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The Gambler (1974)
A bit disturbing
From the first scene to the last I was on the edge of my seat. Bet after bet my stomach turned. Caan's Axel Freed is driven to hit the big one, but it never seems to come or be enough. He loves the thrill of losing and feels safe when he is at the bottom.
Watching Freed bet tens of thousands of dollars on whims is excruciating. This film is one huge car wreck that you can't turn away from. With each scene the damage gets worse and worse.
"If all my bets were safe they just wouldn't have any juice," he tells his bookie.
Axel is never happy--even when he is doing the thing he enjoys most. You can see the underlying dissatisfaction he has with his job, his life, and the universe in general. The only constant in his existence is the bet. Win or lose.
Freed is very adept at evading the lowlifes he owes his shirt to. It is a joyride for him to constantly "dodge the bullet". That is why each bet becomes riskier and riskier. He wants to see what will happen to him when all of his luck runs out.
At one point in the film Axel reads a passage from an essay on George Washington to his class. He and his students conclude that Washington was afraid of failure and that he tried to remove the element of risk from everything he did. It is the very antithesis of Axel's life as a gambler. He creates situations that are totally immersed in risk believing that it is the only way to ensure true success. All or nothing. He is willing to compromise not only himself, but anyone around him who cares about him. By displaying his dark, self-destructive side he gambles with their feelings and challenges them to either love him or leave him.
It was a special treat to see two actors (Cann and Sorvino) who are in two of the best crime movies ever made (The Godfather and Goodfellas) together in the same film.
Also Antonio Vargas is appropriately slimy as the Pimp (sort of an R-rated Huggy Bear).
There are some pivotal moments in the film like when Axel is told that he must get one of his basketball-playing students to fix a game; or when he confronts his millionaire grandfather after learning that he refused to cover his debt.
I won't give away the ending, but the payoff is not what you would expect in American cinema.
Undercover Brother (2002)
Austin Powers move over!
I didn't think I would really get into this movie (spoof movies have to actually spoof something instead of making up their own world and spoofing it), but I found myself laughing out loud throughout the entire film.
Having grown up during the '70's and watching many a "blaxploitation" flick I can say that this film is definately a tribute to them all. I especially like the fact that it wasn't a "white against black" movie at all. One has to tread lightly on that subject in this PC world we now live in. Both races were equally lampooned. No stereotypical stone was left unturned. And the cast seemed like they all had a blast making this movie.
If the studio is willing to take a chance this could be a franchise right next to Austin Powers!
Give me a break
This is the worst piece of crap I have seen in a long time. Thank God I saw it on cable and not paid to see in a theater. It is a blatant Roger Rabbit/Beetlejuice rip off that works on no level. All the actors are wasted, especially Whoopie Goldberg. But don't take my word for it. See it yourself! You have been warned.
Johnny Belinda (1948)
I had always written Jane Wyman off as just the ex-wife of Ronald Reagan and the matriarch of the Falcon Crest clan, but this movie really changed my mind about her. I was completely blown away by her performance as a deaf-mute. It is very easy to fall into stereotypes when playing physically challenged roles (especially in 1948), but Wyman underplays her part with great skill. She rises above the melodrama of the film without saying a single word and everything can be seen in her eyes. This film is truly a shining moment in her career.
Lady in a Cage (1964)
very good suspense for it's time
This movie is very suspenseful for it's time; though it gets a bit heavy-handed in the allegory department. James Caan is eerie as the villain and DeHaviland is convincingly distressed as the lady in the "cage". Not a must-see, but worth a viewing only to see what Caan did before The Godfather.