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A Damsel in Distress (1937)
Not the best Astaire, but some terrific dancing w/ Gracie & George
I couldn't wait to get my hands on this one, when I read about Fred Astaire teaming up with George Burns & Gracie Allen in a movie with a script by P.G. Wodehouse and music by the Gershwins. It is definitely worth seeing, but lacks the cohesive quality of the Fred & Ginger movies.
The story would probably be better to read in a Wodehouse book, where the humor comes across better. Some of the acting is downright painful to watch (notably the young boy and the damsel).
But...! The funhouse dance is worth more than most movies. I never knew that Gracie Allen could dance, but boy does she in this movie. Have you ever tried to remain standing on one of those spinning discs in a funhouse? Imagine tapdancing on one in high heels! She keeps up wonderfully with Astaire and adds greatly to the overall quality of the picture.
Several nice songs, particularly fun are Nice Work if you Can Get It and Stiff Upper Lip.
Recommended for fans of Astaire, Burns & Allen. I had to go back and re-watch the funhouse dance as soon as the credits rolled.
Not purely accurate but likable with terrific music and interpretations of Cole Porter's classics.
I nearly didn't rent the DVD, because most of the reviews were so bad. I'm glad my love for Cole Porter led me to disregard them. I really don't care whether the movie is an accurate representation of Cole Porter's life. I don't care whether the sequence of the song performances was the same as when Porter wrote them. The movie is nice to look at, has a reasonably pleasant story, and contains absolutely fabulous music. I particularly enjoyed Robbie Williams singing It's De-Lovely and Alanis Morissette singing Let's Do It. The only thing I disliked was that the director (or Kevin Kline or someone) decided to keep the verisimilitude of Cole Porter's lack of singing talent. Kevin Kline can sing very nicely--too bad he didn't in this movie. And, as a big fan of Fred Astaire, it would have been nice to see some recreations of the collaborations between Astaire & Porter in introducing those terrific songs.
Recommended for those who are not purists, but who enjoy Cole Porter's music.
Garden State (2004)
Quirky and funny and a gorgeous soundtrack
Garden State is a very enjoyable movie. I'm glad I didn't read all of the reviews before seeing it, because I think the movie is more fun when it's surprises are left to the view to discover.
Zach Braff does a good job with both acting and directing, and since he also wrote the script--he deserves the full credit for this creation.
Natalie Portman is terrific as the love interest. This is the first time I've seen her in a movie where I found her appealing.
The supporting cast is excellent. Jean Smart is particularly good as a zonked out, but very loving mother.
The soundtrack is sumptuous, and adds greatly to the movie.
Catch it on IFC or DVD--It's worth Watching
Dogtown is the meandering story of a young man (Philip)who returns to his hometown after 12 years of trying to make it in Hollywood. Everyone in his hometown of Cuba thinks he's a big star and asks him about the famous people he's met, but Philip was just another dream-chaser, and he's come home to lick his wounds.
While he's home, he sees what has become of all the people he went to school with: the pretty cheerleader, the athlete, and the unknowns. Maybe seeing what they've made of their lives helps him to make sense of his own.
The acting is mostly pretty good and interesting. It's interesting to see Jon Favreau as the young, greasy ex-athlete. Karen Black gives a fine performance as Philip's mother.
Overall--it's not phenomenal, but worth seeing.
A Mighty Wind (2003)
Buy or Rent the DVD--the Extras are well worth Seeing
A Mighty Wind was fun to watch for this old folk-music lover. It wasn't a laugh riot, but it had plenty of laughs and a light touch. I rented the DVD yesterday (release date) and greatly enjoyed the outtakes presented as extras. It must have been difficult to decide what to cut and what to leave in, since many of the performances in the "extras" were just as much fun as what stayed in the film.
Welcome to Collinwood (2002)
Laugh out loud caper movie with a stellar cast
Don't see the previews before watching this movie. They give away about half of the jokes and surprises. You probably shouldn't see it if you loved the foreign film of which it is a remake. Barring those caveats, you might just love this silly crime caper movie. The cast is terrific, and the whole thing is fun.
You Were Never Lovelier (1942)
Laughably unrealistic, but funny with great dancing
The second of the Astaire/Hayworth pairings finds Fred playing the horses in Argentina, when he loses his stake and has to look for a dancing job.
A convoluted set of situations follows, allowing for several swinging dance numbers set to the music of Xavier Cougat's orchestra. Lovely sets, costumes, and people make You Were Never Lovelier a wonderful looking movie.
Lots of weird inconsistencies make this movie comically unrealistic, such as: Maria's (Rita Hayworth) family has a name that sounds Latin (Acuna), and they live in Argentina, but the four sisters couldn't look less like sisters, and none of them looks Latino. 3/4 of the way into the movie, we learn that the father was born of immigrant parents from Britainy (France). Well that could explain the non-Latin look of the girls, but what about the surname and the cousin named Fernando? I know it's silly to bother looking for logic and plot consistency in a 1940s Hollywood musical, but this one is ditsier than most. So, watch it for the dancing, the music, the humor, and the costumes. Even with a goofy script, there are lots of funny moments.
You'll Never Get Rich (1941)
Rita Hayworth was a beauty, but not as good w/Fred as Ginger
You'll Never Get Rich finds Fred, as usual, working as a choreographer/dancer in NYC. Following one-too-many hot water situations cooked up by his boss, he gets his draft notice, and after some fancy non-footwork, gets inducted into the Army. From there it's off to basic training.
The story follows the usual boy-meets-girl, boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back musical comedy formula.
What's fun is to see the very young Rita Hayworth and the always splendid Fred Astaire in an unusual setting. There are some swell dance numbers, and Astaire is said to have thought Hayworth one of his best partners. An especially nice bit has Fred dancing by himself in the guardhouse, while he listens to a group of Black soldiers playing and singing.
This is a fun movie for anyone fond of either Fred Astaire or Rita Hayworth, but beautiful as she was, Rita just didn't bring out the best in Fred Astaire like Ginger Rogers did. Kathryn Hepburn is quoted as saying Rogers gave Astaire sex appeal, and Astaire gave Rogers class. I don't know whether that's the reason their movies are so much fun to watch, but she may well have been on to something.
Second Chorus (1940)
Nice music, some cute sparring, but not enough Fred dancing!
In this 1940 film, Fred Astaire (Danny) plays a 7th year college student (he was only 41 at the time), who keeps flunking courses so he can stay on in town and play trumpet in a very successful dance band. His roommate and fellow bandmate is played by (Hank)Burgess Meredith.
Fred & Burgess are vying for the affections of the lovely Paulette Goddard (Ellen), who meets Fred at a dance, and later takes a job as his booking agent and secretary.
Ellen is hired away by Artie Shaw, and the remainder of the movie takes place in New York. Danny & Hank have both followed Ellen to New York, and are trying to get on with Artie Shaw's band. A series of mishaps and problems follows, as both men try to win Ellen and a job with the band, while knocking each other out of Ellen's affections.
Charles Butterworth plays the unfortunate Mr. Chisholm, who is the butt of many of the jokes and mishaps.
Not very original, and on the DVD I saw, pretty muddy, but still it's Fred Astaire, and there is one nice dance number featuring Fred as a band conductor who just busts out dancing. There are also some nice big band numbers, and Paulette Goddard makes a nice foil for Astaire.
Worth seeing, if you are a Fred Astaire fan or just love big bands and Artie Shaw.
Love & Sex (2000)
Fun to watch, fine acting, enjoyable dialogue, nice soundtrack
If you've been watching Jon Favreau's Dinner for Five on IFC, and enjoying it, as I have, you'll definitely enjoy this movie. Favreau is fun to watch, and this movie shows his strengths as an actor. Famke Jansen is a standout as Kate, the film's protagonist.
Looking through the External Reviews, linked on IMDB, it seems that many of the critics really disliked this movie, and I don't see why. It may not be Shakespeare, but why such a strong negative reaction to what is essentially a light, romantic comedy. Some even say there is no chemistry between Jansen and Favreau, and again, I just don't get it.
OK, so you've probably read the synopsis, 30ish single Kate is looking for love. 30ish Adam seems to be it. Then they break up. Then they try to move on. Then they drive each other crazy with jealousy. I won't go on to spoil the finish.
All that is pretty predictable, but the dialogue is well written. The actors are believable and connect with less of a sizzle than a warm melt. I enjoyed the build-up phase of the relationship that was the heart of the movie. The soundtrack songs were well chosen, and enhanced the film.
Overall, this movie is a nice time, and I'd probably watch it again.
Divorcing Jack (1998)
Well acted by a good cast, but kind of a wack movie
I guess I should have read the back of the DVD box more carefully, but I was whiling away a Sunday afternoon, thinking I was watching kind of a cute social commentary, when WHAM blood and mayhem interrupted.
Generally, the acting was pretty well done, and the casting was exceptional. The action and plot were well timed and involving. Thewlis is very likeable in a hard to figure way--you do keep wondering why his wife didn't leave him sooner, and why the lovely Margaret latched onto him so quickly, but you cannot, nevertheless, take your eyes off him when he's on screen. Laura Fraser is divertingly shapely and charming as Margaret. Laine Megaw does a good job as the long suffering Patricia. Rachel Griffiths was wasted in this effort.
In general, an ok movie with some quite good acting that makes for a diverting couple of hours, but not exactly a masterpiece.
Another "off" adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story
Philip K. Dick stories seem to be the hot new source for moviemakers, but, unfortunately, they seem to be going to that well a few times too often. In Impostor, there are some intriguing special effects, a few fun ideas are explored, but generally I ended up wondering why anyone bothered.
After seeing the "surprise" ending, you may end up, as I did, wondering exactly why the "real" impostors didn't know they were impostors. You're also likely to wonder, as I did, how the world managed such amazing changes in such a short time, considering that the story is set only marginally into the future.
Moviemakers considering adapting Philip K. Dick's works might be well-advised to read the works of Kurt Vonnegut, paying particular notice to the descriptions of Kilgore Trout's stories. They might also cast their minds back to the awful movies made of Vonnegut's books. Maybe someday a genius filmmaker will figure out a way to make these mental musings into terrific movies, but, so far, the best of the lot have used the books and stories only as jumping off points (Bladerunner, for instance).
Shock Treatment (1981)
If you're not a big fan of Rocky Horror, You May Love Shock Treatment
We rented Shock Treatment on video for the first time in the early 80's. My family has seen this movie so many times that all of my children can sing every song, and most members of the family have been known to quote a line or two of dialogue from time to time. I see that many of the commenters describe Shock Treatment as an anti-TV manifesto, but I would say that it has a bigger theme, anti-conformity.
I know that Richard O'Brien has "dissed" the movie; I saw him do it on a Rocky Horror tribute show, but I wouldn't put too much emphasis on that. The movie was a dismal failure, by comparison, and primarily because it is so unlike Rocky Horror. My family hadn't seen Rocky Horror when we became enamored of Shock Treatment, and when we did see it, we were not terribly impressed. It had a great cast, some great songs, and a terrific transvestite, but it lacked the punch of Shock Treatment, for us.
So, if you've never seen Rocky Horror, give Shock Treatment a try. Or, if you've seen Rocky Horror, but didn't much care for it, you may like Shock Treatment better. If you've seen Rocky Horror hundreds of times at the midnight movies, you quite likely won't like Shock Treatment. Your loss.
Yi yi (2000)
A lyrical, wise, involving, and engaging family story.
Yi yi is the story of a Chinese family during the course of about a year. It begins at a wedding and ends at a funeral, and in the course of the film a baby is born, young love flowers, long-parted lovers meet, former lovers squabble, and a business teeters on the brink of disaster.
Much of what takes place is fairly routine, yet somehow all that takes place is imbued with meaning. Why do we get up every morning? What are the effects of the choices we make? What is family? What is life?
An engaging cast and an enlightened director make this a "must see".
The Pledge (2001)
Wonderful acting, many memorable moments, didn't quite click
There are many wonderful moments in this movie, and the acting talent on display is stunning, but, unfortunately, the movie is ultimately unsatisfying, because the story just doesn't jell.
This film showcases some of Jack Nicholson's best work of recent years; he's really playing a character here, not just a knockoff caricature. Vanessa Redgrave is terrific as the grandmother of Little Ginny, the murdered girl. Robin Wright's performance is workmanlike, but very good. Even small parts, such as those played by Benicio Del Torres and Mickey Rourke are nuanced and riveting.
It is too bad when a movie with so many strong elements just fails to be a mesmerizing whole.
State and Main (2000)
Great dialog, funny situations, terrific casting & acting
I have rarely seen a movie that is as funny, riveting, and dead on as this one was. The dialog was amazing, and the actors played it perfectly. I had no idea David Mamet could be so funny. William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rebecca Pidgeon, and Alec Baldwin especially worked wonderfully, but the real star is the script. A gem.
Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
See this on for the sweet performance of Samantha Morton
Most of the reviews I read befor seeing this film led me to believe that Woody Allen had missed the target this time around, but I don't agree at all. This is not a typical Allen comedy, in that it doesn't feature an ensemble cast of high-powered actors working through their neuroses in Manhattan. Still there are touches here of Radio Days, Zelig, and Purple Rose of Cairo. Sweet and Lowdown is a mock-documentary of the career and life of Emmet Ray (Sean Penn) the world's 2nd greatest guitar player circa 1930. Penn puts in an excellent piece of work as the slimy but sublime Emmet Ray, but is overshadowed by the brilliant performance of Samantha Morton as his mute, not-so-smart girlfriend, Hattie. Uma Thurman is terrific, too, in her portrayal as Ray's wife, Blanche--a stylish dilettante writer, who briefly enjoys the ride with Ray. Gretchen Mol plays a part so insignificant I didn't know she was in the film till the credits rolled. Lovely cinematography and a luscious soundtrack. Highly recommended.