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Make Me a Star (1932)
Merton's going to Hollywood if he can get to Red Gap by Sundown
This film, starring Joan Blondell, Zasu Pitts, and Tom Ewell, is based on the story of Merton of the Movies, which has been a story, a play, this film, and one starring Red Skelton in 1947.
Naive hayseed Merton works as a grocery store delivery man while he's taking an acting correspondence course and posing for photos in western garb. He does get out to Hollywood and his naivete impresses an actress Flips Montague (Blondell) hanging out in the casting office (Blondell) who appeals to a friend to hire him as an extra. He's actually given a line but blows it, gets fired, and Flips finds him looking through garbage for food. She begs a comedy director to cast him, though Merton hates comedies, is aspiring to great art, and doesn't realize he's ridiculous.
This film was miscategorized by Paramount as a comedy. It's not. It's a poignant story of a man wanting to make serious films who, unbeknownst to him, is taken in a different direction. It's about dreams, it's about knowing who we are.
The fun part of this film is the Paramount stars who have walk-ons: Tallulah Bankhead, Clive Brook, Maurice Chevalier, Claudette Colbert, Gary Cooper, Phillips Holmes, Fredric March, Jack Oakie, Charles Ruggles, and Sylvia Sidney.
Make Me a Star ends somewhat ambiguously, so you'll have to decide for yourselves. Stuart Erwin and Joan Blondell give wonderful performances.
Murder on a Honeymoon (1935)
Edna May Oliver returns as Hildegarde Withers
The always-delightful Edna May Oliver stars as old maid schoolteacher Hildegarde Withers in Murder on a Honeymoon, also starring James Gleason, Leo G. Carroll, and Lola Lane.
In this series entry, Hildegarde is on a seaplane en route to Catalina when there's a murder. Naturally all of the passengers are suspect.
It's kind of convoluted, but no one cares. Oliver (who is only 52 at the time of this filming) is her usual scene-stealing self as she tries to solve the mystery and trades some snappy dialogue with Detective Piper (James Gleason).
I love seeing the planes in these old films.
Delightful and refreshing
I don't understand myself and I make myself sick. I actually got into this.
These Hallmark movies are harmless. In particular these Signed, Sealed, and Delivered ones are on the slow side because they're not really about murder. I enjoyed it. At this point I'll do anything to get away from the news.
I really like the characters and the stories are very sweet.
There's a place for all forms of entertainment - this is a delightful series.
The Commuter (2018)
Derivative but still entertaining
"The Commuter" is a suspenseful, energetic thriller starring Liam Neeson as an ex-cop who has just lost his job with an insurance company after ten years. As he's riding home on the train mulling over his huge financial obligations, he receives an offer from a woman (Vera Farmiga) with big money attached. It's an offer he can't refuse. Or can he?
You cannot believe what Liam Neeson does on this train. Not only does he pace back and forth in an attempt to find a certain passenger, but at one point he hangs off of the train, looks in people's bags, gets into a fight in between cars, finds dead bodies - leading to a wild climax (if none of that was enough).
A couple of things, for me anyway, were predictable but in no way did it dampen my enjoyment and nervous stomach. Very well directed.
All the Money in the World (2017)
I have to agree with other posters - Michelle Williams stole this film; it's remarkable she was not nominated for an Oscar. And someone said they had no understanding why Mark Wahlberg was cast in a non-action film.
I have no idea why he's cast in anything, and I never have.
I found this film slow-moving with a reprehensible character in the person of J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer). Plummer is always wonderful, and he was here as well - cold, petty, playing a man much more interested in works of art and building another home than he is in the welfare of his grandson.
The story of the Getty kidnapping is horrible, and Paul Getty actually never recovered, dying at age 54. One way or another, J. Paul Getty managed to do a number on his entire family. He yelled at one of his wives for spending too much money on treatment for their blind son; when the boy died at the age of 12, Getty, no longer with his wife, didn't attend the funeral.
See this for Michelle Williams' performance; she's really terrific.
The Post (2017)
more about the media
Having been alive during the time featured in the film, I found The Post fascinating. Directed by Steven Spielberg, it sports a wonderful cast that includes Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Bruce Greenwood, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, and Matthew Rhys.
The story ostensibly concerns freedom of the press, which makes the movie very timely, as does the presence in the film of a corrupt and vindictive President.
What it's really about is Katharine Graham coming into her own as the publisher of The Post. Sick of hearing "Your father would have...", "Your husband would have..." she finally says, "By the way. This isn't my father's paper anymore, and it's not my husband's. It's mine." Despite her position - which it never occurred to her that she would be in -- she has a lack of confidence. Nevertheless, it's her courage that brings not only the Pentagon Papers but Watergate to light.
All of the acting is terrific.
The Post is a sobering story. As is said by the Supreme Court in the film, "The news isn't for the government. It's for the governed."
I, Tonya (2017)
A re-telling of events of 1994 with a slightly different perspective
I had mixed feelings while watching this excellent film and the great performances by Margot Robbie and Allison Janney.
I followed every second of this scandal when it broke 25 years ago. I felt as many did that if Tonya couldn't find an ice show that would let her skate to Goodfellas, she might as well quit. She definitely knew what was going on, as she admitted in a recent interview.
This film attempts to put her in a sympathetic light, and it does succeed - after all, she was abused by her mother physically and psychologically, her father left the family, she left school at 15 to devote herself to skating.
Much is made of the fact that she wasn't the typical pretty skater with beautiful skating costumes. Well, that's a little twisted, as one who followed it from the beginning and followed figure skating for years.
It may have been that behind the scenes, the ice skating profession didn't approve of her. But Tonya was pretty, despite what she says, and she wasn't the first skater who didn't come from money - far from it, nor was she the first skater whose mother sewed her costumes. Skating is very expensive, and families sacrifice a great deal to get their kids training, shoes, costumes, ice time, and everything that goes with it.
The film tries to make it seem as if Tonya was the only one with these hardships. Nancy Kerrigan comes from a middle-class family, with a legally blind mother, and if you want to talk tabloid fodder, her brother was accused of killing her father.
My major problem with Tonya has always been that she was a powerful skater, an excellent athlete, and she would have been on the Olympic team without anyone's knee being shattered. The subsequent notoriety and problems with her husband ruined her Olympic performance, which was sluggish - she was obviously out of shape. So what was accomplished?
As the movie shows us, it's now years later. Tonya was young, she made some mistakes, time to move on. After some false starts, it seems like she has. Everyone deserves a second chance. She recently made a good splash on Dancing with the Stars (which I believe pays something like $200,000 - so not bad) and she still practices her skating. She's married and has a child.
You can't leave the film without hoping that things continue to work out for her. The film gives us an interesting perspective on her early life, her bad marriage, the knee-bashing incident, and the stupid people who carried it out (some real dark comedy there).
Highly recommended, and I hope Tonya's new momentum keeps going. Time to take some responsibility instead of being a victim and move on.
An Inspector Calls (2015)
famous drama in good hands
A classic story, An Inspector Calls has been remade many times, done as a play, for TV, film, and radio.
This particular production is from the BBC in 2015. David Thewlis plays the mysterious Inspector Goolie, who is investigating the suicide of a young lower-class woman. He visits the upper-class Birling family and interrogates each one of them about his or her association with the woman.
This is a fascinating story, very relevant today, as it's about the capitalistic view versus the socialist. The patriarch of the family says, "Keep your head down and concentrate on your own business. The way these cranks talk now, you'd think that everybody has to look after everybody else, we're all mixed up together like bees in a hive."
Inspector Goolie says, "There are millions and millions of Eva Smith's left with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and a chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives and what we think and say and do. We don't live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other."
And that about sums up the themes of this excellent story, beautifully acted here by Thewlis, Miranda Richardson, Ken Stott, Sophie Rundle, Kyle Soller, and Finn Cole.
Written by J. B. Priestley in 1945, it's as relevant today as it was then.
Annette Bening as Gloria Grahame
This is a lovely film, all the more wonderful if you are familiar with Gloria Grahame. Otherwise, you can't truly appreciate the amazing performance of Annette Bening. Flawless.
After she married her stepson, Anthony Ray, Graham's waning career waned even more due to the ensuing scandal. (They were married nearly 14 years and had two children.) She continued to work on stage and in television.
We come into the film when Grahame was working in Liverpool and becomes involved with a much younger actor, Peter Turner. The film is based on his book. Turner, now 68 years old, appears in the film (he also cowrote it); he went on to have a good career.
The terminally-ill Graham finds peace and comfort not only with Turner but with his entire family. What started as a fling became a deep, caring love.
The film plays with time, seamlessly going from the present to the past. Beautifully directed by Paul McGuigan.
The acting is excellent, but the film is carried by Bening. She really becomes Gloria Grahame and must have studied her for a long time.
Grahame had an apartment in NYC - the apartment in the film was nothing like it, as I know the Manhattan Plaza complex where she lived very well. Tennessee Williams and Angela Lansbury also had apartments there.
Mia madre (2015)
A director under pressure personally and professionally
A film director (Margherita Buy), in the middle of trying to do a film, has to deal with the fact that her mother is dying.
The film is inspired by the death of Nani Moretti's own mother, and we can assume that the Buy character represents him, as a movie director dealing with a difficult production, a temperamental and looney actor (John Turturro), and a terminally-ill mother she keeps telling herself is going to recover.
Anyone who has been through this life-goes-on in the face of tragedy scenario will relate to the director trying to deal with her ex-husband, her daughter, her boyfriend, her mother, and the movie - all at the same time. It's a very human story. Unfortunately you can't pick when a crisis will occur, or expect them to come one at a time.
Wonderful acting, especially Buy as her character, Margherita, tries to keep it all together as her leading man, an American who knows Italian, can't remember his lines, the extras all look like movie stars when she asked for normal everyday people, all the while visiting her mother at the hospital and being in denial about her illness.
Very good film.
Like many movies about old politics, "Mark Felt" is relevant today due to a few obvious parallels I won't go into.
Liam Neeson gives a wonderful performance as Mark Felt, the real "Deep Throat," who helps Woodward and Bernstein uncover the Watergate scandal and, in turn, bring down President Nixon. Felt is a distinguished, somewhat rigid man, dedicated to his work though passed over for the top job after Hoover's death. That doesn't lessen his resolve to do the right thing, and when the White House tells him he has 48 hours and then has to close the case, he smells a rat.
The film also goes into Felt's personal life, his daughter Joan with whom he is estranged, and his wife's (Diane Lane) unhappiness. Most of Lane's performance wound up on the cutting room floor, sadly. Mrs. Felt not only suffered a nervous breakdown but later committed suicide.
Woodward is a minor character here - having seen All the President's Men, this film, and having been around when it was all happening made this a fascinating film for me. There is archival footage, some of which shows Nixon resigning. I can still remember being on Pinkney St. in Boston and hearing the cheers from Boston Common. Today it all strikes me as pathetic.
derivative boxing film
The very underrated Arthur Kennedy stars in "Knockout."
It's not very original. A guy (Kennedy) comes up from the ranks as a boxer, gets cocky, gets a sleaze manager (Anthony Quinn), tries to quit the ring and the manager sabotages him not only with his wife but with boxing; he hits the skids.
The only thing that makes this interesting is the cast, with handsome Cornel Wilde in a small role, Virginia Field as a reporter interested in Kennedy, and Olympe Bradna as Kennedy's wife. Bradna apparently married money and retired the year this film was released. She was very pretty but didn't have much to do.
Ordinary, but Kennedy is always worth watching.
Killing Kennedy (2013)
a thoughtful performance by Rob Lowe can't save this
This is a low-budget production starring Rob Lowe, who does a good job as JFK. The story focuses on Lee Harvey Oswald, his political leanings, and his activities prior to the assassination.
I doubt the factual accuracy of some of this. Don't tell me Jack Ruby broke down over poor Jackie now that her husband was dead. And I still think Ruby killing Oswald was something authorities let happen. He was being moved to another prison and instead of having a vehicle by the door, he was walked slowly through the garage. Then, surrounded by all these people, Jack Ruby shoots him. Also, the film shows Mrs. Kennedy all by herself sitting outside the room where doctors were working on her husband. I don't think so.
Rob Lowe was a standout. I also liked Michelle Trachtenberg as Marina Oswald. Will Rothhaar as Oswald was too good-looking, and Ginnifer Goodwin lacked the sophistication required for Jackie. Also I think her relationship with her husband was somewhat misrepresented, given what we know now.
Book Club (2018)
four older women re-discover sex
Wow, a movie where four older women have leads.
This is a story of four women of a certain age who have a book club. The hot, sexy hotel owner Vivian (Jane Fonda) decides they will all read "Fifty Shades of Gray," though the rest of the women (Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Diane Keaton) object.
They soon find themselves glued to the book and going for a semblance of a love life. Carol (Steenburgen) tries to get her husband (Craig Nelson) interested again; Sharon (Bergen), a federal judge, tries online dating, and Diane (Keaton) flirts with a man (Andy Garcia) on a plane. In the meantime, an old love (Don Johnson) comes into Vivian's life - she resists because she's afraid of being hurt.
Lots of laugh out loud moments in this film as well as poignant ones, with Fonda, at the age of 80, outrageously gorgeous and Bergen having the funniest role.
The moral of the story is, it's never too late. If you don't want to be put out to pasture, then don't go. And looking at Fonda, I guess 80 is the new 50.
Hoss and Petzold at it again
Christian Petzold directed Nina Hoss in one of my favorite films, Phoenix, so I looked forward to seeing "Jerichow" from 2008.
This is a loose remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice with a touch of Fassbender's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. Petzold creates a noir atmosphere in his story of a dishonorably discharged Afghanistan veteran Thomas (Benno Furmann) who returns to Germany in order to rebuild and live in his father's home. Unfortunately, his brother steals the money he had hidden and knocks him unconscious.
Thomas eventually becomes the driver for Ali (Hilmi Sozer), a Turkish-German businessman who owns a chain of snack bars. Thomas then meets and falls in love with Ali's beautiful young wife Laura (Nina Hoss). The two fall in love, with Ali, a generous employer and abusive alcoholic, standing between them.
Lovely beach locations in an around Brandenberg, Germany is a highlight of this film. There are some beautiful scenes -- Laura going to see Thomas in the rain; Thomas coming up behind her while hiding from the suspicious Ali; Ali's drunken dancing on the beach. These all contribute to a beautifully-made film.
There have been comments that this is a political allegory, and it can definitely be seen as that too. On the surface, it's a love triangle with a twist. Petzold is an excellent director whose work deserves to be seen.
The Perfect Murder (1988)
fun look at Bombay
Somewhere along the line, I lost the plot of this film, but that's okay -this Merchant-Ivory production has great Bombay locations and a good sense of Indian culture. And it's pretty funny.
Police Inspector Ghote (Naseeruddin Shah) is an officer with the Bombay Police. His wife wants a color tv. Ghote is assigned to investigate the assault of a man named Mr. Perfect, who works as a Secretary for the filthy rich Lala Heera Lal who may be connected to the underworld.
Ghote's boss asks him to work with a Swedish forensic expert, Axel Svennson (Stellan Skarsgard). Ghote isn't happy, but a friendship develops.
This is very different from other Merchant-Ivory films - it's a comedy, for one. A lot of the humor comes from the characters, who become involved in different bizarre situations.
The biggest shock was seeing Stellan Skarsgard as a young man WOW! Well, age gets us all.
another interesting Petzold-Hoss collaboration
Another moody, atmospheric film of many layers, directed by Christian Petzold and starring Nina Hoss.
This film is a riff on "Carnival of Souls" from 1962. Yella (Hoss) is trying for a new life after breaking up with her husband. He insists on driving her to the station, but that's not his intent.
I don't want to say too much about this movie, but it deals with time, with death, and with delusions and illusions.
Petzold always is saying something about Germany and Germans - East vs. West, etc. Not being German and not living there, it's not easy to grasp. Nina Hoss has such an incredible presence - Phoenix is my favorite film of hers and Petzold's - she can dominate a film even with very little dialogue.
Petzold's work deserves more recognition here. If you haven't seen Phoenix - see it. And see this.
The Catcher Was a Spy (2018)
true and interesting story
"The Catcher Was a Spy" is the true story of Moe Berg (Paul Rudd), an okay baseball player who played professionally for 15 years. He was sent by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to spy on the Germans during World War II. The U.S. wanted to know if a scientist named Werner Heisenberg (Mark Strong) was close to making an atom bomb. If he was, Berg's orders were to kill him.
This should have been an exciting story; instead, it was duller than dishwater. Moe Berg was a complicated man - incredibly well educated, speaking seven languages ("yes," someone said, "and he can't hit in any of them"), Berg was a very private person. He had a relationship with a woman Estella (Sienna Miller) but he never married her.
Paul Rudd is a good actor, but it's very hard to play someone who was so internalized and not make him a big yawn. The film needed to surround him with lots of action and suspense, but it didn't. There were good performances by Paul Giamatti, Jeff Daniels, Tom Wilkinson, Giancarlo Giannini, and Guy Pearce - all underplayed, not that they had any choice. They would have all seemed over the top compared to the Rudd character.
The In-Laws (1979)
Well, when you need a laugh - or many - there's nothing like The In-Laws from 1979.
Peter Falk and Alan Arkin star as Vince Ricardo and Sheldon Kornpett, whose children are marrying. Right after the men meet, Vince involves Sheldon in an operation (that may or may not be for the CIA) that has to do with master plates for U.S. currency. Sheldon winds up being shot at, riding the roof of a taxi, and traveling to another country in Central America, where he faces a firing squad.
Absolutely hilarious, with Falk and Arkin in fine form with Falk an absolute maniac and Arkin a New York dentist. Arkin's delayed responses to situations are priceless. As he is being chased in his car, he drives into a paint shop. The comes out in psychedelic colors. The painter tells him it's permanent, can't be painted over, and costs $30. Arkin hands him the money and asks him, quietly, if he has a phone. When the man asks him what he said, Arkin goes berserk, screaming 'A PHONE. I ASKED YOU IF YOU HAD A PHONE. '
Falk's opening monologue at the dinner table about the flies the size of eagles is not to be missed, nor is their meeting with a South American dictator who has a hand puppet.
The above situations mentioned are all funny, but just watch when the two men are being shot at and Falk keeps zig-zagging and yelling to Arkin, "SERPENTINE: 'SERPENTINE.'
A laugh riot.
Ordeal by Innocence (2018)
Total garbage using the title of an Agatha Christie novel, the same characters, and changing the story and the identity of the killer. A bunch of totally unlikable characters.
Great production values totally wasted.
I don't blame the vulgar and sexed-up script totally on the writer; I blame the money-hungry Christie estate for allowing this type of trash to be made. They do not oversee these productions, some of them, as this one, downright awful and having very little to do with Christie.
Army of One (2016)
great Cage performance
Nicholas Cage is a wonderful actor whose reputation has suffered in recent years because of the bad films he's made.
This is one of them.
The star of "Honeymoon in Vegas," "Con Air" "Face Off," "Moonstruck," "Matchstick Men" and other great films stars in "Army of One." This is the true story of a man, Gary Faulkner (Cage) who has a vision of God (Russell Brand) telling him to go to Pakistan and kill Osama Bin Laden. He goes to Pakistan with a sword he purchased on a shopping network, having hallucinations because he's off dialysis.
As the loud-mouthed Faulkner, Nicholas Cage steals the show with his hilarious performance. He has good support from Brand and Wendi McLendon-Covey, who plays his girlfriend. But it's Cage's show all the way.
There are some funny things in this film. What I love about Cage is that he never goes for the comedy - he is entrenched in his character and dead serious. That's why his comedy is so brilliant. See it for him.
The Las Vegas Story (1952)
pretty good given what Hughes put them through
This is a 1952 film, and you can tell we haven't quite left the '40s. Jane Russell plays a former Las Vegas club singer who travels to Vegas with her wealthy. somewhat slimy husband (Vincent Price) - but she has a past with a local police officer (Victor Mature). And you just know what's going to happen.
Russell sings as well, she looks sexy, and does a great job with the snappy dialogue. Hoagy Carmichael is terrific, and the two of them make the movie. There's a huge chase on foot scene at the end that is quite elaborate.
This is a Howard Hughes production; because he interfered so much with the filming, it lost money.
After All These Years (2013)
they get extra points for naming the characters after people in Billy Wilder films
This is kind of cute, thanks to the performances of veteran stars Wendie Malick, Gregory Harrison, and Andrea Martin.
Malick plays Audrey, who, after a wonderful anniversary party, finds out her husband wants to leave her for another woman. They split up. One night she comes downstairs and finds her husband has not only entered the house, but he's dead with a knife in his stomach. Immediately a suspect and a long-time viewer of Forensic Files and Snapped, Audrey takes off, determined to find the murderer.
Many of the characters are named after characters in Billy Wilder films, such as Sunset Boulevard, Sabrina, Stalag 17, Kiss Me, Stupid, and The Apartment.
It's light, it's amusing, and Gregory Harrison looks great.
Two Smart People (1946)
nice chemistry between Ball and Hodiak
This was Lucille Ball's final film for MGM. Though she didn't like it, she's very good and has nice chemistry with John Hodiak. They are ably supported by Elisha Cook, Jr., and Lloyd Nolan.
Con man Hodiak is headed back to prison on a train with detective Nolan when they meet con woman Ball. Gangster Cook wants the bonds Hodiak is hiding. The two leads fall for one another. There is a long Mardi Gras scene at the end of the film. Ball looks fantastic in the festival gowns.
Light fun. Directed by Jules Dassin without the flair that would make him one of the great directors.
Battle Cry (1955)
a massive hit with audiences
This film was a massive hit for Warner Bros. when it was released in 1955. It boasts a fine cast of veterans and young actors, many of whom found their main careers on television: Van Heflin, James Whitmore, Aldo Ray, Tab Hunter, Raymond Massey, Tommy Cook, Fess Parker, John Lupton, William Campbell, Anne Francis, Mona Freeman, Dorothy Malone, and Nancy Olsen. Battle Cry was directed by Raoul Walsh.
It's the story of young men going into the Marines to fight the war - the vigorous training, the girls they left behind, the ones they meet, and the battles they fight. Someone said this is an intelligent movie - and it is, even featuring Jonas Applegarth as a Navajo code talker.
The personal stories hold your interest. I watched this because I realized that I've never seen a movie with Tab Hunter. For some reason, this gorgeous man (even though I wrote about him at one point) was off my radar until I saw "Tab Hunter Confidential," which was wonderful. It turns out James Dean auditioned for his role in the movie.
It's not Saving Private Ryan, but I think for its time, Battle Cry was somewhat unusual. Of course, it wouldn't be the '50s without the shame of getting pregnant before marriage. Very different today.