MAESTRO (2023)

Fifty minutes into Bradley Cooper's MAESTRO, his directorial and starring-role biopic of composer Leonard Bernstein, he's discussing a possible book written about all his accomplishments, from teaching children on television to his best remembered work, West Side Story...

And yet we never got to witness any of it, instead  listening to he and classy wife Felicia Montealegre (a put-upon Carey Mulligan) within an intellectually-rambling romance from picnics to parties (in-between sporadic bisexual trysts) and not much else about the man that Cooper seems to have more fun portraying as a flamboyant and sophisticated, British-mannered, chain-smoking proto-beatnik than celebrating the legendary musical genius built right into the title... And aesthetically Cooper's cinematic influences... from LENNY to RAGING BULL to CAPOTE... are on full avant-garde display but with nothing behind it, really, except mere window dressing... with tinted glass. Grade: D

HARBOR COMMAND (TV SERIES 1957-1958)

Although on the big screen the film noir/crime b-movies were on their way out (or morphing into something else), television held onto this B&W gritty aesthetic that, in this case, takes from the 1930's law propaganda programmers involving a narrator and perfectly-suited cops, in this case led by Wendell Corey of the titular waterfront HARBOR COMMAND...

The best thing is that each episode is 30 minutes, so you get in and out without a lot of fuss or... as happened on another noir-series, NAKED CITY... without an abundance of early Actor's Studio-style staging and melodrama, despite the fact that that crime-pays narration can get too wordy, mainly with expository dialogue the actors could have tackled otherwise, if not for a few lines...

And right when the plot gets underway, usually beginning with a certain crime or heist going bad around the dockside or surrounding warehouses, the episode cuts to the chase... or rather, the starting gate... So HARBOR COMMAND is always primed to move... each episode making for tight, nifty story-telling without an overboard cliche evil dame or monologue-spouting heavies, and... different from most shows of this era... there aren't a lot of non-famous cameos... so you feel like what's being played out is more real than otherwise. RATES: ****

THE ELECTRIC HORSEMAN (1979)

It's odd to experience such obviously catered-to-opening-night-audience mainstream fare from the 1970's, a decade supposedly against the kind of sellout cinema churned out more obviously in the decades that followed... Yet the main problem with THE ELECTRIC HORSEMAN is the title character, a has-been rodeo star played by Robert Redford, seeming so outright tired of fame that it never feels possible he was once a professional at anything... and the connected capitalism/commercialism... in the form of a breakfast cereal he's reluctantly hawking... is also too forced and overboard to take seriously...

Meanwhile the shallow corporate goons are so shamelessly unlikable that Jane Fonda... as a journalist bent on interviewing the dissociated (thus uninteresting) Redford... never has to prove herself a worthy love-interest being merely a better person than the scum surrounding her... And the buried lead plot-line, of Redford saving an abused horse used for the commercials in the central locale of glitzy Las Vegas, feels weakly tacked onto a picture that spends too much time spoon-feeding its audience, so that... after even a mere ten minutes... everything tastes the same. RATES: **

MRS. SOFFEL (1984)

Based on a true story of two death-row-imprisoned brothers about to be hanged, and then rescued by the warden's wife... the titular character played by a classic-melodrama-suited Diane Keaton... these convicted killers have very little interesting about them, while the leader, played by Mel Gibson, looks like... well... a young Mel Gibson (opposite Matthew Modine), who just about any woman would fall for...


And being a likeable, wink-at-rebellion movie-rebel countered by a bullying guard, there's absolutely no edge (or glory) to his performance that would, in a better film, provide Gibson a possible Oscar nomination... he simply plays it too safe and affable here, as does the director... Who painted a deliberately bleak canvas nicely recreating turn-of-the-century rural America in its mahogany landscapes, dire factories and the actual prison... But what's here is more a Harlequin Romance montage than either an effective prison-plot-escape thriller or true story that needed telling: because storywise, MRS. SOFFEL is more whispered than spoken and, soon after, completely forgotten. Rates: **

WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020)

The WONDER WOMAN sequel WW84 resembles a straight-to-DVD feature so much you'll want to enjoy that cheap time-filling aspect, which this bloated production doesn't even provide...

Taking place in the core of the 1980's, the town centered on has a colorful mall and a nearby museum, resembling BACK TO THE FUTURE had the old fashion 50's timeline morphed into the 1980's... After all, for this younger generation, the 80's is like the 50's was to 80's kids, with corny dated clothes and, best yet, without cell phones while the plot not only lacks action, there's no reason for any since the villain's a slimy oil salesman (a horrendous performance by Pedro Pascel, befitting a social drama parody) who finds the ultimate McGuffin in a Wish Stone, one of the most contrived plot-motivations in any modern superhero movie, which this hardly resembles...With Kristin Wigg as an ambiguous link between heroine and villain (like Richard Pryor in SUPERMAN III), and Chris Pine wedged into a romantic-comedy story that hardly exists, WONDER WOMAN 1984... although made right before the pandemic... bares the lifeless residual of that time: lazy entertainment for lazy viewers.. RATING: *1/2

BATMAN RETURNS (1992)

Something happened to the Tim Burton BATMAN films after the ultra-serious Christopher Nolan vehicles made many long for superhero simplicity, while the Joel Schumaker trainwrecks gave an impression that something good was turned extremely bad, and yet, BATMAN RETURNS is really a tiresome, eclectic mess, not quite certain who and what to center on since there are way too many cooks, all going drastically overboard...

Especially the director himself, who uses so many of his stylized Gothic popup-book visuals that the Jack Nicholson BATMAN seemed tame by comparison... which was more of a BATMAN movie directed by Burton while RETURNS is a Burton movie that happens to involve BATMAN... and not very much, which is why Michael Keaton, with too much screen-time centering on the villains, winded up quitting the role, yet it's difficult to tell who the real antagonists are since Penguin... played by an overacting, bad monologue-spouting Danny DeVito... is so pathetic with a genuinely tragic backstory that he's never quite as evil (or dangerous) as he should be... and Christopher Walken's corporate tycoon makes DeVito's creature as benign as Keaton felt in the titular role: Meanwhile, Michelle Pheiffer's CAT WOMAN seems like her own solo movie's being invaded by characters who should be more important here... but eventually, too much happens in BATMAN RETURNS for anything to really stick, or wind up mattering beyond the overdose of Burton's self-inflicted style over substance. RATING: **

A FEW FORGIVABLE FLAWS OF 'MAD MEN' (2007)

MAD MEN is a lot like BREAKING BAD, other than both being the greatest cable shows ever, with extremely flawed leading men who are borderline villains, or perhaps anti-heroes... with blonde wives fighting back, and being hated by audiences for it... But MAD MEN never seems to completely know where its true strengths lie, and that's in Jon Hamm as ad-man Don Draper, who, through two marriages, has flings on the side and, sadly, these become more important than the business at hand, which includes creative pitches to non-creative companies where, especially during rejections, we see the true power, and color, of Don Draper... 

More of this was needed to make MAD MEN a truly perfect series like BREAKING BAD and less of a nighttime-soap opera, despite an abundance of middle-aged women viewers dreaming they could initially sleep with the square-jawed Hamm to then be cheated-on... a less-is-more actor who has never been able to get near this kind of intensity on the big screen, for which... like Bryan Cranston... he doesn't seem suited quite like television... And other flaws include the producer's son in a reoccurring role (as a creepy kid turned robotic teen) that tilts the cringe meter, stopping the show in its tracks while the central ad men, other than Draper and scene-stealing Roger played by John Slattery, master of the one-line quip... are really boys, seeming far too young for their very grownup jobs... In fact, if you look at pictures of the real life ad-men: they are mostly in their forties, or else look that way, as opposed to being counter-culture whiners against capitalism... which wouldn't quite work in this kind of job (only Joel Murray as normal-looking every-man Freddy genuinely resembles one of the true advertising guys)... Also, the series has to flow evenly with not only the soapy bedroom diversions, but true stories taking shape, from JFK to MLK's assassinations, in which these fictional characters flow through history like Jack and Rose on the TITANIC... And in this, sometimes the whole series seems geared towards a political agenda of sorts, more than bordering on cliches and generic left-wing platitudes... the teenagers are all dropout hippies who are smarter than the parents who raised (and spoiled) them, all soldiers die in war, and every businessman has 100 affairs: with supermodels, no less... But for the most part, what works is that Don Draper himself stays the same, with the slick short hair and perfectly-suited stiff suit while those around him progressively wear late-1960's-driven costumes (one major reason the early seasons are the best)... And really, when it comes right down to it, MAD MEN is about one person despite all that's going on around him. Rating: ****1/2

THE WALKING DEAD: DARYL DIXON (2023)

Well if anything happens, and THE WALKING DEAD: DARYL DIXON doesn't become a big hit, then they could easily make a prequel taking place after the original about how exactly Daryl got from Georgia to France laying unconscious on an upturned canoe... and it's funny that Carol was originally supposed to be right alongside him... Although, taking place at a scorched-earth renaissance-era France (with a gigantic convent), the famous lone wolf fits better solo within this MAD MAX/Spaghetti Western hybrid: Making sense that Norman Reedus's primal, strong-silent-type would wind up on a series attempting to start an entire franchise from scratch... 

But there are too many familiar elements for that: like a seemingly innocent group (the nunnery) that eerily keeps very-dead walkers alive (Herschel's barn to The Governor's town)... or protecting a person who might one day save everyone, which was Eugene's initial purpose and a little boy's plight here: basically replacing Daryl's Dog as a chaste sidekick to protect (along with two pretty Frenchwomen that look almost exactly alike, except one's a nun)... And of course there's the vicious living-human antagonist, and that particular character... a dire shaved-head killer... is the most intriguing thing here, but, based on this pilot episode, there's simply not a lot going on for the viewer to keep tuning into... After all, since the entire WALKING DEAD world is so absolutely doomed, battling dead people or not trusting (or taking five minutes in order to possibly trust) the live ones really doesn't make a difference: Because no matter where Daryl wound up, it's all the same formula... one that this series, so far, fails to either rise above or stand apart from. Grade: D

MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 3 (2023)

There's a point in MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 3 when, actually set in Greece this time... and right before a stranger's wedding... Nia Vardalos and John Corbett look at each other and realize, they need a vacation... together... away from everyone else...

Which might be the first time two main characters wanted out of their very own motion picture... and that's because they have very little to do with anything other than being parents of a college girl who's failing WHILE being pushed to date a mediocre dimwit college dude: neither interesting enough to be in a movie unless it was SUPPOSED to be about other people... and some of those people are also from the original... a romantic comedy that not only had an actual plot, but some tension and, what needs to happen in this particular comedy genre, an actual problem to resolve... which is completely missing here, and watching this bad sequel of a bad sequel... after a string of dead-end goofy-aunt jokes, cliche stereotypes, and some of the most awkward moments in cinema history... you too will need a vacation, and it's not even your movie. Score: 1/2

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (NOVELIZATION)

If a novelization flows, it doesn't matter how many times you've seen the movie, since, on the printed page, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK works since it becomes purely pulp adventure... and at the same time there's a closeness to the iconic character, Archeologist/Professor Indiana Jones, that doesn't give away too much of what the motion picture intentionally leaves out... 

Downpoints are Indy making out with one of his students in his house... we don't need to know that he plows the flirting eye-lid girl; or learning that Marion, to purchase the tavern, worked as a prostitute after her father, Indy's mentor, died; or, later on, Marion fighting lustful temptation after Belloq's polite kidnapping and yet, on the other hand, we get to follow Indy going from a crowded Cairo airport to a dark highway, driving through the pouring rain, searching for Ravenwood's place while being stalked by another mysterious vehicle and, along with other nifty insights during the many adventurous sequences, it all works since the chapters are long, thoroughly expressive, the action precise, the dialog intentionally corny (pulpier than the film): and no matter how many times you've seen RAIDERS on the screen, while reading it feels like reliving the legendary classic for the first time. Book Grade: B—

54 (1998)

It's said there's a longer cut of 54 that can miraculously turn this mediocre dud into a great motion picture... but if you've prepared a plain meal and add more food, you'll probably wind up with... more plain food on the table: And it's a stilted, cautious one at that, since... despite the R-rated T&A raging inside the infamous New York City 1970's Studio 54 nightclub, where only mostly-ugly rich celebrities or beautiful nobodies could enter... there's a standard-dialogue/TV-movie vibe from the very beginning, even making Mike Myers' otherwise decent attempt at playing gay nightclub mogul Steve Rubell seem watered-down, cliche and predictable...

And back when flavor-of-the-month Ryan Phillippe (here allowed into the club while buddy Mark Ruffalo's too ugly to enter) may have been a more legitimate actor than former rapper Marky Mark Walhberg, there's simply no touching PT Anderson's BOOGIE NIGHTS, which 54 attempts but without the inspired muse of Scorsese-meets-Tarantino's contagious celebration of gritty exploitation cinema (and Phillipe's stale narration proves how comparably brilliant GOODFELLAS' Ray Liotta was)... Instead, 54's a bland one-night-stand that lacks the necessary nerve to go all the way while random side-characters lethargically add to a mainstream feel-good movie (with pallid traces of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER melodrama), clumsily attempting yet another anything-goes/based-on-a-true-story expose: Like naive bartender Brecken Meyer's Afterschool Special-style drug addiction; Salma Hayek's attempt to be a music star straight from an episode of FAME; or Neve Campbell's famous TV starlet, half as pretty as the pretty boy supposedly obsessed with her... So, overall, there's no saving a picture that has recently laid practically all blame on producer Harvey Weinstein, supposedly having edited-out the story's inner-core, and yet, if that's the case, how do you explain PULP FICTION? Well... the difference is the director, folks, who in this case didn't jump in with both feet... to end up wading in extremely shallow waters. Rates: **

JAY SEBRING: CUTTING TO THE TRUTH (2020)

Despite some contrived moments used to make the interviewees react in realistic (yet melodramatic) ways, JAY SEBRING: CUTTING TO THE TRUTH, made by hairstylist Sebring's lookalike nephew, is quite good, especially the frame-device of showing a long-lost documentary Sebring did on his trade, months before he was murdered along with Sharon Tate by The Manson Family...

The anger and bitterness by the filmmaker is understandable, but it's extremely uneven... for example, right after the murders, Time Magazine and various other outlets were basically blaming the victims, including Sebring, for the deaths, as if they were involved in the cult that murdered them... It's ridiculous but it happened... that's how the media works... however, once it was discovered a gang of crazy hippies led by the craziest of hippie killers killed everyone, all those things that the nephew is still raving mad about were long, long gone, and ever brought up again... ever, ever again... Also ironic is, no one but Manson was ever blamed, and it was Tex Watson, mentioned here only once, who shot Sebring a bunch of times before stabbing him a bunch more times...

The late Jay Sebring's childhood, his stint in the Navy, and his bold risky move to Los Angeles in the 1950's to become not a barber but a hairstylist for men (very rare in those days), is far more befitting to a documentary that's supposedly fighting against the very things it's embracing since, even the summaries highlight Charles Manson and Sharon Tate (in that order) to grab viewers... Also interesting is the post "MeToo" demonizing of Roman Polanski, who is the first person who say that Sebring was into bondage and kinky sex (before the media gets blamed for reporting the same things); there's even a theory that Tate was in the process of a divorce... and had this been made ten years ago, Roman Polanski would have been the shining star...

Overall CUTTING TO THE TRUTH is intriguing, and lets you see that Jay Sebring is more than just "the others" murdered other than eternally beautiful Sharon... Then again, there's so much embracing the pop culture mythology about Manson and the killings as well constant name-dropping (and interview selections) of famous people Sebring hung around with... the poor guy, once again, gets lost in the mix: and at his own party this time. Rates: ***1/2

GETTING STRAIGHT (1970)

Director Richard Rush had an incredible style, and the first half of GETTING STRAIGHT showcases his kind of handing-off of camera movements within either subtle shots of action, like an apple being passed from student to student in the opening credits in the central hippie college, to random conversations...

For instance, an envelope is dropped on a machine and as the person who set it in place is speaking, the person answering is on the other side, where that letter wound up: a beautiful baton-passing flow that would peak with THE STUNT MAN, but you can't make a miracle out of the sixties, because hippies are simply the most uninteresting characters to ever wind up on film, ironically dying to be independent-minded and free, they're all cookie-cutter machines... and while each look like they're wearing costumes in recent movies, they even looked made up/put-together back then, when it was really going on (mainly because an actor will go from this movie to an episode of Gunsmoke)...

Centered on a very uncomfortable-looking, horribly unattractive Elliott Gould, with big lips and bushy eyebrows matching a bushy mustache and about ten years too old for the role of a student revolutionary who was somehow in Vietnam and now wants to be a teacher... 

Looking the age of someone who has been a teacher for a decade and just horribly miscast here, spouting 1960's platitudes to his so-called fellow students, and, while he does stand out from the younger hippies (including Harrison Ford, John Rubinstein and Max Julien)... being that he's sarcastically obnoxious and selfishly neurotic like the establishment he's supposed to be so against... director Rush cannot make these people interesting beyond the first twenty-minutes. Rates: **

TICKET TO PARADISE (2022)

It's obvious that George Clooney and Julia Roberts feel more natural attempting intense scenes together than bouncing off each other in a romantic comedy fashion...

Yet there is little for them to smile about: Once married for five years, they've hated each other for twenty, and have a law school grad daughter who, on a tropical island vacation, gets engaged to a local... 

And the fiance is not only cookie-cutter perfect-looking (like Roberts convenient young French boyfriend) but he spouts Buddhist platitudes and is simply too good to be true... Never allowing Clooney or Roberts... whose plan is to break up the engagement while supposedly loathing each other in the process... to have a logical reason for wanting what's best for their daughter... After all, in this age of neo-feminism, having a young lady go from having a future as a high profile lawyer to following her man around in his native territory, it's surprising the writer backs the young couple more than the old, whose random personal bulwarks are both contrived and tiresome... Meanwhile Clooney and Roberts, for real life friends and past collaborators, have absolutely no chemistry together: Which does make their prior divorce seem more realistic... perhaps deliberately... only these two don't really seem to hate each other... In fact neither seem to realize the other's even around, leaving the audience to scratch their heads and wonder how (or even why) these people hooked up in the first place... or why on earth they'd ever want to be together again. Rates: 1/2

RICHARD JEWELL (2019)

All the negative reviews are mad at Clint Eastwood for portraying the media and one female reporter as being villains, and are blaming... get ready for this... Donald Trump and his supporters, somehow... The news-story here is about the 1996 Georgia Olympics bombing, when Trump was a New York City tycoon who the same pseudo-intellectuals that want his blood really admired... for all the money he donated to their causes... again and again... It must also be noted that anything produced by Leonardo "My car's electric unlike my super-yacht" DiCaprio (who almost co-starred) would be conservative, and it's crazy this is considered right wing, especially given the fact that every single political thriller since the 1960's have been catered to registered democrats, and most of these movies portray the FBI in a far crummier light than is displayed here...

Well here's something completely different: a negative review of Richard Jewell from someone who's not blaming Donald Trump: It's extremely dull and hardly covers the title character... a pathetic Paul Blartish security guard/cop wannabe blamed for the bombing... as having gone through a nightmare after being treated like a hero for spotting the explosive, and saving lives, because there's hardly any coverage of the good times when the media supposedly praised him... As for acting, the titular lead is very dull, yet even the negative reviewers are giving him singled-out props while Sam Rockwell goes through the motions as an underdog lawyer fighting the powers that be... Powers that really have no weight or significance here, fueled by a villainous female journalist who supposedly slept with an FBI agent for her big scoop... But when the reporter is portrayed as a cheap drunken skank from the get-go, and the agent is square-jawed Don Draper himself, it seems like just another sexual conquest for a really good looking guy (and Olivia Wilde is somehow made to look average here)...

In a nutshell, Richard Jewell doesn't pay favors to anyone: He and his mom (Kathy Bates) are as cookie-cutter cliche in their banal country-music-loving simplicity as the FBI and media are in their supposed pigheaded prowess, and, perhaps the mundane by-the-book approach in Eastwood's subtle (albeit lifeless) direction is purposeful... But for a supposedly suspenseful expose, there aren't any real thrills here, or twists, or turns, or urgency to matter beyond what feels more like a rehearsal/table-read than a motion picture. Rating: **

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CRAZY PEOPLE

Dudley Moore in CRAZY PEOPLE Year: 1990 Rating: ***1/2 What's basically Dudley Moore's final leading role in a mainstream (live-acti...