aromatic-2

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Reviews

He's Fired, She's Hired
(1984)

Easy-going made-for-TV version of Mr. Mom
In the early 80's, the Reaganites were making much of the decay of family values and problems caused by the women's movement and affirmative action. Hollywood's play on these angles was one of muted amusement. Of the bland comedies made on the subject matter during this period, "He's Fired, She's Hired" is probably blander than most and rather typical of the genre. The chemistry between old TV-vets Valentine and Rogers is funny and, at times, surprisingly hot. Howard E. Rollins as a good supporting turn as an executive. Painless, unchallenging, and thoroughly unoriginal fare, and certainly more fun as a time capsule than "That '80's Show."

Adaptation.
(2002)

Very Disappointing Follow-up to Being John Malkovich
The premise is intriguing. The parallel structures work for two-thirds of the film. So much effort was put in by Cage in distinguishing the physical expressions and deportments of Charlie and Donald that he neglected to create a true working intimacy with Donald's soul. Hence, Donald's soul does not exist for the viewer, and he seems more like a gimmicky parlor trick than Charlie's actual brother. This, in turn, makes it difficult to care about Donald. But, Charlie is such a whiny one-note ball of angst that he doesn't come close to engaging our real interest for an entire movie. Where director Spike Jonze still has captured our imagination with his mastery of duality is with the Chris Cooper character. Cooper's performance was indeed worthy of the Oscar he won. Meryl Streep seems at times to be reprising her portrayal of author Mary Fisher from She-Devil. At times, this is engaging and amusing, but given the gravity the situation soon assumes, it proves to be too shallow a guise to sustain her character's dark side. The cameos featuring Malkovich, Keener, and Cusack are brilliant.

But, the last half hour falls apart so completely that anything positive that preceded it is deluged by its excesses.

Never Again
(2001)

Warm and winning love story between a mature contemporary executive woman and a 53-year-old schmuck with serious Peter Pan syndrome. Warning: Very Kinky!
Jeffrey Tambor plays a middle-aged man who plays jazz in the evenings. His relationships (so typical of guys like this!) are sex-only with 25-year-old bimbos and jazz groupies. Then, when he loses interest (Hello, you have nothing to talk to them about) and has a disturbing dream, he decides he might be gay, and goes to a gay bar by accident. I'd dismiss this as slapstick absurdity, but the truth is that I've met too many guys like this, and Tambor is 100% right on the mark. Bill Duke is excellent as his jazz-playing buddy. He also has a poignant scene with Michael McKean as a lonely transsexual. When he meets Jill Clayburgh (in the gay bar by mistake with girlfriends Sandy Duncan and Caroline Aaron), he thinks she is a transvestite or transsexual. She is so amazed at what an ass this guy is, she decides to give him enough rope to hang himself, and winds up, much to her surprise, enjoying his company, and thus, the romance begins.

To say much mire would spoil it, but their chemistry is magnificent, and despite a few unnecessary slapsticky moments with Tambor's mother in the film, most of it is refreshing and enchanting. If you're over 40, and especially if you've ever been a single woman dating in a big city, watch and enjoy!

My Louisiana Sky
(2001)

Brilliantly realized adaptation of coming-of-age novel
This is a winning and whimsical tale of a girl coming-of-age in rural Louisiana in the 1950's. Kelsey Keel has a winning debut as Tiger Ann, the central character. And her chemistries in the three main relationships with her grandmother (Shirley Knight), retarded mother (Amelia Campbell), and sophisticated aunt (Juliette Lewis) are superb. The costumes are delicious. And the emotions are genuine. Adam Arkin does a great job getting an honest salt-of-the-Earth feel from building a brilliantly realized Canadian abstraction of the time and place. This is one movie worth watching even if you already read the book.

Tight Spot
(1955)

Taut film noir with excellent performances
Ginger Rogers holds court as Mafia bigwig Lorne Greene's brassy ex-moll. Edward G. Robinson is ideal as her police protector. But, a young and ruggedly handsome Brian Keith steals the movie as a cynical police officer. The tension is very real in the stuffy hotel room. All the while, an absurd country-western singer croons the same song on a telethon over-and-over again. This is a classic.

Wagon Master
(1950)

Great performances by Ben Johnson and Ward Bond
The performances by the male leads make this long-hard-journey west interesting throughout. The soundtrack by the Sons of The Pioneers is one of the most beautiful I have every heard. The journey itself is somewhat episodic, and Joanne Dru is badly miscast. Overall, this is a very heartwarming and heartfelt western.

Normal
(2003)

Tries too hard to make its points
Tom Wilkinson and Jessica Lange give very memorable performances. But, the episodic nature in which the small-town intolerance unfolds, and the sacrosanct way the director shields the principals, together make this seem like a clinical documentary warning the transsexual what she will encounter. In many ways, it tried so hard not to be exploitative, it was too sanitized. Clancy Brown's character was internally inconsistent and too charicatured. I was engrossed enough to watch, but found too many scenes too tough to swallow. This is as well-meaning a slice-of-life film as you'd ever want to see, but it's simply too distant to engage.

Second-Hand Hearts
(1981)

Uneven comedy-drama laced with winning performances
Barbara Harris is terrific as Dinette Dusty, and supporting vets Shirley Stoler and Bert Remsen give her plenty of help setting the atmosphere in her hash-house for losers. The score also does a good job in helping set the mood. Once Robert Blake's character comes on the scene, the chemistry between the two stars takes center stage. Some of the writing makes little sense, and the direction seems unfocused in the first half of the film. But, overall, worth watching once.

The Kennel Murder Case
(1933)

Classic Locked-Room Mystery
Before he became defined as Nick Charles in the Thin Man Series, William Powell played another urbane detective named Philo Vance. The supporting cast is strong in this early talkie, and Powell's star quality is evident. Mary Astor, who eight years later would be defined by her portrayal of Brigid O'Shaughnessy, does a good job here as the featured woman who finds herself in the middle of it all.

Punch-Drunk Love
(2002)

The novelty wears thin quickly
Adam Sandler does an excellent job acting the bi-polar garage owner with a simpleton's naivete. In fact, given the assinine dialogue, and the losers they were assigned to portray, the entire cast does a good job attempting to stretch their acting muscles in service of this mess.

But, there are two miserably absurd plots -- an annoyingly stupid and violent back-and-forth about four stupid brothers who try to collect blackmail money on behalf of their sister, a phone-sex hostess. Philip Seymour Hoffman is totally wasted as the mentor of these five losers -- presumably the father but I'm not clear on that. The other is even more disappointing because Emily Watson, one of the most talented young actresses around today (Hillary and Jackie, Breaking the Waves, Luzhin Defence, etc.), gets to play a beautiful and successful fantasy who just seems to be waiting for dysfunctional cretin Sandler to enter her life, and she is given no character of her own. What a waste!

Tortilla Soup
(2001)

Undemanding cultural fun with a Mexican-American father and his daughters
Yes, this is directly derivative of Soul Food, What's Cooking, My Family, and many others. Who cares? It's a lot of fun on its own terms. Elizabeth Pena is marvelous as the repressed older sister, and the other two actresses more than hold up their roles. Hector Elizondro (Pretty Woman, American Gigolo, etc.) is one of my all-time favorite character actors, and seeing him in a co-starring role is a real treat. And, Raquel Welch's send-up of the predatory Hortensita nearly steals the film. I enjoyed this trifle immensely.

Twilight
(1998)

Great cast wasted in inept mystery
Gene Hackman, Paul Newman, James Garner, and John Spencer. Not to mention Susan Sarandon. I would have been in heaven watching these five sit around talking about the weather. And it would have been more interesting. The script does not hold up -- at all. The dialogue is wretchedly hackneyed, and the plot holes are huge enough for Godzilla to fall through. The pacing is dreadfully slow, and the photography does a very poor job of trying to emulate film noir. The ending did not work for me either, but by that time, I was just happy to see it end, and there are very few Paul Newman films I ever felt that way about.

Shadow Over Elveron
(1968)

Atmospheric potboiler with good dialogue and performances.
Don Ameche wants to protect the secret of his perfect community, but James Franciscus won't stop digging. Some hard-edged dialogue punctuates the moody town-with-a-secret tale. Ultimately, an obvious plot hole and a too-rapidly-falling-into-place conclusion betrays its TV-movie roots, but still an intriguing time-passer.

Serendipity
(2001)

Banal and trite celebration of selfishness
Serendipity is facile, trite, illogical, and dumb. Its main characters are selfish, reckless, and irresponsible. It plays like a bad three-parter of cheers where Chandler winds up with Phoebe. It does have some good photography of New York and the soundtrack is peppy enough, but the dialogue is so dumb, and the characters so uninvolving that it's not even an adequate time-waster.

Joe Somebody
(2001)

Pathetic Tim Allen Vehicle
Pathetic is the one word that describes this infantile male revenge fantasy the best. And, it uses Take-Our-Daughters-To-Work day in all the wrong ways as its impetus. Julie Bowen (from TV's Ed) is completely implausible as a supportive co-worker. James Belushi clearly has no interest in his character, and neither do we. Greg Germann plays the boss exactly as he plays Richard Fish on Ally McBeal but with less funny lines. This movie aimed low, trying for innocuous comedy, and still missed the entire target by thirty feet.

Legally Blonde
(2001)

Like, it was hard??
Nope, this movie is unchallenging, and very easy to take. If you saw the coming attractions, and still wanted to see it, you will not be disappointed. It is silly, unrealistic, and quite enjoyable. Holland Taylor has an excellent bit as a challenging law professor. But Reese Witherspoon is the whole show as the Valley Girl who gets into Harvard Law to win the respect of her ex-fiance. She plays it perfectly - in the Goldie-Hawn-style tradition, and has a ball with it. Nothing deep, but it is amusing.

To Sir, with Love II
(1996)

Passable Sequel
After 30 years at his old school in England, Mark Thackary leaves on mandatory retirement, and gets a job teaching in Chicago. Lulu and Judy Geeson are back reprising their roles from the original for the beginning send-off. The Chicago coming-of-age scenes are mostly predictable, but Poitier is as smooth as ever, and the two main brothers do a marvelous job. The original was a great movie. This sequel is an enjoyable time-passer. Daniel J. Travanti does a good job as the feckless principal.

This Is My Life
(1992)

Whimsically winning slice-of-life movie
I just watched this movie for the third time. I chose to watch it on Mother's Day because this is about as realistic a tale about mother-and-daughter bonding and growing pains as you will ever see. Julie Kavner is nothing short of amazing as Dotty, a stand-up comic from Ozone Park, Queens, waiting for her chance to make it to the big time. But, life necessitates tradeoffs. As her career takes off, Dotty is unable to spend much time with her kids who grow resentful. And with her older daughter Erica (an excellent performance by Samantha Mathis) now in the awkward early teen years, everything Dotty does is a personal embarrassment to Erica.

The direction is a bit on the claustrophobic and episodic side. Aside from experimenting with the number of different ways to show polka dots, this is not a visually impressive film, nor is it meant to be.

But on its own terms, it is sweet, warm, winning, and true.

The Mambo Kings
(1992)

Wretched waste of time and talent
If you are into the mambo beat, and I am, that alone should make for the foundation of a good movie. Add two prime hunks of beefcake like Assante and Banderas. There is also a chance to see the incomparable Tito Puente perform. Further add the immensely talented Shakespearean-trained Roscoe Lee Browne and Desi Arnaz Jr. portraying his father, and you should have a can't-miss experience. Wrong!

It starts with the directorial debut by Arne (formerly Arnold) Glimscher. Everything is angry and in-your-face. Plot motivations and character motivations are given short shrift or ignored altogether except for ubiquitous anger. The camera angles are out of control. Even the can't-miss score is mishandled and inappropriately matched to different scenes. The pacing is non-existent. The piece-de-resistance is a slow-mo death scene that even Ed Wood could have directed better.

The less said about the *#@%$@* writing the better. This is one of those movies that tries to show you how macho it is by non-stop cursing. But even the non-expletive dialogue is disgusting.

The performances are simply dreadful. In other comments here, I saw that someone called this Banderas' best performance. Huh??? It is, by far, his worst. He renounces it himself! He read his English phonetically and it showed. He was stiff, unconvincing, and totally out-of-sync. He's gorgeous, of course, but his character is too important for that alone to be enough.

Since Armand Assante was playing off him in almost every scene, it threw his timing totally off-balance and accentuated his anger and frustration. His character also did some implausibly stupid things given his background. Cathy Moriarity does what she can in her scenes with Assante, and there he almost seems like a totally different character, one you can stand spending some time with.

The stentorian Roscoe Lee Browne humiliates himself as a Cuban mobster in a pathetically phony accent. Desi Arnaz's scenes give the viewer some unintentional comic relief. Equally hilarious is the eighty-something Puente's attempt to play himself at 45.

Overall, if I were ever asked to teach a class on film, I would use this as my warning lesson on what traps to avoid.

Bombshell
(1933)

Hysterical Harlow in 30's flapper comedy
Harlow is perfectly in-your-face as the flapper trying to change her image. O'Brien, Tracy, and Tone all take good turns as anglers who are transformed by her. Frank Morgan steals every scene he is in as Pops. Una Merkel is also on hand for some added hilarity. Perhaps the most amazing thing about bombshell is how well its humor holds up. In fact, it seems even more timely today than it probably would have 30 years ago. Anyway, just watch Harlow in her prime, and enjoy.

The Stunt Man
(1980)

Magnificently Whimsical and Spellbinding At The Same Time
Yes, Peter O'Toole is great. But if Richard Rush directed the movie of his career, then Steven Railsback (fresh off starring as Manson in Helter Skelter) was an ingenious touch of casting by the casting director. Railsback is superb as the paranoid fugitive whose bravado fools only himself. He plays it perfectly straight and there is no hint that the actor is in on what is really going on anymore than his character does. O'Toole, is given a plum role, and delivers with gusto. Allen Goorwitz (aka Garfield) puts in a solid supporting turn as the writer who tries to help the young stunt man sort things out.

But, Railsback's handling of his demons and his anger in the midst of a true theater of the absurd is what makes this movie such a classic.

The Man Who Wasn't There
(2001)

Clever, but ultimately dismal
The Man Who Wasn't There is artistically and technically perfect. But, the movie has no heart, and Billy Bob Thornton gives yet another overrated performance for stylized eye contortions with no substance. As students of film history, the Coens imbue the film with all the trappings and elements of film noir.

But two essential ingredients are missing: a plot that stays true to its alleged mystery, and heart. Another problem is that the structure of the movie makes it incumbent for Billy Bob Thornton to be John Garfield, Humphrey Bogart, Fred McMurray, Burt Lancaster, and Edmond O'Brien all rolled up into one, and he doesn't come close to pulling it off.

What kind of man is he? He is THE BARBER!

Training Day
(2001)

Episodic and forced expose of a bad cop
Washington is magnificent. Hawke is engaging, and very cute. In fact, all the acting is terrific. The script gets off to an intriguing start, then unravels like a ball of twine. The direction gets us interested in the characters, then focuses only on maximum shock value the rest of the way. Without saying anything more, I found the ending unsatisfactory. Overall, I give this 6/10. Pretty average.

The Big Brass Ring
(1999)

Muddled and Pointless Intrigue
Some interesting backgrounds and roots. A deliciously sinister performance by Hawthorne, and an earnest one by Hurt. And professional Murder-She-Wrote-killer-and/or-victim Gregg Henry is perfectly cast as Hurt's brother.

Too bad that the writing and direction are so miserable, and the flashbacks interjected so randomly and pointlessly that I couldn't follow it, and didn't care to.

Never Talk to Strangers
(1995)

Hitchcockian Thriller with many twists and turns
I never expected to be so positively impressed by this universally panned thriller. Did all the other reviewers see the same movie I did? I just shake my head, and marvel at the brilliance of all these people who found the ending so predictable.

I daresay I'm older and have seen more classic thrillers than most of the imdb audience, but this movie kept me on the edge of my seat. And Banderas has never looked better. I thought both lead characters were interesting and deep. Harry Dean Stanton is marvelous, as usual, as the serial killer against whom De Mornay has to testify, and Len Cariou does a nice turn as her estranged father trying to make final peace with her.

De Mornay actually produced this, and the daring sex scene could not have happened without her enthusiasm. Okay, I agree the dead cat was too much of a cliche, but the detective? Banderas' true identity? Miller's real character? The twists and turns certainly had me going. Although I wanted to off De Mornay myself to take her place in the chain-wire fence scene. And, yes, this old gal certainly found it erotic, despite what I have read above. I think this is her best performance to-date.

I give this 10/10.

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