected warm-fuzzy feelings.
Man on the Moon (1999)
Carrey's Remarkable Performance Makes this film work...
The late Andy Kaufman was a tortured soul who wanted fame on his own terms and didn't care if others were in on the joke or not. This seems to be the permeating theme of MAN ON THE MOON, director Milos Foreman's rambling 1999 biopic about the comedian, who would achieve his greatest fame as mechanic Latka Gravas on the ABC series TAXI during the 1970's. This film explores Kaufman's humble beginnings in dingy comedy clubs to his unnerving appearance on the premiere episode of Saturday NIGHT LIVE, his tenure on TAXI and his invasion of the WWF, which ballooned into a full blown feud with WWF wrestler Jerry Lawler. The film shows Andy's consistent discontent with his success and how no matter what he achieved, it wasn't enough. This purely evidenced in Kaufman's obnoxious alter ego, Tony Clifton, who Kaufman tirelessly worked at creating a separate career for, despite the fact that no one was interested. The film aggravates as we watch Kaufman constantly put up roadblocks to his own success, but also fascinates due to the mesmerizing performance by Jim Carrey in the title role. Carrey channels Kaufman flawlessly, in a performance that's positively spooky in its accuracy and should have earned Carrey an Oscar nomination. Kaufman, I mean Carrey, gets solid support from Danny DeVito, who plays George Shapiro, Kaufman's agent and Paul Giamatti, who plays Bob Zmuda, Kaufman's co-writer and co-parter in conspiracy and the only one in all of Kaufman's jokes. Courtney Love's performance as the leading lady is a matter of taste, but it really doesn't matter because this is Jim Carrey's show all the way and he makes the film worth watching. The film also features appearances by Jerry Lawler, Peter Bonerz as TAXI producer Ed Weinberger and TAXI cast members Judd Hirsch, Jeff Conaway, Marilu Henner, Christopher Lloyd, and Carol Kane. A long but involving look at one of show business' most tragic figures and Im not completely sure that it's over.
Fincher's Directorial Triumph
Director David Fincher (FIGHT CLUB)has achieved the zenith of his career with THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, a sweeping and majestic fable that spans almost an entire century. This moving and eloquent story follows the life of a boy named Benjamin, who was born as a baby in his late 80's and ages in reverse. His mother died in childbirth and his father was so horrified at the sight of him that he left him on an anonymous doorstep, where he was taken in by a kindly black owner of a boarding house in post WWI New Orleans. We become completely enveloped in Benjamin's tale as we watch him calmly accept the extraordinary hand that God has dealt him while others do the same or run in terror. We watch the kindly adopted mother who accepts his as he is, though does take him to a faith healer thinking she can "save" him; we also watch his biological father track him down and regret his decision of giving the boy up while he maintains a life long friendship with Daisy, the little girl who he meets as an old manchild, whose lives meet in the middle as she grows into a vain beauty who can't accept the fact that Benjamin grows younger as she grows older. The film is visually arresting and bold in its cinematic scope as Fincher's meticulous direction brings you a story that should make you ponder, but really only makes you behold. Brad Pitt received his second Oscar nomination for his performance in the title role, a role which many feel was all visual effects and makeup; however, Benjamin has a mind and a soul and a voice that Pitt brings to this extraordinary character with a quiet and understated dignity. Cate Blanchett is luminous as Daisy, the love of Benjamin's life who can't quite accept Benjamin's life for what it is and there is strong support from Taraji P. Henson as Benjamin's adoptive mother and Jason Flemyng as his biological father. Fincher breathes an extraordinary life into this story which could have been buried in visual effects and makeup but has a life of its own and the final act as Daisy becomes an older woman while Benjamin regresses to infancy, is absolutely heartbreaking. A one of kind cinematic experience.
Penn, Black and Van Sant Deliver the Goods...
Sean Penn's mesmerizing Oscar winning performance is the centerpiece of MILK, the 2008 biopic about Harvey Milk, the tireless crusader of gay rights who became the first openly gay male to run for public office. Director Gus van Sant has mounted this intimate story on a massive canvas, utilizing stock news footage, gay activism education/information, and an intelligent, Oscar winning screening play by Dustin Lance Black to tell this compelling and emotionally charged tale of the man who put his entire life on the back burner as well as at a great personal risk to himself, to further the issue of gay rights. It would nice if homophobia could be put aside long enough for the heterosexual population to see a film like this and possibly gain a better understanding of this constantly tortured minority. Sean Penn won a richly deserved 2nd Best Actor Oscar for his passionate and fiery turn as this tireless Messiah for gay causes. The film also features a trio of sterling supporting performances from Emile Hirsch as a teen hustler that Milk converts into one of his followers, James Franco as Milk's lover who gets lost in Harvey's political shuffle, and especially Josh Brolin, in a brilliant performance that earned him a supporting nomination as Dan White, the conflicted, heterosexual San Francisco supervisor who worked alongside and against Milk simultaneously, leading to the downfall of both of them. A beautifully mounted film with a strong message that never becomes preachy, but stays with you long after the credits roll, featuring the performance of Sean Penn's distinguished career. Don't miss this one.
Mamma Mia! (2008)
Streep is Masterful in this Musical Joyride
MAMMA MIA! is a joyous musical romp, the film version of the long running Broadway musical based on the music of 70's pop group Abba. The film stars Meryl Streep as Donna, the lusty and free spirited innkeeper who runs a broken down hotel in the Greek Islands, who is rocked by the arrival of three former suitors (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard)in Greece for the wedding of Donna's daughter, Sophie, not knowing that one of them is really Sophie's father, though Donna is not sure which one is the real Daddy. This paper-thin plot line serves as the basis for an amusing and spirited musical journey exploring Donna's regrets about her past and Sophie's search for a future identity through knowing who her real father is. Filmed on location in the Greek Islands, the film is visually stunning and should really be experienced on a big screen. Streep, as always, commands the screen as Donna, giving a rich performance that almost makes you forget you're watching a musical. Amanda Seyfried is charming as Sophie offering an impressive turn in her first real leading role. There are also a pair of razor sharp supporting performances from Christine Baranski and Julie Walters as Donna's best friends, also in town for the wedding. The film features beautiful location photography and some very inventive staging of musical numbers, which include "Dancing Queen", " In a Rich Man's World", "The Winner Takes it All", "Our Last Summer", "Take a Chance on Me", and of course, the title tune. Not for all tastes, but for fans of musicals and Streep, a must.
Marley & Me (2008)
"The World's Worst Dog"
MARLEY & ME is a sweet-natured and breezy comedy peppered with equal parts laughter and sentiment which chronicles the lives of John and Jenny Grogan (Owen Wilson, Jennfier Aniston), an upwardly mobile couple, both working as writers, who find their lives forever altered when the adopt an adorable Labrador puppy who they name Marley, "the world's worst dog.". Marley barks at visitors, cowers during thunderstorms, chews up anything he can get in his mouth, and chases pigeons on the beach, in addition to being the ultimate babe magnet. Nothing groundbreaking here, but it's an entertaining film with plenty of laughs and even a tear or two along the way. Wilson and Aniston have a nice chemistry together and there are a couple of effective supporting turns from Alan Arkin as John's boss and best friend, but it's marley's picture all the way, and trust me, you will be in love with this dog by the time the film rolls around to its OLD YELLER-type conclusion.
Why Did I Get Married? (2007)
It was better when it was called THE FOUR SEASONS
Tyler Perry's inexplicably meteoric career continues to be an enigma with WHY DID I GET MARRIED?, his 2007 comedy-drama that pretty much comes off as a blatant rip-off of the 1984 Alan Alda comedy THE FOUR SEASONS. Perry has gathered an attractive cast of African American actors together to play four couples who travel to a mountain retreat for an alleged couples seminar that turns into a weekend of ugly accusations, confused loyalties, not-so-surprising revelations, and what Tyler Perry deals in best: tired stereotyped characters. Perry has the nerve to make these people rich and upwardly mobile with high-powered careers despite the fact that most of the characters don't have a brain in their head. Perry's enormous ego once again casts him center stage as a pediatrician married to a partner in a law firm (Sharon Leal), who had her tubes tied in order to keep babies from getting in the way of her career. Janet Jackson and Malik Yorba are beyond dull as a couple dealing with the death of a child. Michael Jai White and Tasha Smith are loud and obnoxious as a couple dealing with STD's and an ex that won't go away. Richard T. Jones plays a sexist pig who makes his overweight wife drive to the retreat while he arrives by plane with his mistress. Perry's attempt to present contemporary African Americans just comes off as forced and the stereotyped behavior of some of the character in the film is just embarrassing. The only light in all this darkness is a surprisingly charismatic performance from R&B songstress Jill Scott, who lights up the screen as Jones' overweight and insecure wife who eventually finds happiness with a sexy sheriff (Laaman Rucker). There's some nice scenery and the actors try to make the most out of a pedantic screenplay, but the whole thing just smacks of "been there done that."