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Sweet Charity

Watch it for the choreography
How you feel about this film will depend on how much a fan you are of Bob Fosse's signature choreography style. If all the dance sequences were stripped out of the film, it would be a real dog. In my opinion Shirley MacLaine was terribly miscast; at 35, she seems way too old for the wide-eyed innocence and naïveté of her character, especially after having played more knowing, cynical characters in films like The Apartment. I also think that Ricardo Montalban's character strikes the wrong note. He seems too nice, and the obvious subtext that he only has Charity up to his apartment to get her in bed is glossed over. Another disconnect for me is in the dialogue. Charity is supposed to have had a rough life and a fourth-grade education yet she speaks in proper English. As a first-time director, Fosse used a lot of gimmicks, such as zoom-ins, stills (which really date the film, and stop the action cold) and cheesy camera effects. A bigger failure was in editing. Many of the songs go on long after you've lost interest. What saves this film and makes it worth watching are some really terrific dance sequences. The best is "Hey Big Spender" which gives us a preview of the way Cabaret was styled, and the nightclub dance number, which is witty, innovative and lots of fun to watch.

Never Too Late

Average comedy brought down by bitter tone
Since this film followed a successful Broadway play, I can only conclude that the play must have been funnier. I found Paul Ford's character completely repugnant. He is a blowhard who has no appreciation for anyone around him. This is supposed to be hilarious but I just found it irritating and sad. The idea that a lovely, charming woman like Maureen O'Sullivan would be married to the crude, unattractive Paul Ford strains credulity. Not the fault of the actor - he is very funny in other movies - it is instead the result of the hostile screenplay.

Charlie, the Lonesome Cougar

Charming story, great for kids
I saw this movie as a child, probably on The Wonderful World of Disney. Seeing it again for the second time some 45 years later, I was charmed by the adorable cougar, Charlie. His shenanigans provide plenty of action and some comic moments. It was a pleasure to watch this beautiful animal frolic for 90 minutes. I think kids will continue to love this film.

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley

A good overview of the story
I had read John Carreyrou's fine Wall Street Journal articles, as well as his thrilling book, Bad Blood, before seeing this documentary tonight. The first half of the documentary seems almost worshipful of Elizabeth Holmes, building up her mystique and putting her unique ability to attract doting followers to her message on display. Quite a lot of time is spent gazing into those big blue, unblinking eyes. By the time we get around to the cracks in the facade, we are more than an hour into the film. It is inevitable that a lot of important background was left out: the climate of constant firings that went on for years, the fact that Sunny and Elizabeth met when he was 38 (and married) and she was 19, that Elizabeth's dad had been a VP at Enron, etc. Mostly I would have appreciated a little more specific information on why the Edison machine failed. The examples given in the film don't seem that unsolvable, but I know from the book that there were some basic issues that simply couldn't be dreamed away owing to the tiny sample sizes from the finger pricks. Tyler Shultz comes off as a happy-go-lucky guy, but in fact he is one of the heroes of this story. It is not mentioned in this film, but not just his grandfather former Secretary of State and Theranos board member George Schultz, but also his parents flipped out when he told them he was quitting the company. His bravery in standing up for his values is truly admirable in one so young, especially considering the immense pressure he came under. To his parents' credit, they came around and ended up mortgaging their home to pay his legal bills. Ultimately, though, the story gets Elizabeth right: she is a zealot who is deaf to any naysayers, even to this day. The cautionary tale for the rest of us, is are we George Shultz or Tyler Shultz? Are we willing to see the truth and make a difficult decision, or are we too invested to be willing to give up on something we had believed in?

The Polar Express

Lots to love about this story
Like many, I still find the animation of the characters stiffly executed and off-putting. But the rest of the animation is gorgeous. I especially like the sequence of the golden ticket as it makes it path through the woods. The elves are just plain weird, and I have no idea why one of them is Jewish (he says "meshugana", a Yiddish word.) I'm willing to overlook the shortcomings for what is on the whole an enjoyable film.

The Radical Story of Patty Hearst

Watch this with a healthy load of skepticism
By placing Bill Harris, a member of the SLA, as the primary narrator, the filmmakers imply that his assertions carry elements of truth. But we found his accounts highly suspect to say the least. Harris has an agenda: to recast this murderous group as earnest, well-meaning idealists, who never "meant" to harm or kill anyone, steal or kidnap. Harris tries to convince us that Patty Hearst became a willing participant and eager SLA member because they merely convinced her of the righteousness of their cause. In fact she was vulnerable and sheltered 20-year-old, who was kidnapped from her own apartment while her fiancé was brutally beaten, held in a closet blindfolded for almost two months, and raped. Then her captors selectively fed her information to convince her that her parents weren't interested in securing her release, even though it would mean she would be executed. (Harris denies they ever threatened to kill her, although Hearst's contemporary voice recordings clearly demonstrate that they had.) They convinced her that they were the only ones who cared about her. The conditions under which she was converted to their cause were clearly psychologically coercive. Harris comes off to us as a self-serving lowlife who clearly enjoys his moment in the spotlight.

The Man Who Came to Dinner

Some of the funniest lines of the 40's
This film is worth watching for the very sharp and witty dialogue. It is still very funny and entertaining. Some of the best lines are towards the end, like Jimmy Durante hoisting up shocked nurse Mary Wickes in his arms and saying, "Meet me in my room in a half an hour with a loaf of rye bread!" Bette Davis does a decent job with a role that doesn't suit her very well, and she seems a bit melancholy, perhaps because the script requires her to play a cruel trick on an unsuspecting person. It doesn't seem like something her character would do, and the playwrights should have found another way to make the plot device happen. But don't let that spoil the fun, this is a light-hearted romp and should be enjoyed as such. Monty Woolley is perfect as Sheridan Whiteside, roaring like a lion and enjoying himself immensely in the role.

Lone Star

Such a memorable film
I saw it many years ago but so many of the scenes still resonate with me. Most of all I remember the stunning finale with Chris Cooper and Elizabeth Peña. Chris Cooper deserved an Oscar for that scene alone, it was so powerful yet so sensitive. Great acting of the kind you see so rarely in films these days.

The Barefoot Contessa

50's Potboiler Saved by Gardner's Stunning Beauty and pretty South of France
Spoiler Alerts ahead! There are so many things wrong with this film, that it's hard to know where to begin. As others have noted, the main failing is the overall tone: unrelentingly morose and downbeat. Perhaps the writers were attempting a psychological thriller like "Gilda." However, they made a crucial mistake - the leading actor, Humphrey Bogart, has no romantic relationship with the leading actress, Ava Gardner! The script goes to great pains to stress that they are just friends, and that the Humphrey Bogart character is in love with his on screen wife (a minor character played by an actress I'd never seen before.) Yawn. Meanwhile, no one can interest the Ava Gardner character until late in the film when she falls for Rossano Brazzi. Although it's hard to tell that she falls for him at all.

However, they get married, and here's where the script really goes off the rails. RB fails to disclose that his junk was shot off in the War prior to their nuptials. The film just throws this cruel deception out there without comment and then seems to judge the Ava Gardner character for having to cope with it. Of course this was still the era of the Hayes Code, and another thing that the screenwriters seem to be counting on is a certain amount of naivety on the part of the audience, by assuming that the audience would think that a man would need his equipment to, um, make a woman happy. Humphrey Bogart badgers Ava Gardner, "How long was it before you couldn't stand it anymore?", I.e. go without sex? I have a feeling that couples went home in the 1950's and asked each other, ""Why didn't they just..you know...?" Ava Gardner's solution of providing her husband with a baby he can use as an heir is of course misguided, but not too implausible. But I think the script breaks down again when Humphrey Bogart fails to inform Rossanno Brazzi of his wife's good intentions by getting pregnant and just lets him think she a slut.

If you have a good quality television this film will be worth watching just for how radiant Ava Gardner looks. She is stunning, especially in sunglasses and a black swimsuit. The locations in the South of France are nice to look at, too.

Little Men

Not written by Louisa May Alcott
From the beginning of this film I was puzzled as to why Louisa May Alcott, whose main character in "Little Women" is set straight on her own writing career by being told to write what she knows, would follow up that story with a crazy yarn about some sleazy con artists. Further, I wondered why she would water down her own most vibrant character Jo into a staid, boring matron, and turn her gentle, wise professor husband into an inept fool.

The answer of course is that she didn't. Apparently the studio felt that the title and a few characters were all it needed from the book. While I haven't read the book, I can say having seen the movie that the studio should probably have stuck to the book. The story they came up with is lackluster and has none of the strong character development of LM. I am a Kay Francis fan, but she has too few opportunities in the script to make anything of her Jo. On its own merits, the film is mildly entertaining, but ultimately forgettable.

The Architect

Pretty Rough on Architects
If you're an architect -and I am - this film trots out every negative stereotype you've ever battled in your life and pumps it up to full volume. The architect is the comic villain in this piece: a vain, imperious, pseudo-intellectual, budget-busting, turtleneck wearing wife stealer in the classic Frank Lloyd Wright mode. Of course old FLW also had world-class talent but in my humble opinion he has a lot to answer for with the reputation he saddled generations of future architects with. But I digress. I may have found this film more amusing than most because of the many sly digs at my chosen profession, but it's still a decent comedy.

Hit the Deck

Decent but not memorable
It's not hard to imagine why this picture bombed in 1955: the "sailors on leave" theme must have seemed incredibly tired 10 years after the end of WWII, especially since the premise is similar to several earlier and better films. On the plus side, if you have a good quality television, the film looks terrific, with vibrant, sharp color. There are plenty of songs and dance sequences to keep us from dwelling on the lackluster plot. There is also an unfortunate lack of comic relief. The female leads do a credible job, though they are not matched with male stars of equal stature (with the possible exception of Vic Damone.) Walter Pigeon doesn't show up until late until late in the picture, so I don't count him. Not a great musical, but not terrible either.

The Rise and Fall of The Clash

Disappointing and very negative portrait
If you are a fan of the Clash as I am, you will be left depressed and uninspired by this documentary. If you know little about the band, you'll probably be bored to tears, which is not saying much for the filmmakers, whose subject is one of the most exciting bands of the era. I knew we were in trouble when the first fifteen minutes were almost all talking head interviews about the Clash's first manager's personality.

This amazing, thrilling band and their game-changing music deserve so much better than two hours of depressing interviews about "how we started to fall apart." What they did right is so much more interesting.

Call It a Day

Sharply written satire full of laughs
I caught this gem of a comedy on a Saturday morning on TCM, and I wasn't expecting much from it. I watched it for the star, Olivia de Havilland. However, although she received top billing, her part was more of a supportive one as the eldest daughter. The plot centers on a married couple with three nearly grown children who find themselves each fielding persistent and unexpected flirtations. There are many clever, funny lines in the script. ("What about the children?" "Well, you could just divide them up between you." "But there are three, it wouldn't come out even!" ) Olivia's facial expressions in her scene with the painter show her rarely tapped comedic talent. I'm not sure why other reviewers gave this film such low marks; I've watched dozens of films from the era (often with bigger stars) that weren't nearly as funny. Another plus for this film is that it doesn't, like so many other Hayes Code era films, pretend that adultery either doesn't exist or that no one ever actually goes through with it. The two lead actors are witty and believable and the ending is surprisingly touching.

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