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Silly music biz satire
I can't believe it took ten years for me to finally see Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Was it worth the wait? Probably not. This has Judd Apatow's fingerprints all over it, having co-written the script and served as producer. Long story short....overall it's awfully silly. I was hoping for a little bit more substance or bite, but that isn't to say it's awful. Walk Hard has some very funny moments, and that would include the Beatles segment which I found quite amusing. I'll admit quite a bit of the music was actually pretty good, including the duets with Darlene (Jenna Fischer). On the other hand, the grand finale number was a big flop in my book, and did we really need all those scenes with Dewey in his underwear? Fans of Judd Apatow's "sensibility" may like this more than I did.
The Way Way Back (2013)
Disappointing to say the least
My sentiments largely echo those of the previous (chronological) review, although I'll bump my rating up a bit to four (4) stars. What a disappointing screenplay. The premise, while unoriginal, at least gave me the hope this would be something worth watching, even though I'm way beyond the target demographic. Liam James plays an introverted 14- year-old trying to blend into the beach town environment his family is visiting for a week or two. I could never quite figure out where this town was, whether it was on a lake or at the Jersey shore, or what. He winds up getting a job at the local water park which becomes his "home away from home". His family situation is dysfunctional, his mom's boyfriend (Steve Carell) is an overbearing jerk and most of the girls he encounters in their entourage won't give him the time of day. At the end of the two hours (I watched this on Fox Movie Channel) I found myself wishing I hadn't wasted the time. There wasn't a single character that seemed original or even very appealing. I can't say I was much impressed with Liam James' performance but he wasn't the only one. What is Maya Rudolph doing in this, or I could say why would someone cast her in such a role? You better look quick or you'll miss Amanda Peet in a very small, thankless role with hardly any lines. Toni Collette made no impression on me as Liam James' mother. The main guys at the water park were a bit odd, but not very interesting. Who wears hats like Sam Rockwell's anymore? Allison Janney attempted to breathe some life into the proceedings without much success. To conclude, at the end of the day, the movie couldn't figure out exactly what it wanted to be and I found it lacking in most every regard: Too bland, too clichéd, and too much miscasting.
Very dated 50's sci-fi
What an odd little movie. This is one of the earliest Roger Corman films, and I would recommend it only if you are a hardcore, dedicated Corman fan. It's very slow-going, although there was something about the unusual setting of the story that kept me watching for the entire 90 minutes or so. It takes place on an isolated date ranch in the southern California desert. (I'm not sure how many such ranches still exist in Calif. but that's another matter.)
Looking for dazzling special effects? Nope, not here. Looking for unexpected chills and thrills? Not here. Paul Birch plays the main character, who lives on the ranch with his wife and teenage daughter, along with a peculiar fellow who lives in a nearby shack, or guest house, if you will. Strange things start occurring, somehow related to a space craft which had landed nearby. Technically, aside from the scenery, this movie is amateurish with lame dialog and terrible editing.
Is it worth watching? Probably not. However, if you're in the mood for a very primitive 50's sci-fi story with Roger Corman's name attached to it, give it a look, like I did tonight on TCM when I had nothing better to do.
The Sound and the Fury (1959)
Mediocre take on Faulkner novel
Leonard Maltin describes this film as a "strange adaptation" of the rather dense and difficult William Faulkner novel of the same name. Perhaps the lesson here is that the book is indeed unfilmable. The movie takes numerous liberties with the novel and generally omits large portions of it. I can't help but feel that Yul Brynner, with his peculiar accent, was miscast as Jason Compson. In the book, Jason is the youngest sibling of Caddy and Benjie; here he is described as an adopted son, and not "blood" kin. We also have a completely made up sibling named Howard, who does not exist in the book. The novel takes place in the late 1920's with many flashbacks, here the present day is the mid 1950's. Despite its shortcomings, including a rather overbearing and jazzy music score which doesn't really fit, The Sound and The Fury does have its merits, starting with the always watchable Joanne Woodward as young Quentin Compson, presumably around 18 years of age and still in high school. The photography was fine and the ambiance, both inside and out, of the deteriorating Compson mansion was spot on. The small town atmosphere of Jefferson, MS was captured nicely. I would recommend this film to Faulkner buffs and Joanne Woodward fans. Just don't expect too much.
The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
Not so hot baseball flick; maybe Gary Cooper was miscast
Movie critic Leonard Maltin rates this film at 4 stars (****), his highest rating. On that basis, and as a longtime baseball fan, I gave it a look on TCM. Now I'm confused! Why is it rated at 4 stars? I puzzled at this odd portrayal of a star athlete by Gary Cooper as awkward, stiff, lacking in self-confidence, and ungraceful in the extreme on a baseball diamond. Off the field Gehrig was shown as jittery, socially inept and gullible, with darting eyes that displayed his apparent suspicions of the world around him. How he managed to charm his girlfriend is anyone's guess. Also wasn't Cooper a little old to be playing a guy in his early 20's when he reaches the big leagues? Is this really how Gehrig was in real life? Also, I could never figure out the character Sam, played by a barely recognizable Walter Brennan. Was he a friend, mentor, agent, sportswriter or what? At first I assumed he was an employee of the Yankees. He and Lou and Lou's wife wind up spending a lot of time together. One positive note: I liked Theresa Wright very much as his faithful wife: she was the only character in this film that rang true for me. Oddly, exactly what Gehrig's physical ailment was is never revealed, nor is there any discussion of it. Yes, today we know what it was (ALS) but I thought it strange that the film didn't deal at all with the diagnosis. All in all, I rate Pride of the Yankees at 5 stars out of 10.
Wild Guitar (1962)
Very bad, but a few redeeming qualities
Of course this is a very bad movie by most conventional standards, but it did have a couple of redeeming qualities. First, the basic storyline, while a bit convoluted, does contain a kernel of authenticity: many artists of that era were blatantly ripped off by crooked managers, producers, promoters, record companies, etc. The scene in the ice skating rink I thought was surprisingly effective, in fact it almost didn't fit. And the closing shot of the teens doing the twist on the beach brought back memories of that era, since I was a kid growing up in Southern California at the time, and yes, people of all ages did the twist.
The Story of Temple Drake (1933)
Decent early '30's treatment of Faulkner novel
I was surprised to see this listed in the schedule on TCM, and being somewhat of a Faulkner buff, thought I would give it a try. This film is based, a bit loosely, on the novel Sanctuary. I found Miriam Hopkins to be quite effective as the title character, although to our contemporary eyes she looks to be closer to 30 than the teenager she is in the book. Several of the names have been changed from the original source for whatever reason, hence Popeye in the book becomes "Trigger", well-played by a sinister-looking Jack LaRue. Temple's father in the book is a prominent judge, while here it's her grandfather. I thought the exterior set design of the dilapidated mansion (The Old Frenchman's Place) and surrounding woods were authentically done. Does anyone else think the ending was a bit abrupt?
Liberty Heights (1999)
Not up to par with Diner, Tin Men or Avalon
For me it was impossible not to compare Liberty Heights with Barry Levinson's previous Baltimore films (Diner, Tin Men, Avalon) and in every way it comes up short. There were just too many aspects of this film that bothered me, again in comparison with the other three films. The subplot, for example, about the local thug "Little Melvin" holding the teens hostage for ransom was ridiculous, especially since nobody seemed very stressed out, and the incident was never reported to the police. Somehow the casting of Montegna and Neuwirth as the parents never rang true. Adrien Brody and Ben Foster as brothers? Didn't seem authentic. Foster and his female "love interest" played by Rebekah Johnson were about the only two mildly interesting characters. I suppose the operative word is "bland", which is not to say someone who has never seen the earlier Baltimore films wouldn't enjoy this.
Funny Bones (1995)
In need of a more coherent storyline
In spite of how it was originally promoted, Funny Bones has very little to do with stand up comedy. Its convoluted and somewhat confusing storyline tends to undermine its good points....namely, strong photography, quirky characters and many highly imaginative scenes. Many viewers may give up on this film halfway through, but the best is at the end. Several mesmerizing minutes of showmanship provide the climax of the film and it's well worth the wait. Oliver Platt fans should consider this a must, although his character is not particularly likable nor well-drawn. Jerry Lewis essentially plays himself and is effective. In the second half of the movie, Leslie Caron and especially Lee Evans as the puzzling Jack Parker, steal the show with some fine performances. An offbeat cult film with numerous rewarding moments. As Leonard Maltin loves to say, "Not for all tastes."
Mystic River (2003)
Moving, Disturbing, Riveting
Certainly Mystic River is one of the best films I have seen in the last few years. At once riveting, disturbing, and profoundly moving, it draws you into its web of friendships, family connections and relationships in a working class neighborhood of Boston. As an exercise in storytelling, I can find no flaws worth mentioning. The photography and music are perfect. Among an excellent cast, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon and Marcia Gay Harden are all superb. While many lesser films display elements of contrivance and artificiality, every minute of this story rang true for me and the characters, especially Sean Penn as Jimmy Markum, came across as "the real deal": utterly believable flawed individuals. Highly recommended as both a murder mystery and moving character study.
Sci-Fi encounter of the spiritual kind
I loved the sense of wonder and hopefulness that permeates this film, a sad commentary on the cynical, smug and violent era in which we now live, nearly 30 years after this was made. Were there some weak points? Could the script and dialog have been improved? Yes to both questions. But the wondrous finale makes up for any shortcomings in Close Encounters, which predated "E.T." by several years. Richard Dreyfuss was just about perfect for this unique role. Very interesting to view this again after so many years. No, a movie like this would probably not be produced today. (Note: This review based on the Special Edition released on VHS.)
American Beauty (1999)
Sleazy characters abound
What a colossal disappointment. This film has no redeeming qualities for me and I am astonished that this is considered to be an Academy Award-winning effort. It's a profoundly cynical and sleazy look at a suburban family and their various dysfunctional interactions with each other and their friends and neighbors. The only character who seemed like a halfway decent person once you got beneath her veneer of worldliness was the daughter, played by Thora Birch. The screenplay is obsessed with gratuitous profanity and a strange and somehow puerile fixation on masturbation. These are shallow characters at best, reprehensible and amoral at worst. Particularly during the second half, this became somewhat reminiscent of Blue Velvet, the David Lynch film, without the grotesqueness. Some of the dialog was stilted and absurd. Hasn't the theme of suburban alienation been attempted before and with greater success?
Great idea, no chemistry
I was somewhat disappointed in I.Q., having heard a bit of "buzz" about it in recent months. What we have is a neat premise, auto mechanic in 50's New Jersey happens to meet the niece of Albert Einstein, pursues her romantically, and along the way meets Albert and his retired cronies. If I could fault the film for two reasons, they would be a weak script, and lack of chemistry between Tim Robbins and Meg Ryan. On the positive side, Walter Matthau was perfectly cast as the elderly Einstein, who became Ryan's guardian when his brother died. The scenery and evocation of small town 1950's New Jersey, including numerous vintage cars of the era, was very well done. I thought the motorcycle ride was one of the highlights of the film. Tim Robbins' character seems to change abruptly when he undergoes a fashion and hairstyle makeover. Whereas before this he was confident and assertive, through the rest of the story he seems troubled, jittery and low in self-esteem. Something about Meg Ryan's character bothered me, and I never really bought into the notion that this intellectual would be seriously interested in Robbins. Also, I think Einstein's three wacky "buddies" are in way too many scenes for the amount of corny humor they actually provide. To sum up, passable romantic comedy with a happy ending that fans of the genre may enjoy, but it could have been so much better.
Baby Doll (1956)
Carroll Baker was hot in Tennessee Williams potboiler
I had been curious about seeing this movie for quite some time, and the other night finally got my chance at 3:30AM on TCM. Many of the earlier posts on Baby Doll are pretty much right on the money regarding its on-location filming in the real-life hamlet of Benoit, Mississippi and the Tennessee Williams connection. Eli Wallach is the standout here in my opinion, in what, amazingly, is his film debut (according to Leonard Maltin). Karl Malden is solid, as always, as the half-crazed Archie who is always just a day or two away from bankruptcy and total ruination. Carroll Baker is, simply stated, stunningly beautiful. Her lengthy scenes with Wallach serve as the heart of the storyline. Overall, Baby Doll is a somewhat dated curio from the mid-1950's that Elia Kazan or Tennessee Williams fans shouldn't miss. I was bothered by the fact that none of the many extras in this film receive any credit or billing whatsoever, even if they had speaking roles. Was this because they were mostly African-American? What's the deal with that? The cast list here on IMDb is obviously incomplete.
Great flick with a too abrupt ending
What more can be said after 487 viewer comments? For #488, all I will say is that, after watching this three times, Fargo is a fine piece of cinema, with an emphasis on a minimalist approach to story-telling and without much in the way of theatrics. The setting is bleak, the dialog is mostly direct and to-the-point, and the characters are well-drawn, what few main characters there are. I thought Steve Buscemi was wonderful as the villain in a humorously sick way. The one negative comment I have is that I feel the movie ends much too abruptly: too many loose threads left hanging. I thought the viewer was entitled to know a little bit more about why Jerry (William H. Macy) would go to such outlandish lengths to raise money as to stage his own wife's kidnapping. The fact that he "owed money" or "got in over his head" wasn't quite enough for me as an explanation since I had kept asking myself during the course of this escapade, "Why? Exactly why is he doing this?" We never really find out except in the most vague terms. All in all, probably my favorite Coen Brothers film.
All Fall Down (1962)
Dysfunctional family in gorgeous B & W
Many of the earlier posts on this film mirror my overall impressions as well. I caught this on TCM a few weeks ago and I was compelled to keep watching despite some flaws and very awkward scenes. This film has that distinctive early 60's feel to it and also is lacking certain elements of specificity in its storytelling and character development. The Willart family is dysfunctional but we are not able to put our finger on the dynamics of exactly why. We know the father, Karl Malden, is an alcoholic, yet a noticeably genial and upbeat one. We know the mother, Angela Lansbury, seems perpetually stressed and perhaps emotionally isolated, but the dialogue between the two never gets to the heart of their unhappiness. The late Brandon de Wilde (who died in 1972 in an auto accident) is the younger of two brothers through whose perspective the story is told. He is an aspiring writer who spies and eavesdrops on his parents' conversations and records what he hears in a journal. I thought his overall performance was very effective and believable. A young Warren Beatty in one of his first major roles plays the older son, the wayward Berry-Berry. (His name is puzzling and one wonders why nobody thinks to call him Berry for short.) Eva Marie Saint plays a somewhat mysterious woman, Echo, who provides the basis of the storyline through her involvement with both brothers. I found it to be a flaw of the film, though a minor one, that we never know much about Echo....what her background is, how she came to be close friends with Mrs. Willart, what she does for a living, and why she is driving such an unusual car. An absorbing story once you get drawn into it, with several awkward scenes balanced out by several touching and poignant moments.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Clooney & Turturro head an entertaining cast
Entertaining if somewhat ultimately silly picaresque tale set in the rural South of the 1930's. George Clooney is the brainy member of a trio of escaped convicts whose unlikely and sometimes scarcely believable adventures comprise the storyline. The photography is wonderful, the characterizations generally very good. Along the way they become unexpected recording stars when their spontaneous performance at a rural radio station strikes a chord with listeners. For those who might doubt John Turturro's credibility as a rural hick, check out his performance here. Holly Hunter has a minor role as Clooney's wife who has told their kids he was dead. Charles Durning is a hoot as the Governor of Mississippi. One scene that struck me as somewhat strange was the Ku Klux Klan scenario toward the end of the film. Certainly worth watching for escapist fare, and you might be entertained by the music, too, as so many were.
Why should we care about these tedious characters?
This was my first Wes Anderson film and will possibly be my last. To echo the comments of the previous post, I found the Max Fisher character to be highly unlikeable. This guy really is an arrogant jerk. Regarding Bill Murray, I kept looking for something, anything in his character to make me believe he was an "entrepreneur", and I found nothing. He looked by turns uncomfortable, annoyed, or bored, but never inspiring. In other words, his character didn't ring true. Not to mention also unamusing. I liked Olivia Williams as Miss Cross....she at least seemed believable. But then again, why does she continue to have anything at all to do with a self-centered egomaniac like Max? Wouldn't a restraining order be appropriate? The story had a credibility problem with me, although possibly with other actors and some fine tuning this could have been a more entertaining foray into high school angst. I did like the soundtrack....some interesting tunes you won't hear anywhere else.
John Goodman as Sci-Fi movie director, 1962
Matinée works best if one approaches it without expectations that this will be a magnum opus or having commercial blockbuster appeal. This is largely a modest and likable tribute to the late 50's/ early 60's era of movie-making, one that film buffs will especially respond to. Its strongest assets are the clever film-within-the-film, the hilarious "Mant"....the nicely under- played adolescent romantic leads, played by Simon Fenton and Lisa Jakub....the way it captures the small-town Florida ambiance of the time....and Cathy Moriarty, who is worth the price of admission alone for her role as the pseudo-nurse/assistant to John Goodman. Recommended for sci-fi film buffs, especially if you lived through the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
Deconstructing Harry (1997)
Overly shrill and redundant
I am not a die-hard Woody fan by any means, but he has given us numerous gems over the years. I consider Deconstructing Harry very minor Woody Allen fare. He's been down this road before, and more effectively and with less gratuitous profanity. Certainly there are numerous laugh-out-loud moments, and there's the added creativity of the real characters vs. fictional characters interacting. I loved Bob Balaban's deadpan expressions, the huge and diverse cast, and the beauty of Elisabeth Shue. I was turned off by the constant shrillness of too many of the characters (Kirstie Alley was especially annoying), and the redundancy and overkill of the dialog. I'll leave it to others to decide if the overabundance of profanity makes for clever or lazy screen writing. I would recommend any number of other Woody films ahead of this one.... Annie Hall, Manhattan, Sleeper, Radio Days, Husbands and Wives, or Broadway Danny Rose, just to mention a few.
The Shipping News (2001)
Newfoundland setting adds a lot
Having read and enjoyed the novel by Annie Proulx, I was apprehensive about the casting of Kevin Spacey as Quoyle and Judi Dench as his Aunt Agnes. While it's true that Quoyle in the book is described as overweight, highly unattractive and lacking in self-confidence and direction, Spacey is so good in this role the point becomes moot. Judi Dench likewise is quite effective as the taciturn and pragmatic Aunt Agnes Hamm. The photography and on-location setting add immeasurably to the film's atmosphere. The only jarring element of the storyline for me was the introduction of the decapitated body found in the ocean. This thread of the plot never seemed to go anywhere. For anyone puzzled or not quite clear about all elements of the storyline I would only say "Read the book!.
Finding Neverland (2004)
FINDING NEVERLAND was a big disappointment to me. I was expecting an enlightening, magical look at the creative process and what inspired James Barrie to write "Peter Pan" around the turn of the century. I felt as a viewer I got very little. We never learn the first thing about the man or his playwriting abilities. Johnny Depp plays this character on one note through the whole film: there is no emotion, no passion, very little to reveal the inner character. He is portrayed as a hack playwright who somehow rediscovers his muse by hanging out with four young boys and their recently widowed mother, day after day, week after week. He neglects his wife at home. He never explains anything about why he is doing this. The basis of the plot is his deteriorating marriage, and the hostility of the widow's mother (Julie Christie) toward his attentions to the family. This film is extremely slow-moving and drab, the plot mundane, and virtually nothing ever happens that is intriguing, unexpected or remotely magical. Maybe as a Baby Boomer I was conditioned to expect a Disneyfied concept of Peter Pan. I somehow expected more. I have enjoyed Johnny Depp in other films but this is to be avoided unless you are searching for a sedative. About the only positive thing I can say is the boy who plays one of the kids, Peter, (Freddie Highmore) was quite appealing.
Intriguing look at Chaplin's life and early Hollywood
This is a great example of a movie I took a chance on one rainy Sunday at a theater in Charlotte, NC., and was highly rewarded with an intriguing look at the life of an early film star set against the background of early Hollywood. I had't heard much buzz about it and didn't really know much about Charlie Chaplin. Downey is amazing in his personification of Chaplin. If you want to expand your horizons and learn a little about the inside workings of the film industry from circa World War I thru the 50's, this award-winning movie comes highly recommended.
Worth watching for bluegrass/folk/blues fans
Banjoman is a concert tribute to famed bluegrass banjo legend Earl Scruggs, plus interviews with those who have known him and performed with him. Includes rare footage of Ramblin' Jack Elliott, The Byrds featuring Clarence White, and Tracy Nelson & Mother Earth. Music ranges from bluegrass to folk to blues.
Carnival of Souls (1962)
Mostly ho-hum stuff
I've seen this movie twice, and while I certainly consider myself a fan of late 50's-early 60's sci-fi/horror/macabre/supernatural, this film is only mildly interesting for me. The story line is murky, the acting is mostly bland, and the whole effort comes across as somewhat amateurish. Yes, there are a few eerie scenes, but ultimately a curio from a long ago era which doesn't offer a lot. I know it has a cult following, but I'm not part of the cult.