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The Grinch (2018)
2/10
A kinder gentler Grinch?
26 January 2021
Boris Karloff was the voice of the original animated Grinch of 1966, and although he wasn't scary even when I was eight, the Karloff voice brought gravity to the proceedings. The Grinch in this film has the harmless sounding voice of Benedict Cumberbatch. And although the original Grinch was a grouch, this Grinch is nothing more than dissatisfied. I realize that the Grinch can't go around abusing his dog Max like he did in the original - times have changed. But here he is practically the dog's life coach, telling Max that he can do things if only he believes in himself.

But one thing that didn't NEED to change was having Cindy Lou Who be the oldest child of an overworked single mother, Betty Lou Who. How can Cindy Lou be the smallest who in Whoville if she is an older sister? But I digress. Cindy Lou Who has just one wish - for her mother to have it easier and not be so overworked. As for the technical details, the art design tries to be too CGI. I liked the basic Chuck Jones illustrations in the 1966 version that were not meant to look the least bit real. So like most modern films, this one makes the art design photorealistic and completely misses the point of the original tale or at least throws in so many modern subplots that there is no nostalgia or charm for fans of the original.
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8/10
Like White Heat in an alternate universe....
26 January 2021
... and no this is not a remake. I just recently rewatched this, and for some reason I had thought Barbara Payton was actually Virginia Mayo. A second look taught me otherwise. I guess it was because that she looks so much like Virginia Mayo and she plays a role in this film similar to Ms. Mayo in White Heat.

Ralph Cotter (James Cagney) is a prison inmate who breaks out with the help of another inmate, or maybe that is vice versa, because everybody involved in helping them make a run for it is involved with the other inmate - his sister, Holiday (Barbara Payton), his friends.

The other inmate was shot by the guards trying to escape and, out of the view of the guards, Cotter kills the brother. This was probably seen as a necessity by Cotter to keep him from talking, but he didn't seem to not enjoy doing it. Cotter blames the brother's death on the guards. Back at her apartment, Cotter seduces his victim's sister, although his facial expression doesn't show affection, just conquest, probably as her apartment is a matter of convenience for him, a wanted man.

This is a great examination of a psychopath, part gangster picture, part film noir. From the perspective of Cagney's character it is a gangster picture. From the perspective of his new gun moll, Holiday, it is a film noir. The story of a girl who never did anything wrong until she tried to help her brother escape because she thought he was framed and was going stir crazy. And then it is downhill from there with Cotter in charge of her life. And plus you sense she might have always been a little crazy too. She's at least very hard on walls as far as throwing things at them whenever her temper is ignited.

Cagney pulls lots of questionable moves and crimes here that just happen to work out, some due to planning and bravado, some due to luck, some due to the fact that he has no conscience. Cagney does not get much meaningful dialogue, but he really doesn't need it. His character is written on his face. Cagney smiles when things are going his way. Expressionless when things are not with that cold stare.

But then a surprise. What started out as a meaningless incident in the middle of the film that may have you wondering - What is THIS doing here?, well that incident comes back around at the end to what would have been a lucky break for anybody else, but would be a trap for Cotter. But again, he just loves risk and decides to chance it. Taking on all of this danger, thinking he can handle anyone and anything is his undoing.

I said this was like White Heat in an alternate universe. And this is what I mean by that. Cagney is not doing a Cody Jarrett imitation but the comparison does hold up - cold and vicious yet he thinks on his feet. Payton's character is not like Mayo in White Heat. Mayo was as psychopathic as Cagney in that film and seemed to be married to him and staying with him for the high level of excitement and the occasional fur coat. But ultimately she loved nobody but herself. Payton's problem is that she loves him to death.

With William Frawley as a chatty creepy prison guard a year before he became Fred Mertz. And with Ward Bond in probably his meanest role as a crooked police inspector who can stand toe to toe with Cagney in his portrayal of someone with ice water in his veins. He makes baddie Barton McLane look tame by comparison. Quite a bit of range when you consider that just two years later Bond was friendly failed fisherman Father Lonagan in "The Quiet Man".

Highly recommended as a crime film where the tension never lets up.
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Logan Lucky (2017)
7/10
Entertaining heist comedy
24 January 2021
Down-on-his-luck Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) has just lost his job. Once he was a promising football player but an injury ended his career and now he's barely making ends meet. He decides to pull off an audacious robbery at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, and he recruits a motley gang to pull it off, including his Iraq-war-vet brother Clyde (Adam Driver), their hairdresser sister Mellie (Riley Keough), and an incarcerated explosives expert named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig).

I was hesitant to watch this one. While I like heist films, and many of director Soderbergh's films, the "southern fried" milieu, coupled with the NASCAR setting seemed like something I'd rather avoid. I was pleasantly surprised that the movie doesn't dwell on mocking southern stereotypes, and the NASCAR elements are kept largely in the background. The performances are good, with Tatum and Driver making for believable blank-faced losers who are maybe a bit sharper than they let on. Craig gets the showiest part, with his hair bleached almost white and the outline of West Virginia tattooed on his neck. The heist particulars are intricate and interesting, but I had the feeling after finishing the movie that dwelling on the details for too long would make a lot of it fall apart. Still, this was better than expected, and an enjoyable time for those not expecting too much.
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6/10
A mix of facts and fatalism
21 January 2021
The reason I sought this out was I was curious about how big a role Aaron Clarey had in this documentary. He has a very short - only seconds - part in which he is unsurprisingly negative about trying to find a partner in this modern world if you are familiar with his youtube channel.

The basic premise of this almost two hour documentary is that online dating has given women access to every single man in her geographic area, thus all women choose only a subset of the men that they find most attractive. It hashtags the words "incel" and "blackpill". Incel is an involuntarily celibate person, usually a man. Blackpill is a philosophy that the least attractive men should just give up finding a romantic partner and accept their emotionally vacant fate. And fatalism is the mood of this documentary.

What did I like? The facts about the numbers of women born versus the number of men, and how that changes in good times versus bad times. Usually, there are slightly more men born than women. The narrator mentions that the lack of dangerous jobs in present day western nations tends to hold the overage of men until past age 40, when men begin to die of natural causes at an earlier age than women.

What did I not like? It tends to get repetitive. I think the documentarian could have made his point in an hour or less. Also, the narrator is talking at a slow pace and in a sometimes unintelligible voice. I had to rewind a couple of times to understand what was said. Maybe he was intentionally trying to fill the film with a sense of dread?
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Aliens (1986)
7/10
Make it a 7.5, and just don't think too hard!
21 January 2021
When I recently revisited this film I was underwhelmed. I don't think I've sat through it a second time since it was in theaters in 1986. I remembered it as a great action film and it is still a great action film.

The main problem that I had - the problem I have with most James Cameron films - was the dialogue. He writes lines for these characters like they are caricatures rather than actual people. The proceedings come off shrill where the original Alien was a masterpiece of originality - monsters with acid for blood so you can't even kill them without killing yourself and destroying your spacecraft. At least I can't complain about the lack of originality of the material, because Cameron is writing and directing a sequel here.

It almost singlehandedly created the aesthetic of the "space marine," which makes it really hard to not see their behavior as cliche, even if it did create the cliches. I also get that their macho posturing is supposed to contrast with how quickly they dissolve under pressure, but that isn't really a particularly fascinating character or plot development. You know from the start that they don't have a clue what they are getting themselves into. Did they not read Ripley's report like they were instructed to do? Yet not a one says "Yikes!" prior to first engagement with something that is not your typical big bad.

And the cliched mother/daughter relationship just springing up between Ripley and Newt is rather grating on the nerves too. I've never watched the extended version, but apparently Ripley had a daughter in the extended cut of Aliens who grew to adulthood and died during the 57 years Ripley was "lost in space". That would have had this spontaneous maternal reaction make more sense.

Cameron hits all of the tent pole emotional triggers - although he does it completely without nuance - the evil corporation that is just too big, prejudices accepted in an earlier era going out of fashion, and some people deserve to be rescued while others do not???? Oh, well, it is a great thrill ride. Cameron always does that well, and does it well enough here to make the film a suspenseful rollercoaster as long as you don't think too hard.
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American Experience: The Crash of 1929 (1990)
Season 3, Episode 5
9/10
An unusual take on this disaster...
19 January 2021
... in that this documentary, part of the American Experience series on PBS, looks at the entire year of 1929, including popular culture of the time, the American mindset of what the future looked like, and how the titans of The Gilded Age could manipulate the market with absolutely no compunction because what they were doing was not illegal. There was virtually no regulation of the stock market whatsoever.

It starts out on January 1, 1929 and ends on December 31, 1929, and examines how one could see rumblings of a stock market crash coming as soon as March of that year. Irrational exuberance combined with the fact that people could buy stock on margin - 10% down - with the catch being if that stock dropped below 90% of its purchase price you had to cough up more money or you were sold out at whatever price the broker could get for your holdings.

The piece talks about the invention of so many helpful common items and the fact that so many useful things were available for the first time to many Americans during the 1920s - autos, refrigerators, washing machines, toasters. And this was the first time average Americans could buy more expensive items on credit. So buying stock on credit did not seem that unusual. Apparently, believing an astrologist with zero economics training (Evangeline Adams) and her perennially sunny stock market predictions did not seem unusual either.

One really interesting aspect of this documentary is that it talks about all of the very wealthy people involved in stock market speculation including William Durant, founder of GM, Charles Mitchell, the man who popularized stock ownership for the "little guy" and Jesse Livermore, a veteran Wall Street trader. Groucho Marx even owns a piece of this tale. And first degree relatives of these people were still alive, ambulatory, and lucid and could talk about them in detail.

I've never seen a documentary with such a fetching sound track - "Blue Skies", "Hitting The Ceiling", "Puttin' On the Ritz", and "If You Want the Rainbow" are among the standards played. And maybe an irony lost on the makers of this film since this was not its subject - "Blue Skies" being played with a very fast still of a smiling Roscoe Arbuckle looking skyward. The 20s were anything but roaring for Arbuckle - falsely accused of assault and murder in 1921 he was tried three times before being acquitted with the jury actually issuing an apology. But Hollywood chewed him up and spit him out anyways and his career was over. But I digress.

A very interesting film which I found a great double bill with "Panic: The Untold Story of the 2008 Financial Crisis ", in which the whole thing almost happened all over again.
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8/10
You might need to watch it twice...
18 January 2021
... because the first time around I was somewhat disappointed. This was actually a commercial hit for Tarantino , and that usually means something that is appreciated on the first view.

It is great nonlinear storytelling. You first meet these guys in a diner having breakfast. And you learn lots about their characters just from this very mundane setting and some arguing about the philosophy of tipping. And you wonder why they are wearing suits and thin lapels with white shirts and skinny ties, like they borrowed the Beatles' 1964 wardrobe. It is never explained. And there is all of this 70s music, again, never explained.

Storywise it has been done a hundred times, maybe more. A heist gone wrong. But the gimmick is, you never SEE the heist. Most of the time I like for movie makers to show me not tell me, but this works brilliantly. You see this gang of people who do not know each other talk about the heist beforehand. You see the aftermath of the heist. You see the descriptions of the heist between this band of criminals not exactly matching up. And all of the scenes are mixed up chronologically. Where it shines is the crazy dialogue that happens between these hooligans. Their banter is ludicrous, villainous, and totally engaging. It's like Diner meets Dillinger.

And speaking of Dillinger, a really great touch is having Lawrence Tierney in a supporting role as Joe, mastermind of the heist. Tierney was an actual star of film noirs in the 1940s, and he lost that career because in real life he was somebody who would probably have been quite at home with the characters in this film. He got into lots of bar fights and altercations with the police to the point that no studio wanted to deal with him anymore.

I'd highly recommend this one, but you must pay attention to get the most out of it.
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5/10
The sum of its parts are greater than its whole
15 January 2021
You have some great talent here - James Garner, , Suzanne Pleshette, Jean Simmons, Angela Lansbury, Katharine Ross. And you have a great idea - a man (James Garner) wakes up on a New York City park bench having no idea who he is, no identification. All he has to go on is a ring with a broken stone and initials "FROM GV", and a piece of paper with a phone number on it with two pills wrapped in the paper. And from there he wanders from woman to woman (see cast above) trying to figure out who he is.

The individual scenes are pretty good. The scenes between Garner and Suzanne Pleshette are excellent, handling controversial subjects for the time, and coming across this scene first made me want to watch the whole thing. My mistake. Nothing is explained very well, and it tries to be too artsy, in a swinging mid 60s kind of way, for its own good. Besides the cast I already mentioned, there are several excessively talky men who show up who really do nothing to advance the plot and just annoy with their grating presence. James Garner had already proved he could handle dramatic material in "The Americanization of Emily" before he did this film. I wonder why he took this part?

What I liked the best were the scenes of New York City as it existed in the 1960s. Small independent stores, the subway stations, diners, soda fountains, Washington Square, the streets teeming with people and still relatively safe, at least during the day. Another unexpected pleasure is Nichelle Nichols as an unnamed player in a craps game in Harlem, the same year she becomes communications officer Uhura aboard the Enterprise on Star Trek, so the film is not without its charms.
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7/10
A pretty good Japanese melodrama
15 January 2021
This silent Japanese melodrama from Shochiku and director Mikio Naruse is about a young waitress Sugiko (Setsuko Shinobu) with a bright future. The day after her boyfriend proposes marriage, she's also offered a contract with a film studio to become a movie star. These wonderful options are both lost when she's accidentally hit by a car. The vehicle belongs to rich guy Hiroshi (Hikaru Yamanouchi), and he feels personally responsible, even if it was his chauffeur driving. He makes sure that Sugiko gets all the medical care she needs, while also falling in love with her, but his status-conscious mother and sister disapprove.

This fits firmly in the "women's picture" weepie genre that Naruse specialized in during the sound era (this would be his final silent film). Shinobu is good as the pure-at-heart Sugiko who gets driven to the emotional edge through no fault of her own. There's a subplot about Sugiko's former roommate becoming a film star, and her relationship with a struggling artist, that doesn't really add to the proceedings, and the film could have been tightened up with its omission. There are a few clever filming tricks used, such as a car crash being depicted not by the vehicle being shown wrecked, but rather having the personal effects of the car's occupants shown falling down a cliff in close-up.
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8/10
Great little piece of film history
12 January 2021
This film is based on Irving Shulman's novel "The Amboy Dukes", which was about a Jewish gang in Brooklyn during WWII. The results of a wartime manufacturing boom has meant that 16 year old Frank and his 11 year old sister are left to raise themselves as both parents suddenly go from years on relief to jobs where there is plenty of overtime, as long as the war holds out. So they both work whatever shifts they can get, making hay while the sun shines.

The actual film changed a few things - some because of the changing times. Because the Brooklyn of 1944 and 1949 were worlds apart. Also the violence, casual sex, drug use, and prostitution that were staples of the novel were disallowed by the production code.

So the film changes the gangs to Catholic and Protestant kids. You meet Frankie Cusack on the morning of his 16th birthday. His parents are working as always, and his eleven year old sister surprises him with birthday banners. Frankie has some cash so he takes his sister over to Manhattan to see the attractions. But then, it is back to the hot tenement building where they live, and Frankie decides to go play pool with the Dukes, his gang. At this point Frankie is rather squeamish about the violence the Dukes do from time to time, mainly to people who owe money to a gangster in a bigger league than they are in. He mainly just wants to belong and thinks he has found a home in the Dukes.

Soon there is a planned move out of the tenement with babies crying and drunken couples brawling, and it looks like a new leaf for Frankie as his parents decide to buy a house in a better neighborhood. But then mom has appendicitis and the accompanying hospital bill means there will be no new house. They are all stuck right where they are. As life gets harder, so does Frankie. The next brawl the Dukes have, Frankie is really taking it out on the other guys. A couple of really bad choices later has Frankie and his Duke buddy Benny accidentally shooting their shop teacher dead with one of their home made guns. They ditch the gun and establish alibis, but the cops are suspicious of these two anyways and start following them around and putting the heat on them in a dozen different ways. Frankie thinks Benny will drink too much and talk. Benny thinks Frankie will talk to save his own neck.

This was one of the early films to talk about juvenile delinquency post-war. It shows the bad home conditions - often brought on by parents who have no time for anything but work - that cause kids to bring themselves up, often with bad influences as role models.

There is a very interesting dance scene at a party towards the end of the film. This was a good and rather long scene of swing dancing with a great African American band. It was the type of music and dancing popular a few years before rock and roll hit the scene.

This is probably notable in film history for the fact that two future stars had their first credited roles here. Thelma Ritter plays Frankie's world weary mom who never looks like she has had enough sleep. Tony Curtis, twelfth billed as Anthony Curtis, plays Mitch, one of the Dukes. At first he is practically mute, but as the film wears on he is given more and more to say. Probably because he has such presence in even such a small role.

Peter Fernandez is practically the whole show here as Frankie, the main character. Yet he never starred in another feature film again. Instead he found himself in TV roles, as well as directing and writing. He also "found his voice" in all kinds of films and productions doing voice overs. His acting career may have not worked out, but his life certainly did. An unusual happy story for someone who starts out a star but doesn't stay that way.
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Law & Order: Mother's Day (2003)
Season 13, Episode 10
5/10
A lawyer without ethics? Tell me it ain't so!!!...
11 January 2021
... And usually Law & Order always entertains with interesting interpersonal relationships and issues and unexpected twists and turns in the plot, and this episode has that, but it all seems to land with a thud.

A woman is studying advanced chemistry in a diner at night, chatting with the proprietor. She then leaves and is a victim of a hit and run driver just outside the diner. There are the usual red herrings and the unexpected culprit. And then there is the attorney for the defense who is a law school acquaintance of Serena's who is about as subtle as a sledge hammer and has all kinds of ethical problems because she really just cares about a corner office at her law firm more than she cares about what is best for her client. Paint me surprised???

This episode could have gone in several interesting directions - the downsizing of state financed mental hospitals and care, the cut throat nature of the pharmaceutical industry, etc. But it just doesn't. It seems like an uncommon throwaway episode of L&O. The only eye catching moment is when it is announced that the murder victim, who we see alive and well before her death, is seventeen. Having seen her in close ups she looks at least 27.

The one stand-out scene is with Lieutenant Anita Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) doing the bad cop/ good cop routine with detective Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach). Van Buren as the good cop gets a confession out of a sympathetic perp with empathy, conversation, and a cup of coffee.
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Dateline NBC: Evil Was Waiting (2018)
Season 26, Episode 55
8/10
It must be tough being a cop or a doctor...
10 January 2021
... because you are always being lied to. "No honestly doc I eat nothing but vegetables! I have no idea why my cholesterol is 500!" "My wife was very depressed. It's no wonder she shot herself nine time in the face." And so on.

This is the story of the murder of soldier Vincent Goslyn Jr. who died on a remote road in Kentucky near Fort Campbell, where he was stationed when not deployed. He had been shot repeatedly at point blank range, and according to his wife he had told her to make a run for it. So she drove away in her truck and called police. She was hysterical when they found her, but she eventually pulled herself together and told police that her husband tried to help a stranded motorist, who got into an altercation with Vincent and killed him. She accused a black man she did not know in a big old rust colored car.

But there was another witness. He didn't actually SEE the shooting, but heard the shots. He said there was nothing unusual about the sound of gunshots in this remote area, but said he then walked out and found Vincent dead on the side of the road and a white truck driving away, not an old rust colored car. And the investigators take it from there.

This would have made a great film noir. It has everything - drug dealers, love triangles, greed, legal technicalities, and lying. Lots of lying. And of course, in the end, thieves fall out. One thing you would likely NOT have in a film noir of the 40s and 50s? The accusation of the lone nut who does not know you but somehow has it in for you just because you are part of the human race. That was rare before the 60s when running into somebody like Charles Manson and company became our collective American worst nightmare.

This is a pretty good episode of Dateline, and I'd recommend it.
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Judd for the Defense: The Living Victim (1967)
Season 1, Episode 14
7/10
An old story with some modern twists
9 January 2021
The opening scene is a well dressed middle aged woman getting into a car, and then an explosion. Next scene, her husband is being told about her death by colleagues. The widowed husband is Joe Flexner who happens to be a D.A. He immediately calls up gangster Walter Whittaker (Robert Alda) and tells him that he accidentally killed his wife, not him, and he will make sure that he pays.

Apparently the titular Judd is a friend of Flexner, because two of Flexner's associate prosecutors come to Judd and tell him how Flexner has rented an isolated office, filled it with police teletypes and is obsessed with "getting" Whittaker for the murder. They ask him to talk to Flexner about his obsession and convince him to turn the investigation over to the state attorney's office. He does so, Flexner refuses.

Now Whittaker is a bad guy and a gangster. No doubt he has had people killed. But did he attempt to have Flexner killed and in the process kill his wife? This is the issue that Flexner turns a blind eye to. And the answer to the question "why the obsession?" is not obvious at first either. The issue is that Flexner no longer loved his wife and had asked for a divorce so he could marry somebody else. She refused. Is he acting out of guilt over really being glad that she is dead and he is free, or is it something more sinister? Something that would lead to an alternate theory of the crime? Watch and find out. But good luck with finding this episode anywhere.

How does this story have a modern twist? It actually addresses the rules of modern discovery in a criminal case. I guess a cheating husband and legal intricacies don't garner much interest 54 years later, because apparently nobody has rated or reviewed this episode until now. However, oddly enough, somebody wrote an article about this very episode over at ABA Journal in September 2020. It is worth a read too.
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Judd for the Defense: The Deep End (1967)
Season 1, Episode 2
7/10
You misplaced your passengers AGAIN?...
7 January 2021
... is the question for Ralph Fanning (Leslie Nielson) when he is fished out of the water minus his boat and minus the family who were passengers on his boat. The problem is, three months earlier he had been accused of throwing two Cuban refugees overboard. The refugees were never found, but their friends swear vengeance against Fanning, believing he murdered them. When the little girl of the family is also found alive in the water and accuses Fanning of shooting them all, Fanning is placed under arrest for murder. Attorney Clinton Judd (Carl Betz) defends him.

This was the second episode of the two season series "Judd for the Defense", so the character of Clinton Judd is still being established. That initial character was that of a Texas criminal defense attorney based in Houston, Texas. So in the first few episodes - including this one - he is wearing a western tie, sometimes a cowboy hat. But he never speaks with any kind of Southern or Texas accent. Maybe that would have been just too kitschy, even 54 years ago. Initially the Texas atmosphere of the show is emphasized, but as the episodes wear on more socially relevant topics appear to the point that the show could have taken place in any state in the union, reflecting the turbulent times of the late 1960s.

Things I noticed here. Judd has a complete bar in his office during the first few episodes, and seems to take a belt every time he returns to the office from somewhere else. I can't figure out what he is paying his young attorney assistant for, because he never seems to do anything but argue. The judge has some giant random law book on his bench which he never opens - and nothing else. You are also seeing the tail end of conventional family values 50s style at this point in TV. Defendant Fanning is considered an unlikeable weirdo who might go around killing people because he is middle aged and is romancing long term but refusing to marry pseudo girlfriend Dorothy Shaw (Beverly Garland) - Oh the horror! The biggest plot hole is all of this coming and going between Cuba and the U.S. There was a very cold war going on between the U.S. and Cuba at the time, and it wasn't just like traveling to Oklahoma, although you'd never guess that from the script.

There are better episodes of this old series later on, in particular "Weep the Hunter Home" with guest star Richard Dreyfuss. If you can find a copy of that one it is completely worth it. This one is worth it to see Leslie Nielson, who was known later in his career as a madcap comedian, playing it straight.
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Judd for the Defense: In a Puff of Smoke (1968)
Season 2, Episode 1
7/10
A snapshot in time...
7 January 2021
... that being the Vietnam War and resistance to it. Attorney Ray Elliott is heavily involved in representing clients who are resisting the draft, not by running to Canada, but by staying and fighting legally. A prosecutor wants to make an example out of Elliott and initially is going to prosecute him for some kind of conspiracy because helping these "draft dodgers" as they called them at the time, seems to be his main business.

But then the troubled young man he is currently helping, Barry Thurston, self-immolates during an anti-war demonstration and dies as a result. The prosecutor weirdly decides to prosecute Ray Elliott for first degree murder. Is he just after this guy or does he have something up his sleeve?

This aired originally in September 1968, just months after Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, just after the riots at the Democratic National Convention, just before a three way race for president that had Nixon V. Hubert Humphrey V. George Wallace, so it was a very volatile time.

The older folks - by that I mean people who fought in WWII - remember how everybody pitched in to win that war, and don't understand the younger people who have nothing against the VIetnamese and feel that this is not their fight. At the time, if you fled to Canada to avoid the draft, you could never come back without risking imprisonment, so this was a big decision. Also, you could avoid the draft by staying in college. So, if you were white and had the money to stay in college, you could stay out of the war indefinitely at this time.

All of this is discussed during this episode, but without knowing some of the things I am saying here you might miss the context. I do appreciate how it avoids making all of the younger people seem like drug addled hippies. Unfortunately, Carl Betz (Judd in this show) makes an appearance in just such a made for TV movie "In Search Of America" (1971) which is so bad - and dated - that it is good.
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6/10
A bit dry, but a good overview...
1 January 2021
... but then this is about film criticism, not really the love of the movies.

It tries to break out the areas of film criticism by eras, but eras overlap and some years are just left out entirely. Still, if you want a good overview of how movie critics began and how the craft changed through the years, this will fit the bill. It starts out in 1909, when films were just a little more than actualities, with maybe the first prototypical film critic, Frank E. Woods. Interesting bit about Mr. Woods - he cowrote the script for "Birth of a Nation" and became wealthy via buying up real estate in southern California. There is lots of footage of individual important film critics. Funny excerpts include Kenneth Turan talking about how James Cameron tried to get him fired over his bad review of Titanic. I have always agreed with Turan's assessment that the plot is ham fisted. But then that seems to be a hallmark of Cameron - make something that is technically dazzling yet empty. But I digress.

Then the documentary turns to the invention of the internet (oddly Al Gore is never mentioned) and how suddenly everybody is a movie critic. I don't think that they mentioned that Amazon initially hired paid reviewers for products - including movies - but soon realized that there are plenty of us willing to do this work for free.

You can't fit 100 years of history - this documentary was made 12 years ago - in one 80 minute film. Things left out? The documentary mentioned James Agee and his mid twentieth century piece on silent comic Buster Keaton. It is not mentioned that this one piece resurrected Keaton's career from the dead. He was a gag writer at MGM at the time, and suddenly he had offers rolling in from early television for guest appearances.

What did it mention that I did not know? Elvis Mitchell's personal journey in film criticism, and him mentioning a 1964 film I had never heard of before called "Two Thousand Maniacs" in which a back water town takes revenge for the loss of the Civil War out on complete strangers. Yikes! That will stay with me.

There are not too many documentaries on this subject, so if you are interested in the subject, it will be worth your while. Just realize it is broad but not very deep.
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Central Park (1932)
7/10
Short, sweet, and not in the Warner Archive!...
30 December 2020
... and that's too bad because this film isn't shown much. It is classic Depression era Warner Brothers, with a meet cute scene involving two hungry homeless people - Joan Blondell and Wallace Ford - and a couple of sizzling sausages that are purloined by Blondell. They meet while eating the sausages.

I guess it is called "Central Park" because it has a little bit of everything, and the big scenes are set in Central Park. Blondell and Ford get in trouble because they really want jobs and unknowingly get mixed up with some gangsters' robbery plans in pursuit of said employment. Guy Kibbee has a poignant role as a cop who is going blind but just has to stay on the job a short while longer without being outed so he can retire and get his pension. He has an easy beat after all - Central Park. What could happen?

Well, there is an insane guy - John Wray always played such parts well, even if exaggerated - who busts loose from a mental hospital and locks the guy who ratted him out in the lion cage of the Central Park Zoo. Then the lion gets set free, and like in an Irwin Allen film, "The Beasts are in the Street". And suddenly Kibbee's blindness is highly visible.

Very fast moving with great dialogue and well worth your time if you can ever find it.
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Gigli (2003)
1/10
Like "The Room" but without the charm
29 December 2020
Sometimes it's a bad idea for people who are related or involved to do a project together, because they can lose all objectivity. This is one of those times. Those people in this case would be Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. Martin Brest wrote and directed the Academy Award nominated "Scent of A Woman" (1992). He directed "Midnight Run" (1988) and "Beverly Hills Cop" (1984). And yet he directed this too? What happened? The price of the DVD would be worth it just to know. But I imagine everyone involved is too embarrassed to discuss it and just wants to leave the past in the past.

It's not even so bad its good, its just really bad. It is made up of multiple sequences of no score with heavy dialogue that tries to be like Tarantino. But the dialogue never works and Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez are so bad at delivering it as if they're bored, that it comes off really weird in a way like "The Room", only the movie is so competently made with a big budget that it doesn't have a charm to it.

It's a gangster film AND a romantic comedy?? The plot is ridiculous, everyone is miscast from start to finish, and it's over directed to the point of looking like nobody directed it, but the biggest culprit is the script. Characters come and go with no rhyme or reason and no motivation whatsoever, the dialogue is basically a series of bad monologues strung together. Nothing that happens is interesting, and nobody seems to know it.

It's the equivalent of being on a blind date with someone that is telling a 30 minute story over dinner. You're not invested in the date, you don't care about this person's story, you don't understand how the story could possibly be this long, you kind of want to leave, and because it's all so weird you're not mad, just bemused by the whole thing.
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6/10
From a person who is not a comic book movie fan...
27 December 2020
Warning: Spoilers
... in that I can enjoy a good one, but film noir and precode are really my preferred genres. From that perspective, I don't think that this movie is nearly as bad as everybody says.

There are big plot holes. Why is everybody wearing heavy coats and then suddenly it is the Fourth of July? Why is it OK to kidnap some random man's body from his life? Did he have a family who wondered where he was? Was he losing a job he wasn't showing up to? And how does a WWI pilot - the resurrected Steve - know how to operate a 1980s airplane? This last one is basically the same problem with Independence Day, a much worse movie that people apparently loved.

In fact, reading the negative reviews, THAT is what I expected - Independence Day 2020. Hammy acting, over the top dialogue, shrill characterizations, and stuff that doesn't make sense on a much bigger scale than what I actually saw in this film. Maybe it is because people expected more action - this film is more philosophical. Maybe because folks expected more Wonder Woman in a movie that bears her name.

About being philosophical, there was one thing I noticed, maybe it was intentional, maybe not. Pre magical powers, Max Lord is a greedy guy, but he is tethered to humanity through the unconditional love of his son. It is what ultimately brings him back from the brink. Kristen Wiig's character, Barbara, is a mousy timid person with zero confidence who was probably bullied as a child. Nobody ever helps her - even when she is being assaulted - unless they take pity on her. It wouldn't be because she means anything to them. When she gets the power to be like Wonder Woman she goes completely wild. For the first time in her life she has confidence and strength. And she is totally unconnected to humanity because nobody ever cared about her or even noticed she was alive, and so the feeling is understandably mutual. So she would die before she would give up that power and go back to what she was - a nobody. So think about that if you ever minimize the gravity of the act of bullying someone - adult or child. It has lasting consequences.

Before all of this happened you would have said that Barbara is much more integrated into society than Max is. That's because she didn't have the strength or confidence to NOT be integrated into society.

The Han Zimmer score was on point but not overpowering, the acting spot on. I think it is the large as well as smaller themes of the plot and the fact that the CGI seemed amateurish that people noticed. I noticed it. And I've always been a rather easy grader.
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6/10
Long Island Lolita - The face palm version...
25 December 2020
... because this film was rushed out the door months after the incident happened. That being 17 year old Amy Fisher shooting Mary Jo Buttafuoco in the face at point blank range, claiming to be the lover of Mary Jo's husband, Joey.

This film was shown in competition with "The Amy Fisher Story" about the same incident on competing networks on the same night - January 3, 1993. The two stories had different theories. This film portrays Joey as a rather buff rather flirty guy who owns an auto body shop who draws the attention of an unstable Amy who decides that she and Joey can be together if she gets rid of the wife. Amy's story - and the viewpoint of the other film - is that she was a young girl manipulated by the 30 something older man, was his lover, and had been told by him that he would go to her, but his wife needed him. Soon after this film was released the latter theory was proven true when hotel receipts surfaced. Like Michael Douglas in "Fatal Attraction" Joey didn't figure on what would happen and the instability of the other woman. Unlike "Fatal Attraction", Joey drew the ire of society - and his wife with the bullet in her head - by stepping out with a minor.

That rendered this film completely obsolete, so I haven't seen it since it since aired. I probably wouldn't have seen it the first time, but I was a guest at my then fiance's sister's home and this is what she wanted to watch.

I'd give it less than a six, but Alyssa Milano is very good as Amy. She is actually from Brooklyn and she had to lose her accent to get into acting. Then she had to pick her accent back up again to be in this film, and that was difficult. Also, Lawrence Tierney makes an unexpected late career appearance as Joey's father, and he is always a pleasure. Tierney was always a scandal with his all of his bar room brawls, but his many romances at least were limited to those who were of legal age.

A museum piece by this time, but if you can ever find it probably worth it for the actors I mentioned and as a time machine of sorts.
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Get Shorty (1995)
9/10
It's all simply business for Chili Palmer...
23 December 2020
... as a debt collector for the mob who is based out of Miami. John Travolta is borrowing a lot from his part in "Pulp Fiction" here as far as attitude and presence. At least the cool mob guy part. But he's completely likeable and he has a love and encyclopedic knowledge of film comparable to the late Robert Osborne. And he gets rough when he has to, usually with another mobster from a different crew who is always trying to push him around (Dennis Farina as Ray Barboni). Chili gets the best of him without breaking his stride or his countenance. He'll graze the top of a guy's head with a bullet just on the chance he is up to no good when he enters his office without knocking, yet open the car door for a woman because he is a gentleman - a truly fascinating character.

Twists of fate have him in LA collecting a debt from a schlock horror director, Harry Zim (Gene Hackman) who also owes money to some other mobsters, who owe money to still other mobsters. It gets complicated, and I won't spoil it for you, but it is easy to follow if you pay attention, and Travolta is a delight to watch as a shylock who really just wants to make movies and uses his inherent charm and street smarts to wheedle his way into producing movies and get the girl.

With Danny De Vito in a supporting role as big star Martin Weir (the "shorty" in the film title ), Rene Russo as a B horror actress with brains who actually wants to produce, and James Gandolfini as a two-bit hoodlum four years before The Sopranos.

It looks like one of those films everybody had a good time making, and you know you are watching a satire when somebody has a line saying someone is "Dead as disco" when talking to Travolta. Highly recommended as a love letter to and a satire of Hollywood.
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8/10
An unexpected delight!
18 December 2020
This is the oldest surviving American film with an all black cast. What does the title mean? According to Wikipedia - "The Lime-Kiln Club was a fictitious fraternal organization of African-Americans created by writer and journalist Charles Bertrand Lewis for the Detroit Free Press in the late 19th century." Apparently, the Detroit Free Press would print articles that were considered humorous in their day about this fictitious club, using African American dialect and featuring negative stereotypes.

In 1913 Biograph made this unfinished film with an all black cast featuring a black middle class holiday in a kind of amusement park. Bert Williams, a Caribbean American actor, is the star. He is shown on a date at the park with a lady played by Odessa Warren Grey. They are featured eating ice cream at the concession stand, then riding on a Merry Go Round and enjoying a lollipop while on the ride. The entire production, as restored by MOMA, runs about an hour. What I saw of it was under ten minutes in length.

There are no title cards in what I saw, but none are really necessary. Oddly enough, in every scene, you can see part of the African American cast dancing in the background. Williams wears blackface in this film and usually wore blackface in his vaudeville acts because the white public would not tolerate an actual black man in the lead of a movie or an act during the early 20th century. So by wearing blackface he paid tribute to the ruse, thus allowing the rest of the cast to take their roles unchallenged by anybody - both controversial and pragmatic.

This film actually does have one member of the cast who is white. There is a man walking about on the ride who then jumps off, smokes a cigarette, and generally just loiters about during the Merry Go Round scene, with his attention on the ride. He is probably supposed to be the ride's operator.

This film has been restored by MOMA and is in excellent condition. Youtube has a short introduction by a curator who explains a few things about the film, if you are interested. What I liked was seeing the beautiful clothes worn by everybody in the cast. They are even wearing gloves here! I wonder what they would say about midways today with people wearing shorts, flip flops, and old tee shirts to the fair?
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7/10
The most famous scene in this early film ...
18 December 2020
... is actually absent the actual film. That being a woman in a nude body suit standing before St. Anthony, tempting him.

The titular St. Anthony comes on stage next to a statue of Jesus on the cross and a cave next to that. There is a skull next to the cross. Above the cross are the letters INRI . The Wikipedia states that this "represents the Latin inscription (in John 19:19), which in English translates to "Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews", and John 19:20 states that this was written in three languages-Hebrew, Latin, and Greek-during the crucifixion of Jesus." The skull is unexplained , although at one point, a distressed Anthony begins kissing the skull.

As Anthony begins to pray and read from an unidentified book, scantily clad girls appear as a temptation to him. Although Anthony looks more distressed than tempted. The girls appear and disappear, at one point dancing around him, and at another point one appears in place of Christ on the cross.

The problem is, there are several St. Anthonys. This film probably refers to Anthony the Great (251-356AD). He is reported to have been tempted by the devil while sojourning in the Egyptian desert.

Note how much heavier attractive women were 120 years ago. Attractive women were usually a bit heavier until the 1960s and the appearance of Twiggy. This was directed by Georges Méliès, known for his special effects in films, and produced by his Star Company.
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6/10
Having a swinging time 1897 style
18 December 2020
Only a few seconds long, there is a swing on a stage - you can't see from where it is mounted. One girl is on the swing and two other girls take turns pushing her in the swing. The stage appears to be painted to make it look like a natural setting - maybe out in a forest. This is when films were just images of real life - actualities they called them. This one has the probable added value of showing the petticoats of the girl as she swings toward the viewer, which was quite risque for the time. Normally, women would not be wearing this many petticoats, but in this situation it would have been considered indecent not to be wearing this many.

This can be easily viewed on youtube where you have the added entertainment value of reading comments arguing as to whether it was better to be alive in 1897 or now. I think it is odd to think that these young girls could have died before the end of WWII and still had pretty long lives, at least in reference to the time that they lived.
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7/10
Interesting that it is not better known...
18 December 2020
... among the very early silent films. Made in Great Britain, it seems to have some of the influence of Melies in it. It is simply a couple driving around and doing things that cars - and people - simply cannot do. There are very good special effects for 1906. Note that even in 1906 that the steering wheel is on the right side of the car in Great Britain. However, the motorist drives down the middle of the street. Probably not much worry of oncoming traffic at this point. It's actually on Region One DVD by Kino, but is also very available on youtube, though the print is not very good.
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