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Great Performances: Dance in America: From Broadway: Fosse (2001)
Season Unknown, Episode Unknown
9/10
A Dazzling Tribute to a Broadway/Movie Genius
26 January 2006
The 1999 Tony Award winner for Best Musical came to television brilliantly intact in 2001 with the most of the original cast and a couple of sterling star turns. This bold and brassy tribute to arguably Broadway's greatest director/choreographer, Bob Fosse, this musical, directed and choreographed by Fosse mentor and girlfriend Ann Reinking, lovingly recreates some of the most classic Fosse routines that we Fosse fans have come to adore and revel in over the years. The TV version features Ben Vereen and Reinking on stage as well as some of Fosse's best known (and least known) work comes vividly to life again. Honestly, there are moments where you miss the original performers of these numbers, but this young and nubile cast is willing and energetic and give these classic routines fresh life. For me, the highlights were "Big Spender" from SWEET CHARITY (featuring Reinking), "I Wanna Be a Dancin Man" from DANCIN, "Steam Heat" from THE PAJAMA GAME, "Rich Man's Frug", also from CHARITY, "Nowadays" from CHICAGO, and two numbers from the 1973 TV special LIZA WITH A Z: "Bye bye Blackbird" and "I Gotcha". Just about all of Fosse's work is touched on here, with the possible exception of HOW TO Succeed IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, but it is a monumental mounting of Fosse's best work and if you're a fan of the dance in general and of Fosse in particular, this is a must.
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Movie Movie (1978)
7/10
A Special Treat for Film Buffs
26 January 2006
MOVIE, MOVIE is a forgotten gem from the late 70's which is an affectionate spoof of a 1930's double feature (there's even a preview of coming attractions)that is divided into two separate films that run about 50 minutes a piece. The first film, "Dynamite Hands" is a black and white "Golden Boy"-type spoof with Harry Hamlin as a young boxer rising to the top with George C. Scott as his manager, Red Buttons as his trainer, Kathleen Beller as his hometown girlfriend and Ann Reinking as a nightclub singer named Troubles Moran. The second film is called "Baxter's Beauties of 1933" and is a colorful spoof of films like 42nd STREET with George C. Scott featured again as the egomaniacal director, Barry Bostwick as the idealistic young songwriter, Rebecca York (who years later would practically steal the Broadway show VICTOR/VICTORIA from Julie Andrews) as the young Ruby Keeler type and Trish VanDevere as the bitchy diva who York eventually replaces. True movie buffs and fans of these kinds of movies will be in cinema heaven here...a loving tribute to a bygone era that works thanks to spirited direction by Stanley Donen and an energetic cast.
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Norma Jean & Marilyn (1996 TV Movie)
8/10
A Misjudged and Misunderstood TV movie...
24 January 2006
For years, the 1996 HBO movie NORMA JEAN AND MARILYN has been maligned and skewered by critics and viewers alike because it was not an accurate biography of Marilyn Monroe. Frankly, if you're looking for an accurate film biography of Marilyn Monroe, there is no such animal (though the ABC-TV movie with Catherine Hicks is pretty close). NORMA JEAN AND MARILYN is not supposed to be a biography of Marilyn. So much has been written about Marilyn over the past 50 years, how can there be anything that people don't know at this point? That's why this movie took a different tack and presented a probing psychological drama that speculates about the inner demons that tormented Marilyn from her childhood as Norma Jean throughout her adult life as Marilyn. Ashley Judd lights up the screen as a young Norma Jean, the young woman determined to forget a loveless marriage to Jim Dougherty and carve out a career for herself as a movie star, even if she has to sleep her way to the top to do it. Norma Jean makes no bones about what she wants, even if it means using and abusing good friend Eddie Jordan (Josh Charles)to get to his famous uncle as an "in" to the Hollywood crowd. The screenplay splices together fantasies and inner dialogues with some actual events in Norma Jean's life in order to give us a look into Marilyn's psyche. Once Norma Jean gets signed to Fox and she changes her name to Marilyn Monroe, Mira Sorvino takes over the role in an uncanny reincarnation of the screen's greatest sex symbol. Sorvino is warm and heartbreaking as Marilyn, recreating some of Marilyn's greatest on screen moments with frightening accuracy while at the same time beautifully conveying the decay of Marilyn's mind, thanks to booze, pills, men, and the treatment she received from studio heads, acting coaches, and others who tried to help her. What makes this film unique and indicates that it is not just a typical biopic is that after Sorvino takes over the role, Ashley Judd still appears as the inner Norma Jean, coaching and encouraging Marilyn to do the right thing and ridiculing her when she does the wrong thing. This movie is an examination of the inner Marilyn who lived in constant mental anguish and was never satisfied with anything she ever did or any relationship she had. The movie is well-written with flashbacks and flash forwards that require close attention in order to stay with the story but it is well worth it. Sorvino and Judd receive solid support from David Dukes as Arthur Miller, Peter Dobsono as Joe DiMaggio, Ron Rifkin as Johnny Hyde, and Lindsay Crouse as Natasha, Marilyn's acting coach who, according to this film,was in love with her. This is a haunting and disturbing film that will not answer all your questions about her, but might help you to understand what a tormented soul she was. If you're looking for a biography of Marilyn, go to a library and check out a book on Marilyn. If you're looking for a unique film experience about a side of Marilyn we rarely saw, then give NORMA JEAN AND MARILYN a look.
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Mary Poppins (1964)
10/10
The Perfect Family Film
20 January 2006
After losing the role of Eliza in the film version of MY FAIR LADY, Julie Andrews got sweet revenge and an Oscar for her film debut in 1964's MARY POPPINS, a dazzling, enchanting family musical which was personally overseen by Walt Disney himself, who hand-picked Andrews for the title role. Based on the books by P.L. Travers, this film centers around the Banks family of London 1912, whose most recent Nanny (Elsa Lanchester)has just quit after the children (Matthew Garber, Karen Dotrice)have run away again chasing an out of control kite. George Banks (David Tomlinson)begins to advertise for a new Nanny when the children come to him with their own advertisement, which George dismisses, tears up, and throws in the fireplace. We then see the pieces of the children's advertisement float up the fireplace. Enter Mary Poppins (Andrews), the "practically perfect" who arrives to interview for the job with the children's advertisement in her hand, all taped together. What follows are a wonderful series of adventures including a magical housecleaning of the nursery, a tea party on the ceiling, a country holiday in a sidewalk chalk drawing, and a dance session on the rooftops of London with about 100 chimney sweeps. This is movie magic at its zenith, and it is just as entertaining now as it was 42 years ago. It is a definitely a family film, but there are lovely adult touches in the screenplay...I love the way it is implied that Mary and Bert (Dick Van Dyke), the chimney sweep/jack-of-all-trades, have met before this movie takes place but it is never really discussed. I also love the way Mary never admits to having any kind of magic powers and after each adventure tells the children it was all in their imagination. This was the most memorable example of mixing live action with animation during the "Jolly Holiday" scene, which is absolutely delightful. The sublime musical score includes "A Spoonful of Sugar", "Chim Chim Cheree" (which won the Oscar for Best Song), "Step in Time", and of course "Supercalifragilistiexpialidocious." Andrews and Van Dyke are given solid support from Tomlinson and Glynis Johns as Mr. and Mrs. Banks, Hermione Baddeley as their maid, Reta Shaw as their cook, Ed Wynn as Uncle Albert, and Arthur Treacher as a Constable. If you have never seen this film, or more importantly, if your kids have never seen it, go out and get the DVD today because this film continues to enchant generation after generation because it is the perfect family film.
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9/10
Sondheim's Masterpiece
18 January 2006
The genius that is Stephen Sondheim was never more prominently displayed as it was in his 1979 "Musical Thriller" SWEENEY TODD, a Gothic, gory, grisly, yet delicious musical concoction about a demented barber who returns to London to exact revenge on the evil Judge who not only had him permanently exiled from London, but who is also raising his daughter as his own and plans to marry her to "shield her from all the evils of the world." The barber finds love,sympathy, and assistance from a lonely pie shop owner who has her own agenda where Todd is concerned. This musical rocked Broadway and won nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Actress in a Musical (Angela Lansbury). The production was filmed in its entirety in 1982 with Angela Lansbury recreating her Broadway role as Mrs. Lovett, the daffy pie shop owner who finds a practical use for the heads that Todd makes mincemeat out of. George Hearn, who replaced Len Cariou on Broadway, is electrifying in the title role, so much so that you have to wonder why he wasn't originally cast in the role. Lansbury and Hearn are riveting from start to finish and commit 100% to their ghoulish characters aided, by a first rate Sondaheim score, probably the closest thing Sondheim has written to an opera. Lansbury shines on "The Worst Pies in London" and "By the Sea". George Hearn stops the show with "Epiphany" and is also compelling during "Pretty Women", a duet he sings with Judge Turpin, the man he has sworn revenge on. Cris Groendahl is vocally impressive as Antony, the young sailer who rescues Todd and falls for his daughter Johanna. Betsy Joselyn is a little over the top as Johanna and really pushes vocally to the point that during "Green Funch and Linnet Bird" she actually drives her voice off-pitch during a couple of moments. The rest of the cast is first rate, especially Edmund Lyndeck as Judge Turpin who gets to perform "Johanna" in this production, which was cut from the original production and Ken Jennings as Toby, whose gorgeous tenor fills the auditorium on "Not While I'm Around." But it is breathtaking musical score by Stephen Sondheim and the mesmerizing performance by Lansbury an especially George Hearn that makes this night of Gothic musical theater an experience that stays with you long after curtain call. Not for all tastes, but if you're game and have strong heart, SWEENEY TODD is a joy for all music theater lovers and a must for fans of Stephen Sondheim and Angela Lansbury.
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8/10
A Powerful Star Turn by a Great Actress...
18 January 2006
1983's WITHOUT A TRACE was my first exposure to the acting gifts of one Kate Nelligan. Nelligan dominates the screen as a soon to be single mom who sends her young son off to school one day and he disappears. The film makes all the predictable twists and turns you expect it to but the journey is worth it because of the gut-wrenching performance by Kate Nelligan in the lead. Credit must be given to skillful direction and a decent screenplay and strong supporting turns from Judd Hirsch as as a detective, David Dukes as Nelligan's self-absorbed ex, Stockard Channing as her insensitive best friend and Kathleen Widdoes as a psychic, it is the performance by Kate Nelligan that raises the bar on this one, who brings so much more to her performance than is in the script, rich, detailed, and worth studying.
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8/10
A Minor Neil Simon Classic
17 January 2006
MAX DUGAN RETURNS is a lightweight comedy from Neil Simon about a widowed schoolteacher (Marsha Mason) with a young son (Matthew Broderick, in his film debut), struggling to make ends meet, who one night is reunited with her estranged father (Jason Robards), who shows up on her doorstep wanting to make up for lost time with $687,000.00 in tow. Mason is reluctant to get involved with Dad because the money is not really his but when she learns that he is dying, she softens and decides to grant his dying wish...to spend some of his final time on earth with his grandson. Throw into the mix a police detective (Donald Sutherland) who, upon finding out who Max is, is definitely torn between getting his man and or getting the girl. This comedy charms from start to finish with a lot of classic Neil Simon one-liners and Robards turns in one of his most charming performances as Max Dugan. Yes, there are plot points that are left dangling and you just have to accept that, but if you can, MAX DUGAN RETURNS is a delightful and diverting comedy that will grown on you with multiple viewings.
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High Society (1956)
8/10
A Delightful Musical Comedy
17 January 2006
HIGH SOCIETY was an entertaining and frothy musical version of the 1940 classic THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, which ironically won an Oscar for Original Screenplay since it was based on another film. Grace Kelly made her final film appearance here as Tracy Lord, the spoiled Newport heiress torn between her current fiancée (John Lund), her songwriter ex-husband, Dexter (Bing Crosby) and a reporter (Frank Sinatra) sent to her home to cover her wedding. Crosby, Kelly, and Sinatra light up the screen here, making the most of their roles here. Crosby and Sinatra have a classic duet called "Well, did you evah" and Sinatra croons "You're Sensational" to Kelly in a way that's guaranteed to melt your heart. There is also a solid supporting turn from Celeste Holm as Liz Imbrie, Sinatra's photographer who also harbors a secret crush on him and Louis Calhern is very amusing as Kelly's Uncle Willie, a classic dirty old man. Some of the bite is missing from the original 1940 film, but this is an entertaining musical nonetheless, worth watching for the luminous performances by the three leads.
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8/10
A Stylish Melodrama...
17 January 2006
SOME CAME RUNNING was a well-mounted 1958 melodrama about a man named Dave Hirsch (Frank Sinatra) who returns to his hometown after many years, followed by a desperate good time girl (Shirley MacLaine)who tries to re-establish a relationship with a hometown girl (Martha Hyer)and his daughter (Betty Lou Keim) while hooking up with his old buddy, Bama Dilert (Dean Martin), a gambler/playboy who never takes off his hat. Sinatra has one of his best roles here and Shirley MacLaine practically steals the film as good time girl Ginny Moorhead. Arthur Kennedy also has some strong moments as Dave's father. Vincente Minnelli, known primarily for directing musicals, shows a flair for directing melodrama here in a film that was released the same year as his Oscar-winning musical GIGI, but this film is just as good. A classic 50's melodrama with an atypical touch of warmth and some very good performances.
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The Money Pit (1986)
7/10
An OK comedy with some genuine laughs...
13 January 2006
THE MONEY PIT stars Tom Hanks and Shelley Long as an unmarried but together couple who decide to buy a broken down old house in the country and rebuild it. Though the film resembles the old Cray Grant-Myrna Loy film MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE, this film definitely has an 80's sensibility and showcases Hanks' effortless ability to pull off slapstick comedy. I love the scene where he falls through the carpet covering the hole in the floor and gets trapped in the hole. There are very few actors who could have pulled this scene off (Jim Carrey comes to mind) but Hanks makes the scene very funny, especially when he starts singing the "Name Game" song to pass the time. The late Alexander Goudenov is very funny as Long's ex-lover as is Maureen Stapleton as the woman they buy the house from. Not the greatest comedy ever made, but still very watchable due to the effortless charisma of one Tom Hanks.
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My Six Loves (1963)
7/10
A Cute Family Comedy...
13 January 2006
MY SIX LOVES was an entertaining family comedy from the 1960's that stars Debbie Reynolds as a musical comedy star who is sent to her country home after being told by doctors that she is exhausted and needs major time off. She and her assistant (Eileen Heckart)arrive at her country home and shortly after her arrival, Reynolds discovers six orphans secretly living on her property. The story is routine, the situations predictable and the story pretty much moves in the expected directions, but it's a relatively entertaining journey with Reynolds at the peek of her charm, receiving able assistance from Heckart, Cliff Robertson as a neighborhood minister, and a surprisingly funny David Janssen as her fast-talking agent. The kids are cute and work well with the star. It ain't Chekhov, but it will keep you awake for 90 minutes.
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Hair (1979)
9/10
A sketchy Broadway musical becomes an amazing screen musical
13 January 2006
The 1979 film musical of HAIR was loosely based on the infamous 1960's Broadway musical that became famous because of its infamous nude scene. The stage musical isn't really much more than a group of skits strung together with some amusing musical numbers; however for the film director Milos Foreman (who won an Oscar for directing ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST) and the writers have taken the basic premise of the play and the score and constructed a real story to make the show more "user friendly" for the big screen. In the film, naive farm boy Claude Hooper Buchowski (John Savage) is about to go into the army and decides to spend a couple of days in New York where he meets a group of aging hippies (Treat Williams, Dorsey Wright, Annie Golden, Don Dacus)who get him involved in a group of nutty misadventures, including the pursuit of a snooty society girl (Beverly D'Angelo). The story divides into a series of vignettes that range from the ridiculous to the sublime, but it is all gorgeously photographed with a clever use of NYC locations and imaginatively staged musical numbers (outstandingly choreographed by the legendary Twyla Tharp). Treat Williams lights up the screen as Berger, the unconventional and free-spirited hippie who does his best to get Claude to loosen up and is matched scene for scene by Savage as Claude, who brings a lovely sweetness to the role of Claude. Annie Golden is a charmer as Jeannie, the pregnant hippie who is pregnant by Wright or Dacus, doesn't know which one is the father and doesn't seem to care. There is one outstanding musical number after another here..."Aquarius" is a tour through Central Park which includes dancing horses...Treat Williams disrupts a fancy dinner party in "I Got Life"..."Black Boys/White Boys" features the late Nell Carter and Ellen Foley extolling the ethnic virtues of men and "Easy to be Hard" is a powerful rendering of one of the best songs in the show by original cast member Cheryl Barnes, who plays Wright's ex-girlfriend and mother of his child. This is a beautifully photographed, well-acted sung, and danced psychedelic acid trip of a movie that must be seen and once seen, will initiate multiple viewings as this dazzler has to much to offer to catch it all in one showing.
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4/10
Right up there with VALLEY OF THE DOLLS...
13 January 2006
I guess no one was able to turn out how quality camp in the 60's better than Jacqueline Susaan and every one of her novels that reached the big screen became a camp classic and this one was no exception. ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH is a camp classic from the Susaan library that induces numerous giggles along the way as it follows the adventures of a rich girl named January Wayne (the wooden Deborah Raffin)who is the daughter of a washed up of movie director (Kirk Douglas), with whom she has a semi-incestuous relationship with, who resents her father's marriage to a wealthy matriarch (Alexis Smith) and retaliates by having an affair with an alcoholic writer (David Janssen) who is her father's biggest enemy. This movie has it all...sex, drugs, lesbianism...all the makings of a camp classic, delivered by campy cast which also included George Hamilton as an aging playboy, Melina Mercouri, as an aging lesbian movie star, and Brenda Vaccaro as a man-crazy magazine editor (Vaccaro actually received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress). It's not as funny as VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, but there are definite laughs to be fund here.
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Between Friends (1983 TV Movie)
7/10
Two Legends brought together in a gimmicky film that almost works...
12 January 2006
BETWEEN FRIENDS was an HBO-TV movie that brought together two show biz legends- Elizabeth Taylor and Carol Burnett, for the first time in this shallow but watchable film about two women who run into each other (literally) and become best friends in the blink of an eye. Burnett's character, if memory serves, is a divorced real estate agent with a daughter, currently having an affair with a married man and who, since her divorce has drifted from one man to another and that suits her fine because "nobody makes her cry" anymore. Elizabeth Taylor is a sheltered woman on the verge of a divorce who has no idea how to live by herself, meet a man, or act on a date. Granted, it is fun watching these two show biz icons share the screen, but the script leaves a lot to be desired...these two women have absolutely nothing in common and their becoming best friends makes no sense and it is definitely stretching credibility to have Burnett playing the aging sex kitten who floats from affair to affair and Taylor as the woman who doesn't know how to even meet a man. But if you're a fan of the two actresses, it's worth a look.
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8/10
"I'm Not an Actor...I'm a Movie Star!!"
11 January 2006
The 1982 comedy MY FAVORITE COMEDY was a lovingly made period piece that takes place during a wonderful time in entertainment history...the infancy of live television in the 1950's (or more specifically, YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS). This laugh-filled comic romp follows the adventures of Benji (Mark Linn-Baker), a gopher for COMEDY CALVACADE (this film's version of YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS), who is excited when a swashbuckling actor of the period named Alan Swann (Peter O'Toole) has been booked as a guest on the show turns out to be a skirt-chasing alcoholic who Benji is put in charge of keeping under control until showtime. This movie is a lovely valentine to the 1950's with exquisite period detail and an intelligent screenplay that invokes the period so beautifully. O'Toole gives the performance of a lifetime as Swann, an alternately laugh out loud funny and heartbreakingly warm performance that earned him an Oscar nomination, yet somehow Linn-Baker somehow manages to hold his own and never allows O'Toole to blow him off the screen. O' Toole and Linn-Baker get solid support from Lainie Kazan as Benji's mother, Joseph Bologna as King Kaiser, the star of Comedy Calvacade, Cameron Mitchell as a not-too bright gangster, and Adolph Green as the manic producer of the show. A good looking, smartly-written superbly written comedy that documents a long gone era in entertainment history and tells a warm and amusing story as well.
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Michael (1996)
8/10
Just Loving Travolta in this Movie...
9 January 2006
1996's MICHAEL is warm and winning comedy-fantasy that features one of my favorite performances from the John Travolta library. Travolta gives one of his breeziest and most likable performances as Michael, an archangel whose quiet existence at the home of a lonely innkeeper named Pansy (Jean Stapleton) is disrupted when Pansy reports Michael's presence in her home to a "National Enquirer"-like newspaper and the editor (Bob Hoskins) sends reporters (William Hurt, Andie McDowell, Robert Pastorelli) to the motel to check it out. Hurt, McDowell, and Pastorelli are quite good as the jaded news staffers who have a hard time accepting they've met an angel but this is Travolta's show and he rules as the pot-bellied, sugar-eating, cookie-smelling, pie-loving, Aretha-loving, bull-chasing Michael, an angel who just isn't what you think you of when you think of angels. And you have to love the scene in the bar when he and the ladies dance to "Chain of Fools". I love this movie more and more every time I watch it and it's mainly because of the completely winning performance from John Travolta.
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To Die For (1995)
8/10
Still My Favorite Nicole Kidman Performance
5 January 2006
The movie that confirmed for me forever what an amazing talent Nicole Kidman is was the 1995 black comedy TO DIE FOR. This twisted and riveting film has an extremely smart screenplay by Buck Henry and solid direction by Gus Van Sant, but most of all, it has a dazzling, 1000-megawatt starring performance by Nicole Kidman that should have earned her an Oscar nomination. Kidman plays Suzanne Stone, an ambitious, self-absorbed, not-as-bright-as-she-thinks-she is, selfish career-driven woman who marries a nebbish (Matt Dillon)but when he begins to get in her way in her drive to become the next Barbara Walters, she cooks up an elaborate scheme to get him out of the picture. Yes, the story smacks of Pamela Smart and many other stories we've all heard but Henry, Van Sant, and Kidman put a delicious gloss on this story that makes it hard to resist. Kidman is brilliant as one of the most cold-hearted yet still sympathetic characters created for the screen. Joaquin Phoenix makes a strong impression as the high school student she talks into murdering her husband and Illeana Douglas is amusing as Dillon's sister. Kudoes also to Dan Hedaya who is chilling as Dillon's father who seeks his own justice regarding his son's murder. I found this movie riveting from start to finish. it is part of my permanent video collection and I never tire of watching it...a celluloid testament to the acting brilliance of Nicole Kidman. All serious Kidman fans should see this one.
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Analyze This (1999)
8/10
De Niro is too Funny...
4 January 2006
When you see the names De Niro and Crystal on a marquee the assumption would be that Crystal is going to be providing the laughs, but it's just the opposite in ANALYZE THIS, a sharp and amusing comedy which, IMO, proves Robert De Niro, in addition to being a great actor, is also one of the funniest people on the planet. I did not say a good comic actor, I said funny. The man is funny and he had me on the floor for the majority of the film as Paul Vitti, a mob boss who has allowed the pressures of his work take such a physical and emotional toll on him that he begins therapy with Dr. Ben Sobel (Crystal)and then implants himself smack dab in the middle of Dr. Ben's life, forsaking all other patients. Crystal hits all the right notes as Dr. Sobel, but it is De Niro who makes this film so special with his grandiose sendup of several characters he has played in the past. De Niro and Crystal get help from a strong supporting cast including Lisa Kudrow, Bill Macy, Pat Cooper, and especially the late Joe Vitrelli as Jelly, Vitti's stooge, who steals every scene he is in.
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9/10
When I Fell in Love with Johnny Depp...
4 January 2006
I officially fell in love with Johnny Depp and gained a brand new respect for him as an actor after seeing 1990's EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, the darkest of black comedies, in which Depp plays the creation of a mad scientist (Vincent Price, in his final film role)who, after the death of his creator, is disturbed to learn that his creator did not finish his hands and left his hands as large scissor-like objects who is befriended by a kindly Avon Lady (Dianne Wiest)who takes him home to live with her family. Director Tim Burton takes the "fish out of water" concept to an all-new level, creating an alternately dark and vibrant cinematic canvas that encompasses some of the most interesting color schemes that I've seen in a film in ages. A razor sharp screen- play is given yeomen service by Wiest, Winona Ryder as her daughter who Edward develops a crush on, Alan Arkin as Wiest's husband, Anthony Michale Hall as Ryder's boyfriend, and Kathy Baker as an amorous neighbor; however, it is Depp who dominates the proceedings with a devastating, tragic, sweet, brave, and touching performance. There is nary a false note in his performance as Depp plays the stranger in a strange land to perfection. This film was the genesis of the Depp-Burton collaboration that would continue into other films, but it all started here...this magical fantasy journey into the darkest parts of suburbia will thrill, amuse, and entertain.
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Grease (1978)
9/10
A Splashy Adaptation of a Broadway Hit
4 January 2006
1978'S GREASE is the nearly perfect screen adaptation of the 1971 Broadway musical with a score by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. The musical centers around the romance between cheerleader/exchange student (Olivia Newton-John)and a hood (John Travolta). Travolta and Newton-John are charming leads but the film is practically stolen by Stockard Channing, in her knockout performance as Rizzo, the leader of the Pink Ladies and Danny's ex. The musical has been "cleaned up" for the big screen (the Broadway show was WAY raunchier) with sharp direction by Randal Kleiser and imaginative staging of the musical numbers by the stage show's choreographer Patricia Birch. Musical highlights include "Summer Nights" Danny and Sandy's duet on how they met. "Greased Lightning", "Beauty School Dropout", a very funny fantasy number led by Frankie Avalon, "Born to Hand Jive", and Channing's solo "There are Worse Things I Could do". As is the case with most Broadway to Movie Transitions, songs were cut and added. Some of the songs cut from the play can be heard as background music if you listen and "Grease", "You're the One that I Want", "Hopelessly Devoted to You", and "Sandy" were written directly for the screen. For many years, this film held the record as biggest moneymaking musical film ever and the validation is up there on the screen. It's a little corny and predictable, but you can't help but get caught up. "Grease is the word have you heard have you heard it's got mood it's got feelin...grease is the time is the place is the motion...grease is the way we are feelin."
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Carousel (1956)
9/10
A Lovely Screen Version of a Classic Musical
4 January 2006
1956's CAROUSEL was definitely one of the stronger screen adaptations of a screen musical despite its troubled beginnings. Frank Sinatra had originally been cast as Billy and walked because the film was being filmed using two different films requiring everything to be done twice. Doris Day was the producers' first choice for Julie but she was having health problems at the time and was unavailable. These circumstances created the reunion of "Oklahoma" stars Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones, who even though this film was made right after "Oklahoma" seem much more adult, mature, and sexy than they did in the previous film. For the uninitiated, CAROUSEL is the story of Billy Bigelow, a carnival barker who offers Julie a free ride on his carousel one night and the attraction between the two is instantaneous...almost animal...they both get fired from their jobs as a result but they don't care. I love the relationship between Billy and Julie, as opposed to Curly and Laurey, because Billy and Julie's relationship is clearly sexual, evidenced in Julie's pregnancy. There is violence and fantasy mixed with the romance here to produce one of the loveliest musicals ever filmed. MacRae and Jones shine alone and as a duo...the "If I loved You" scene is enchanting as are his "Soliloquy" and her "What's the Use of Wondrin?". Barbara Ruick is cute as Carrie, Julie's best friend, Robert Rounseville makes a robust Mr. Snow, Cameron Mitchell is amusing as Billy's shady pal Jigger and Claramae Turner's rendition of the show's most famous song "You'll Never Walk Alone" is breathtaking. Filmed on beautiful Maine locations, director Henry King has brought us a lush and lovely musical that has everything a musical should offer, even if it is a tad overlong. Still worth the trip.
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Hotel (1967)
7/10
A More Than Passable Time Waster
4 January 2006
HOTEL was the 1967 all star soap opera based on the novel by Arthur Hailey revolving around the goings-on at an old, yet elegant New Orleans hotel called the Saint Gregory. Basically, this is just a grounded version of Hailey's later AIRPORT, only not quite as interesting, but pleasant to look at with a competent enough cast. Rod Taylor plays Peter McDermott, the hard-nosed, but compassionate manager of the hotel. Melvyn Douglas plays Warren Trent, the owner of the hotel, trying to conceal his concern about a possible buyout from Kevin McCarthy as O'Keefe, who arrives with his mistress (the plastic Catherine Spaak), who falls in love with McDermott in about five minutes. Michael Rennie and a still gorgeous Merle Oberon play a Duke and Duchess staying in the hotel who are concealing an accident they were involved in and are being blackmailed by house detective Richard Conte and Karl Malden is amusing as Keycase, a thief and conman working the hotel. OK, it's not GRAND HOTEL...it's not even AIRPORT...but there are worse ways to spend two hours.
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7/10
A Classic Musical Gets the MGM Treatment
3 January 2006
1950's ANNIE GET YOUR GUN was originally planned to star Judy Garland in the title role; however Garland had just finished a stint in rehab and doctors recommended a year off. Instead she was given two weeks off and was assigned to report to wardrobe tests for the film. She even filmed a few scenes and a couple of musical numbers (which are included on the DVD), but Garland looks worn and haggard and she clearly was in no shape, physically or emotionally to work, so she was replaced by that bundle of bombastic( an adjective which I think the actress has the patent on)energy, Betty Hutton, who makes the most of this role and the classic Irving Berlin score (not Rodgers and Hammerstein as a previous poster stated). I have to admit I wouldn't have minded hearing Garland's interpretation of "I've Got the Sun in the Morning" or "They Say that Falling in Love" (Hutton's weakest moment) but for the most part Hutton shines as Annie and gets solid support from handsome Howard Keel as Frank Butler. Their duet "Anything you can do" is another highlight. A first rate stage musical gets first rate screen treatment from the MGM dream factory.
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8/10
A Charming and Intelligent Romantic Comedy
3 January 2006
MURPHY'S ROMANCE is a lovely 1985 comedy about a divorcée (Sally Field) with a young son (Corey Haim)who is trying to begin a new life in a small town and finds herself inexplicably attracted to the local pharmacist (James Garner) who is several years older than she is and also must deal with her ex-husband (Brian Kerwin) re-entering her life. Aided by a strong screenplay, Field has rarely been more appealing on screen but it is Garner who really shines here in such a laid back and breezy performance that it earned the actor his very first Oscar nomination for Best Actor. If you're a fan of the stars, you will be utterly charmed by this warm and winning comedy.
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The Wonderful World of Disney: Cinderella (1997)
Season 1, Episode 7
5/10
Tries to be too much for too many, among other problems...
3 January 2006
The 1997 television remake of Cinderella is watchable if you didn't grow up on the 1966 version with Lesley Ann Warren. This remake seemed to be working so hard to please so many people that it really doesn't. Although I admire the attempt to make the story more PC by making the cast multi-ethnic, I found it distracting to the story. A white king (a bland Victor Garber)and a black queen (an over the top Whoopee Goldberg) have a son/prince whose Puerto Rican (Carlos Montalban). Cinderella's stepmother is white (Bernadette Peters, superb as always) but the stepsisters are black and white (Natalie Desselle and Veanne Cox, who both appeared to graduate from the Whoopi Goldberg School of Overacting). The producers for some reason also felt the need to enhance the Rodgers and Hammerstein score with two songs that Rodgers wrote for other shows. Cinderella and the Prince duet on "The Sweetest Sounds" which Rodgers wrote for the musical NO STRINGS and Peters sings "Falling in Love with Love" which Rodgers wrote with Lorenz Hart for THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE, a song which seemed unbelievably out-of-place in the story and seemed to have been added just to give Peters a solo. Then you have the battle of the Divas, Brandy and Whitney Houston, as Cinderalla and her Fairy Godmother. Houston seems to be making a concerted effort to sing Brandy off the screen and she almost succeeds in their primary battle, a song called "Impossible/It's Possible". I guess if you've never seen the show before it might be worth a look, but if you grew up with Lesley Ann Warren like I did, this version will disappoint.
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