Start with the title. "Last Man Standing" refers not to the final survivor of an armed conflict, but rather to this show's protagonist. He is played by comedian Tim Allen as Max Baxter, a politically conservative husband/father who lives with his wife and three daughters, making him the, er, Last Man Standing.
Max is outspoken but lovable. He criticizes any and all liberal politicians and, in conversation with those who disagree with him, he comes up with some terrific zingers.
In a convo about Hillary Clinton, Mike's wife Vanessa reminds him: "Mike, don't forget that Hillary was a Goldwater Girl." His irascible response: "Satan used to work for God. So, what's your point?"
I think the funniest line in the show is, actually, a non-line. Vanessa scolds Mike for being "old fashioned." She says: "You would probably be comfortable living in a world where we had slavery, and women were not allowed to vote."
His response: "You're right, honey. Slavery was terrible."
A once great show, sabotaged by poor casting decisions
"Last Man Standing" is/was the greatest sitcom ever to appear on television. It brings us an amusing look at that perennial stereotype, the flawed but loveable All-American family
Tim Allen, an actor who I'm informed is a political conservative in real life, brings the comical side of conservatism to the lead role as "Mike Baxter," a right-winger with a great personality. He and his wife Vanessa (Nancy Travis) are Denver-area suburbanites who are parents to a family of three girls... thus (wink, wink) Mike is the "Last Man Standing" of the title.
Having a clever title to start your show is always a plus, because it gets the proceedings off to a happy beginning.
"LMS"' very first episode, back in 2011, was so funny it seemed impossible to top; nevertheless, through the years this show has brought us more hilarity than I can remember from any other sitcom.
About the only flaws I can mention about "LMS" have to do with the casting. As I mentioned, one of the key aspects of the show involve the three daughters of the family. And that's sad, because with a show this sucessful, it's possible it will be renewed year after year. Now in its EIGHTH season, there have been numerous cast changes, and that's not ever a good thing.
The oldest of the three girls is Kristin, originally played by Alexandra Krosney. But in one of the early episodes, Krosney was dropped from the show and replaced by Amanda Fuller. The middle daughter, "Mandy," was originally (and brilliantly) played by the charmingly volatile Molly Ephraim, but in 2018 a different Molly -- Molly McCook -- assumed the role of Mandy. In my opinion, that was a bad move. Ms. McCook is beautiful and may be a good actress as well; but her acting style is worlds away from the elfin gadfly that was Molly Ephraim. Besides, Ms. McCook is SEVEN FEET TALL and thus, through no fault of her own, she towers over most of her costars. Not a good look, in my humble op.
The youngest of the three Baxter girls is Eve, played winningly as a tomboy by Kaitlyn Dever. She gives off the vibes of a girl who is secretly smarter than anyone else in her family.
I'm giving this show ("800 Words") 10 stars, because it is one of the smoothest and most enjoyable series I have ever seen. George Turner (Erik Thomson), a recently widowed journalist, is left with two teenage children -- a girl Shay (Melina Vidler) and a son Arlo (Benson Jack Anthony). The three of them decide to leave their Australian homeland and resettle in a small town in New Zealand, only about 900 miles away from their former Sydney abode.
George becomes editor of a small newspaper in his new home of Weld, NZ. He settles in and becomes the eyes and ears of his new neighbors, makes friends, and soon becomes a beloved man in the new town.
Sounds boring, but not so for a 40-something dreamboat who quickly befriends many marriageable ladies, several of whom come courting -- all very chastely, of course. He doesn't consider himself a ladies' man, but before long George is the most sought-after target for the (many) single ladies in town.
"Game of Thrones" is a massive, spectacular television experience... that TRIES to be a massive, spectacular television experience. It is all flash and no substance.
The "Battle of the Bastards" was spectacular, all right. But it went on for too damn long. Reel after reel, of ancient swordsmen striking at each other, frequently killing their enemies right there on the field of battle. How long? Oh, maybe twenty minutes. Too long. Too damn long.
Cersei's "Walk of Atonement" was impressive too. I thought it was carried out with great solemnity, every step made painful by the teeming crowd hurling insults at their fallen queen, as she stoically marched in complete nakedness, through hundreds of loud and contemptuous rabble. It made a great impression... UNTIL we learned that the actress, Lena Headey, used a body double to do the famous "walk." That's right, Ms. Headey showed us not one square inch of flesh. It was all done with an anonymous body double. What an effin' gyp.
The scene where Daenarys (Emilia Clarke) was rescued from her enemies by a flying dragon was spectacular too, especially since we know that flying dragons do not exist in real life. The scene was dependent on the tech wizards making us believe that the large machine that transported Daenarys was, through CGI magic, a real, living, breathing giant reptile. That, too, was impressive.
But I will bet you, dollars to donuts, that the ONE FACTOR that keeps people tuning in to "Game of Thrones" season after season, is the nudity. I haven't seen all the nude scenes in the show, and I don't expect to. I only know that nude scenes of young and youngish bodies are a great attraction, and the producers of "Game of Thrones" know this full well. Does this not strike you as a compelling stratagem? Well, know this: All the reviews of this last, seventh season, report that from now until the end of the show, the remaining nude scenes will feature MALE nudity rather than female nudity. How does that grab you? Dicks, not boobs, will be center stage.
So, I won't be watching this final season. And you can take this entire series and dump it into the deepest recesses of the deep blue sea.
There is an old video clip showing Bobby Vee singing "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" among other youngsters at the beach. The principal actress in this video is a lovely blonde who wears a leopard-skin one-piece swimsuit, and she looks exactly like Amy Carlson, the actress who plays Linda Reagan in the CBS TV drama "Blue Bloods." But of course she is NOT Amy Carlson, since the video was recorded in 1962 and according to the IMDb Amy was not born until six years later, in 1968. But the actress in the video is a dead ringer for the "Blue Bloods" actress, and I don't mean in a "they kind of look alike" way. No, they are NOT merely similar in appearance; they look EXACTLY ALIKE! But how is that possible? The Bobby Vee video of "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" is available on YouTube. If you are familiar with "Blue Bloods" and the character of Linda Reagan, see for yourself that the two actresses are dopplegangers of each other.
Until last night -- that would be Monday, April 24, 2017 -- "Dancing With the Stars" was an agreeable, fun show that kicked off each new week with music and rhythm and brilliance. Not any more.
The shocking elimination of Heather Morris -- dancing in the arms of past winner Maksim Chmerkovskiy -- unmasked the ugliness behind the scenes at DWTS. No, this is not just another rant by a disappointed viewer; this was a catastrophe of the highest (or lowest) order. Heather had just wowed the audience with a PERFECT rumba, beautifully choreographed and performed, and had won an enthusiastic perfect score from the judges: Forty points out of a possible 40. As I said, PERFECT.
Then, after all the cheers and the hoopla, Heather and Maks were unceremoniously ELIMINATED from the "competition." What the hell?
That's it. This show has been failing in the ratings, and I guess now we know why. We won't be watching DWTS again, ever.
I've opted to award "Big Little Lies" a rating of 9 rather than a perfect score of 10, mostly because although the acting and direction are first-rate, the story ends with a thud rather than the mind-blowing climax we were led to expect.
The story concerns a group of affluent wives living their splendid lives in their splendid homes in the coastal community of Monterey, CA. Most prominent among them are Madeline MacKenzie (Reese Witherspoon, who is also listed as executive producer), Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman), and Renata Klein (Laura Dern). Joining them is a recent addition to the community, Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley), a single mother who is obviously not in their economic class but fits in nicely anyway. I assume the directors are signaling that the wealthier wives are not snobs.
Throughout this seven-episode "limited series," we learn that there is trouble in paradise. Jane's young son Ziggy is accused of bullying a young girl in his school; Madeline's 16-year-old daughter plans to auction off her virginity on line; Celeste's husband, the ruggedly handsome Perry (Alexander Skarsgard) is a wife abuser. And there's more. Oh, is there ever more.
The seventh and final episode of the series finds the denizens of this lavish community attending a gala party where the guests are encouraged to come in specific costume; the ladies as Audrey Hepburn, the gentlemen as Elvis Presley. A tall order, perhaps, but surprisingly many of the costumes at the party do come close to hitting their marks.
At that party, we finally learn the identity of the "murder" victim who has been hinted at, since episode one. I've already said this review contains spoilers (don't they all?), but I won't reveal the victim's identity at this point.
The much bigger mystery, to me, is WHY Madeline, the Reese Witherspoon character, attends the entire party in her bare feet. Yes, yes, I get it. She's channeling Audrey Hepburn as Hepburn appeared in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961): wearing a man's shirt, with nothing visible below the shirt but her bare legs and bare feet. But for the extent of a gala party, couldn't she have protected her feet with flip-flops? Or slippers? (By the way, Witherspoon's legs look great.)
"Death in Paradise" is, to my mind, the BEST murder-mystery show on TV. It occupies a far different clime than most of the popular U.S. programs such as perennial faves NCIS and Blue Bloods, yet I get more satisfaction watching the Brit- flavored stories that take place on the laid-back island of St. Marie in the Caribbean, where the detectives work diligently to solve the crimes.
That's the good news. But the bad news is that here in the U.S., where "Death in Paradise" is broadcast by PBS, we have NOT seen a NEW episode all year. We are getting nothing but re-runs. It has, TRULY, been a full year since we've seen a new episode.
Last night, the wife and I hunkered down in our couch, hoping to watch what we thought would be a new episode starring Ardal O'Hanlon as the transplanted Irish detective Jack Mooney and his new Caribbean friends. But no! Instead of a new show, PBS served up the old pilot episode, from 2011... a show we had already watched, FOUR TIMES! Yes, it was a good, insightful story. But we have already seen it numerous times.
As sometime contributors to PBS, we thought we would get to see -- finally! -- some new programs starring Detective Mooney and his adorable daughter Siobhan (Grace Stone). In his few, limited appearances, Mooney has been impressive as the new transplant from London. But WHEN will PBS deign to broadcast another new episode?
Five years ago, there was no one in this country who was a bigger fan than I, of the Sherlock Holmes-inspired "Elementary." Now, here we are in 2017 and I absolutely HATE what this show has become.
In the beginning, the episodes had classy, interesting plots. Can anyone remember "Child Predator" or "Ancient History" without smiling? Those were good stories, well produced and well acted. But more recently, "Elementary" has become a talk fest. The damn thing could play just as well on RADIO, because there is little to no action on screen.
And WHY did Jonny Lee Miller decide to go bald for the role of Sherlock? Okay, sure, in real life Miller is losing his hair, just as millions of men do every year. But most balding actors wear a toupee to keep the fantasy going. Why not Miller? A bald Sherlock is ugly.
Just as ugly, in my view, are Lucy Liu's SHOES. This woman is on record as saying that she prefers open-toed shoes, and she wears them on screen all the damn time. Not merely peep toes, but ridiculously ornate sandals that no woman would wear... and she sees to it that the cameras always pick them up on screen. Yuck.
Oh, and that Ophelia Lovibond is cute, but in 25 episodes thus far, she has NEVER, ever worn a skirt. Always pants. Pants, pants, pants. Now, pants are okay for ugly women to wear. But not Kitty (Ophelia). She is young and pretty and she should be wearing feminine skirts or dresses.
American adventurers travel to Africa to search for gold.
When Richard Chamberlin signed on to portray adventurer Allan Quatermain in this (1985) version of H. R. Haggard's novel "King Solomon's Mines," he probably gave no thought to how his co-star, the young Sharon Stone, would look on screen.
Bad move, Richard. But it's a great boon for us viewers. The then 27-year-old Stone wears short shorts almost all throughout the movie, and after about two reels it's a strong bet that the audience was fixated on Sharon's gorgeous legs, never mind Chamberlin and his quest for African gold.
The picture did well enough that the following year, 1986, a sequel was mounted, "Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold," again starring Richard Chamberlin and Sharon Stone. This time, however, Sharon wore long pants all the way through, and judging by the warm reception of Sharon's legs in the original film, there was absolutely NO reason to hide those perfect pins in the sequel. Maybe Chamberlin, the nominal star of the picture, objected to being upstaged... again?
A young handyman and his wife (Barry Stokes, Penny Meredith) move to a small village and set up business. There, the handyman encounters numerous strange characters, including a local constable (Chic Murray) more inept than a squad car full of Keystone Kops; an elderly magistrate (Bob Todd) whose primary passion is spanking young women; a schoolmistress (Sue Lloyd) with a closet full of kinks; and more predatory housewives than the young man can handle.
This film is an interesting attempt to thread the needle between soft core and hardcore. There is nothing in it that would shock a teenager in the 1970s, and the only sexuality depicted is humorous and with absolutely zero substance. Even the ladies will appreciate the comedic scenes.
Imbibition Technicolor, the most perfect method of adding color to film, was at its glorious apotheosis when the Warner Bros. musical "She's Working Her Way Through College," came along in 1952. Let the words of one of the men who worked on the process, Don Berry, inform us:
"The results were striking. No other color process – notably the cheap processes of Eastman Kodak – could even come remotely close to achieving the vibrant, saturated look of IB (imbibition) Technicolor."
With musical films, especially, looking for a prism through which to display their charms, the wedding of Technicolor and "She's Working Her Way Through College" was a match made in cinematic heaven.
Elsewhere, you may read that this musical was an inferior version of the Warner Bros. 1942 drama (in black and white), "The Male Animal." The names of James Thurber and Elliott Nugent, writers of the 1942 movie, do appear in the credits of "She's Working " but the musical uses only a few of the former film's lines. . . and it has a great foundation, hummable tunes, and that wonderful Technicolor going for it.
Briefly: "She's Working Her Way Through College" starring Virginia Mayo, Ronald Reagan, and Gene Nelson, is a delight from the first scene on. Reagan plays John Palmer, a college professor who's doing dramatic research; and at one of the theaters he visits, he sees a rousing and colorful production number starring a burlesque queen (played winningly by the beautiful Ms. Mayo). Reagan doesn't remember her at first, but she remembers him as her high school teacher. They meet in her dressing room and she learns that her former teacher is now a professor at a small college, Midwest State. Ms. Mayo decides to quit the theater and enroll in his college.
Once at Midwest State, Ms. Mayo receives a lot of wolf whistles from the male students, but responds only with smiles. She meets Don Weston (Gene Nelson), who is quarterback of the football team, but is also a terrific singer and dancer. Together they co-write a musical play for the school to present at one of the better theaters in town, and give their classmates a sneak performance right in their classroom. Professor Palmer has no objections, and is in fact drawn into the performance. The Mayo-Nelson routine is a winner, to the song "I'll be Loving You" by Sammy Cahn and Vernon Duke.
In all, the production of "She's Working Her Way Through College" is a delight. And those who criticize it as an inferior "The Male Animal" need to look again. The two films are ages apart and "The Male Animal," whatever its virtues, lacks the effervescent and vivid hues afforded by the Technicolor palette.
The critics have been raving about the new silent film "The Artist" (2011), and in my considered opinion they are right to rave. "The Artist" is the absolute BEST film I have seen, made in this century!
If you ask, what is this movie about? and someone tells you, "oh, it's a black & white film about what happened when the movies went from being silent to having sound..." then you will have a general idea, but you still won't have a clue as to the greatness of this film.
Producer-director Michel Hazanavicius recaptures silent cinema in ways no talkies film maker has before. For one thing, he shoots his picture at 22 frames per second, making the viewing experience resemble the look of a silent film to today's audiences. For another, he uses visual metaphors, such as a scene shot in L.A.'s downtown Bradbury Building, where we can see the heroine (Berenice Bejo) ascending one flight of stairs while the down-on-his-luck actor George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is descending another.
Yes, it's a movie about two movie actors, one male and one female, showing the male's descent from public favor while the female grows in popularity. But no, this is not just another re-make of "A Star is Born" (1937). While that picture ended tragically, this one is a romantic comedy... and Hazanavicius makes no effort to tie them together.
Back in about 1950, we could hear silent screen queen Norma Desmond smirk, "Who needs words? We didn't need dialogue. We had FACES!"
You may be willing to agree with her, once you've seen and enjoyed "The Artist." It is filmed in black & white, in the old boxy 4:3 format we knew before Cinemascope came along. And - - get this -- there is NO dialogue we can hear. Well, just a couple of lines as a gag; but they have no bearing on the story, which is magnificent.
As for those "faces" that Norma Desmond idolized, one of them is plainly suggested by Jean Dujardin as the lead character. He has such an open, expressive face, you come to believe he belonged in silent pictures. But his talents have also graced modern spy spoofs such as the recent OSS 117 comedies, both of them warmly received by the critics. As for Mlle. Bejo, she is near perfection as the 1920s' flapper George Valentin comes to love.
Of course, "The Artist" has background music and sound effects, much as the later silent films did.
In New Yorker magazine, critic Anthony Lane wrote "silent cinema really was the purest and most binding incarnation of the medium, one from which we have torn ourselves, to our detriment, ever since."
The critics are raving about "The Artist." You will too.
Produced right on the cusp of the sexual revolution in America, "Sunday in New York" (1963) probably stirred the libidos of many viewers. Previously, it was considered improper for young people to indulge in sex before they got married. But by 1963, with many couples challenging that taboo, the subject was due for another assessment. And it got one, in this clever and charming Peter Tewksbury romantic comedy, based on a script by Norman Krasna.
Jane Fonda plays a 22-year-old virgin, Eileen. She's just lost the man of her dreams, Russ (Robert Culp) because he wanted sex before marriage and she refused. Now she's traveled from her home town of Albany to New York City, to visit her brother Adam (Cliff Robertson). Little sis wants to get big brother's views on the subject of extra-marital sex.
On the 5th Avenue bus, Eileen meets Mike (Rod Taylor), and they go to get coffee together. Caught in a rainstorm, the two are drenched, and with no umbrellas and no taxis in sight, they have no choice but to repair to Adam's apartment to dry off.
After some nervous conversation, Eileen decides to try and seduce Mike, if only to get the "virginity" monkey off her back. He's all for the sex, until he discovers -- at apparently the last moment -- that she is, er, a "beginner." Infuriated, Mike retreats to the safety of his bathrobe, then lectures the girl on the perils of seduction when one is a virgin. Eileen asks, logically, "Well, how is a girl supposed to learn?"
Good question. But there's no time to discuss it, because just then, who should burst into the apartment but Russ, all the way from Albany to propose marriage to Eileen, whom he has decided he cannot live without. Russ has never met Eileen's brother, so seeing the two together in the apartment -- in their robes -- he assumes that Mike is Adam, and begins joshing with him and treating him like his future brother-in-law.
The fun escalates when the real Adam comes home and discovers that Mike has co-opted his identity, and must now call himself "Mike" and pretend to be his own best friend.
Rod Taylor is very game about his role in this film. He gets punched and knocked down by both Culp and Robertson, is drenched repeatedly in New York City's rainstorms, and is made to be Eileen's fall guy when the whole charade falls apart. Still -- SPOILERS AHEAD -- at the end Taylor's Mike gets to romance Fonda's Eileen, and the film appears headed for a happy ending.
But Mike had to go through hell before he finds his heaven, in the arms of Eileen.
About halfway through "No Small Affair," there's a scene where Laura, the singer played by Demi Moore, belts out a knockout rendition of the Madeira/Dorsey standard, "I'm Glad There Is You." It's a jazzy paean to romance. Watching the movie again recently, I was jolted when Laura sang the line about "underrated treasures", because it's a capsule description of the film itself. "No Small Affair," unheralded in its day and rarely revived since, is itself a treasure, a gem among the gravel of cynical 1980s films.
It's a coming-of-age tale, chronicling the conversion of Charles Cummings (Jon Cryer) from gawky teenager to confident young adult. Nothing new there, except that director Jerry Schatzberg and screenwriters Charles Bolt and Terence Mulcahy have fashioned a charming film that sings with a bittersweet passion about Cummings' wrenching transformation. His catalyst is Laura, the 23-year-old saloon singer played by Demi Moore. With her youthful yet worldly manner, and her scratchy violin voice playing its siren song on Cummings' sensibilities, the lad is a goner. What ensues is a funny and endearing rite-of-passage story with brilliantly clever complications.
Cummings -- he prefers not to be called Charles -- is a 16-year-old amateur photographer who likes to shoot pictures of colorful San Francisco locales. One day, when Laura and a friend wander into camera range, Cummings waves them off, but not before he's snapped a few shots of Laura's beautiful face. Seeing that face later in his proof sheets, Cummings is hooked.
Infatuated beyond reason, Cummings searches for his new beloved. He begins by staking out the dock where he first saw her. After several hours of fruitless waiting, he sulks: "Someone said, if you stand in one spot long enough, the whole world will pass by. I don't know who said that, but he's an idiot."
Fortune finally smiles on Cummings on a night out with his big brother Leonard (Peter Frechette) and Leonard's fiancée Susan (Elizabeth Daily). Armed with a fake ID, Charles joins the pair at a downtown nitery, and there, on the tiny stage, the object of his affections warbles into a hand mike, barely audible above the blare of a heavy- metal band. But the next morning, Cummings' exhilaration at finding Laura is tempered by the news that her band is breaking up, and the lady may wind up out of a job.
Worlds above Cummings in sophistication, Laura nevertheless turns to her new friend for comfort when her career goes sour. One afternoon, she accedes to his request to pose for his camera, and we can feel their deepening friendship as the hours pass by and Cummings shoots roll after roll of film, happily taking pictures of this glowing Circe in front of some of San Francisco's most picturesque landmarks. Night falls, and the pair are tired, hungry, and broke. So they decide to crash a wedding reception and help themselves to food and drink. When they are caught by the father of the bride (Hamilton Camp) and threatened with arrest, Cummings makes a deal with the irascible paterfamilias: Let Laura sing for their supper. She does so... and, to everyone's surprise, including Laura's, her rendition of a classic ballad (the above- mentioned "I'm Glad There is You") is a big hit. Who knew this grunge diva could sing pop?
This revelation inspires Cummings to take drastic action. Rounding up his life's savings, he pays to have Laura's likeness and telephone number posted on taxicabs all over the city. He's hoping the publicity will attract attention to Laura's talents, but at first it seems only to attract heavy-breathing weirdos. Exasperated, Laura pulls her phone out of the wall. But a newswire service picks up the story about the young fan and his generous gesture and prints it, and soon the phones are ringing off the wall at Laura's old place of business. The bar owner, Jake (George Wendt), pleads with Laura to return and sing at his establishment. She agrees, but she is still furious with Cummings.
Laura's "debut", in front of a packed house that includes record company talent agents, is a success. She is offered a recording contract, and the possibility of stardom beckons. But now, in a neat reversal of the first half of the film, the hunted becomes the hunter, as she tries frantically to locate Cummings and thank him.
What makes "No Small Affair" so winning is the delicious array of comedy performers director Schatzberg has united for his film. Jon Cryer, making his first film at age 19, has all the right moves, whether making sheep's eyes at his costar or doing a nifty moonwalk upon receiving a bit of good news. Demi Moore, in her first starring role, makes Laura tender/tough, a savvy woman who combines a strong sense of independence with a most touching vulnerability. (In one climactic scene, Laura wraps her arms around her young benefactor and says, "When I grow up, I want to be just like you.") It wouldn't be the last time Demi Moore enchanted a younger man.
Among the supporting players, none resonates more delightfully than Judy Baldwin as Stephanie, the elegant call girl Cummings meets at his brother's bachelor party. Baldwin's bit is little more than a cameo, but her luminous and hilarious scene with Cryer will be remembered long after most of the other performances are forgotten.
An unalloyed comedy delight. Laura La Plante kicks up her heels as Frances, a shopgirl who closely resembles big movie star Daphne Dix, and as the impetuous movie star herself. One night when the star is frolicking aboard a millionaire's yacht when she should be attending the big premiere of her latest film, her studio's press agent spots Frances and offers her a thousand dollars to pose as Miss Dix at the premiere and throw a few kisses to her loyal fans. The deception works, but it also leads to several humorous complications that keep this frothy comedy bubbling until the final fade-out.
Two outstanding scenes: In one, Miss Dix's husband (John Roche) spots Frances -- as Daphne -- with another male friend. Thinking it's his own wife and that she's cheating, Roche puts Frances over his knee and spanks her. A friend comes to explain the error, but too late to save Frances' hide.
In the closing scene, we can see Frances and Daphne together -- although they are played by the same actress, Laura LaPlante. They have become friends through the turbulent events of that night, and say goodbye with a kiss. Hey, it's Laura LaPlante, kissing HERSELF! Even in 1926, they got this type of scene perfect... and during the friendly kiss, the scene fades to black and the film ends triumphantly.
There are so few musical films produced any more, I was happy to see that "Burlesque" (2010) promised a lot of singing and dancing. It delivers, but don't get your hopes up unless you are hard of hearing.
"Burlesque" is colorful, and the ensemble dancing is great. Christina Aguilera plays Ali (short for Alice), a small-town girl from Iowa who leaves the cornfields for a taste of the big city. She settles in Los Angeles, home of the famous Sunset Strip, where a neo-burlesque club operates under the tutelage of old-time burlesque queen Tess (Cher).
Ali wants desperately to join the colorful dance troupe she sees performing each night on stage, but at first she can get no further than a job as bar waitress.
That Ali will eventually get her shot on stage is a foregone conclusion, but in the meantime you'll have to withstand an almost continuous assault on your eardrums. The music is loud, harsh, and nearly deafening. As I've said, the dancing is just fine; but this is the first musical film I've ever seen that contains not one hummable song. It's true, I can't remember what any of them sound like... except loud.
Aguilera and Cher are accompanied in their acting chores by Stanley Tucci, Peter Gallagher, Alan Cumming, Kristen Bell, and newcomer Julianne Hough.
"All About Steve" (2009) gets consistently rotten reviews by every professional film critic I've read.
And you know what? They're ALL WRONG! Sure, it's no "Gone With the Wind" (1939), but what modern picture is? Sandra Bullock's "All About Steve" showcases Bullock as a peppy, sunny youngish woman with the proverbial heart of gold. The fact that Mary (Bullock) is still single probably has to do with her non-stop sunniness and her constant talking. Yes, those can be annoying habits; but somehow, Sandra Bullock makes them lovable.
Her intended love connection, Steve (Bradley Cooper), is a TV cameraman who does a lot of roaming about the country photoing stories for his news anchor (Thomas Hayden Church). Once Mary catches sight of Steve, it's love at first sight -- for Mary. Impulsively, she creates an entire crossword puzzle for publication that is all about him, and titles it, natch, "All About Steve." She wears miniskirts and go-go red boots almost throughout the whole picture, and there are actually some pro critics who found fault with THAT. Hey, pro guys: Don't you think it would be natural for a girl this whacky to be stuck on 1970s' styles? In all, I thought "All About Steve" was well-developed and superbly well acted, especially by Sandra Bullock and Ken Jeong, who plays the TV guys' news producer.
Sudden thought: All the professional critics threw brickbats at the latest Nia Vardalos flick, "I Hate Valentine's Day" (2009), and all of them cited the fact that in that film Ms. Vardalos is sunny and perky all the way through. This is supposed to be a NEGATIVE quality? Get real. Both the Vardalos and Bullock films are good entertainment. And the critics who pan them for their positive heroines should be shot.
After waiting for years to watch the caper movie "The Whole Nine Yards" (2000), I finally got the chance and was very amused by the film, in spite of the many complications that could exist only in a screenwriter's fevered imagination, not in real life.
That, I think, may be one reason the film was made. It makes no sense; NONE... and yet, director Jonathan Lynn -- who also helmed one of the best comedies of the 1990s, "My Cousin Vinny" -- somehow made this amoral, farcical exercise in tough yucks memorable and funny.
One reason this merry melange works is suggested in Roger Ebert's review. Ebert, the dean of American film critics, wrote:
"We suspect that the actors are barely suppressing giggles. This is the kind of standard material everyone could do in lockstep, but you sense inner smiles, and you suspect the actors are enjoying themselves."
Consider the basic plot. Nick Oseransky -- known affectionately as Oz and played by Matthew Perry -- is a straight-arrow dentist, living in a Montreal suburb with his insufferable French-Canadian wife Sophie (Roseanne Arquette), who not-so-secretly wants her husband dead. Oz, saddled with a bad marriage and huge debts, doesn't need any more stress in his life. So, naturally, here comes more trouble -- in the presence of a professional hit-man, Jimmy Tudeski (Bruce Willis), who moves in next door.
The plot snowballs from there, with Oz going to Chicago (at Sophie's insistence) to rat out Tudeski to his former mob acquaintances (for a "finder's fee"), while at the same time his faithless wife is alerting the mob to whack Oz, so she can collect on his life insurance. Meanwhile, Oz' dental assistant, a beauty named Jill (Amanda Peet), salivates at the thought of meeting a real hit man, for she is attracted to their exciting lifestyle and may want to become a professional hit (wo)man herself someday. She meets Jimmy and tells him of the ongoing double-cross, and he takes her in as his assistant.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, Oz meets not only the mob boss Janni Gogolak (Kevin Pollak), but also Jimmy's estranged wife Cynthia (Natasha Henstridge), a tall beauty who is being held hostage by the Gogolak gang. For no discernible reason other than to keep the plot moving, Oz falls head over heels in love with the statuesque Cynthia. One of the film's funniest lines comes when Oz and Cynthia prepare to go to bed together.
She says: "Be gentle, will you? I haven't made love in five years."
His response: "Neither have I. (pause.) I've been married."
In a thriller/comedy/farce like this, you can expect dozens of interlocking plot strands and several comic pratfalls... and that's just what you get.
In an inspired moment, Jimmy fends off a gang of hoods out to get him by stationing a very naked Jill at the front window. As the gunmen stop and drool at this sudden distraction, Jimmy opens fire, killing all but one of them. Jill then coolly dispatches the last guy, who's still transfixed by the vision of her gorgeous body.
After the carnage, Jimmy calmly says to Jill: "Okay, you can get dressed now."
If you think I've given you all the spoilers in this lethal farce, disabuse yourself of that notion immediately. I've just skimmed the surface. There are many other comical moments, especially those involving Oz' faithless wife Sophie and the very large hit man Frankie Figs (Michael Clarke Duncan), who is the size of an oak tree but, in the end, doesn't know where to pledge his allegiance. You'll have to see it to find out.
And, although "The Whole Nine Yards" involves a lot of homicide, some of it justifiable and some not, it treats the whole killing spree like a big joke. The subject is dead serious, of course. But the cast isn't taking it seriously, they are having a ball with this material. So will you.
The first time I saw "The House Bunny" (2008), two years ago, I noticed that in the montage scene, where the Zeta girls are putting together a photo calendar to raise money, there's a shot of cute Emma Stone over some man's knee, pretending to take a spanking. You know: Just a nice picture to adorn one of the calendar pages. But last night, the film played again on the Starz channel, and I swear that "spanking" shot has been edited out! I know I didn't imagine it. In fact, I downloaded that shot to my computer, two years ago, and I'm looking at it right now. So, WHY was it edited out of the current version of "The House Bunny" being shown on Starz?
Other than that, I enjoyed the general tenor of "The House Bunny" while recognizing that it is no "Gone With the Wind." Anna Faris is adorable in the lead role of Shelley, an ex-Playboy bunny, who has found herself trying to be house mother to a sorority of losers in peril of losing their charter for lack of pledges.
Shelley works patiently with her pack of misfits, turning them one by one into hot-looking babes, capable of attracting not only guys but also new pledges into their sorority. It's all very predictable and not a bit edgy; but the eye candy is nice, and it's a harmless way to spend a couple of hours.
Colin Hanks, son of Tom, has a small role as the guy who's romantically attracted to Shelley and she to him. But he is given little to do, and does just that.
Wickedly funny sitcom, played to the hilt by Cox & Friends
When I heard that Courteney Cox, the comely Monica from NBC's megahit "Friends", was launching a new show this year in which she plays a 40ish divorcée on the prowl for young men, I thought: Wow! Little Monica as a midlife hellcat! This has got to be either the best show ever, or the worst show ever!
Fortunately, Ms. Cox and the writers of "Cougar Town" know how to be funny and edgy at the same time. Courteney's new show, set in a south Florida beach town, features her as the newly divorced Jules Cobb, who's trying desperately to be sexy and win over a new generation of boys... er, men.
Mrs. Robinson she ain't. Jules is not a predator so much as she is a wishful thinker. The men she attracts -- all of them good-looking, hunky Florida guys -- are usually dimmer than a 25-watt bulb, but still she keeps on trying.
Her two best friends, Ellie (Christa Miller) and Laurie (Busy Phillips), align with Jules to help her score with the guys. Ellie is married to a faithful guy whom she tries to humiliate at every chance, while Laurie is a younger (and blonder) version of Jules, hoping to meet Mr. Right... but not before she has bedded a lot of Mr. Wrongs.
The dialogue is sharp, and crackles with 21st century wit. One example shows us Jules, sitting in an outdoor restaurant with her current lover, with whom she is having a mild dispute. Her friendly rival, Barbara (played bitingly by Carolyn Hennesy) sits at the next table, a few feet away. Barbara leans towards Jules and says:
"If you're not going to eat that, can I have it?"
Jules, startled, says: "My omelet?"
Barbara: "No. HIM!"
Yes, it's that kind of a show. But it's all light-hearted and joyous. Let the good times roll.
Don't listen to the haters, this is a good, funny movie
"My Life in Ruins" (2009) is Nia Vardalos' attempt to recapture some of the magic of her debut film, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" (2002). To judge from what the professional critics have written, "My Life in Ruins" is a dud, a waste of time, a disaster of a film.
You know what? They are... ALL... WRONG!
"My Life in Ruins" is funny, romantic, engrossing, and is not boring for even one second.
The pro critics apparently feel this film is comparable to a standard TV rom-com, and thus not worthy to appear on the big screen. That's bull. "My Life in Ruins" is engaging and entertaining throughout its 90-minute length.
Nia Vardalos plays Georgia, a Greek-American who is working in the land of her ancestors as a tour guide. She guides tourists from all over the world to the various marvels of the ancient Grecian ruins, the Acropolis, the Pantheon, and all that. We get to see these wonders in all their glory, in beautifully photographed tableaux captured in Technicolor by cinematographer José Luis Alcaine.
Georgia has received only "average" ratings from her last few tour groups, which is why she is now assigned a group of scruffy Americans, larcenous Brits, and incomprehensible Aussies and a tour bus that is on its last legs... er, tires.
The first part of her tour is typically disastrous, with everything that could possibly go wrong doing exactly that. But about halfway through, an elderly American tourist (Richard Dreyfuss) gives Georgia some advice about how to build her "mojo" and... voila! Georgia becomes the most jubilant tour guide in Greece. Her customers come to love her, because she has changed for the better. Instead of reciting dull, boring statistics at every stop, she changes the script and describes the magnificent Greek statuary in more "colorful" (some would say sexy) terms. This perks up the passengers, and saves the day for Georgia and her customers.
The pro reviewers seem to be saying: Ah, that's been done before. Um, yeah, it has. Remember the Book of Ecclesiastes, written about 500 years before the birth of Christ? In it, you will read that "there is nothing new under the sun." So, if there are only so many plots available for a scenarist to work with, the best move is to make it SEEM original, make it funny, make it slightly erotic, make it ENTERTAINING. And that's exactly what happens here.
Oh, and in case you didn't catch it: Rita Wilson, aka Mrs. Tom Hanks, one of the producers of this film, gets a cameo scene as Dreyfuss' deceased wife... in a dream sequence, of course.
In my humble opinion, "My Life in Ruins" is one of the best films of 2009.
Having read all the user comments regarding "La Matriarca" (1968), I am dumbfounded that none of the readers -- NOT ONE -- cared to mention what I consider its KEY SCENE. There have been six (6) user comments for this film before mine, and all of them discuss the sexual kinks in it; certainly there are plenty of those. But nobody seems to want to talk about the cathartic scene, where Jean Louis Trintignant puts Mimi (Catherine Spaak) over his knee and spanks her as if she were a naughty little girl.
That spanking is purgative for Mimi. It releases her from her sexual inhibitions and her desire to dominate men as she feels she was dominated by her late husband. She and Dr. DeMarchi (Trintignant) realize their love for each other, and they marry. Her sexual adventurism is a thing of the past, as they settle down together.
But all of the user comments were written in the 21st century, and were no doubt influenced by the prevailing feminist moral code. It is now considered ungentlemanly to spank a grown woman, in spite of the fact that for hundreds of years before the current era, spankings were common and generally accepted by the public. A large number of mainstream films attest to that sensibility.
At any rate, "La Matriarca" (known in the U.S. as "The Libertine") gives us a delicious show of what happens when a young and beautiful woman becomes a widow and then discovers that her late husband had kept a love nest where he spent time with other women and unleashed his sadistic instincts.
The home movies she finds in that apartment -- where all the walls and ceilings are made of mirrors -- show women being whipped, punched, beaten, and subjected to numerous unimaginable humiliations. NONE of those humiliations, however, include spanking. That would be too tame.
But not too tame for Dr. DeMarchi, as he realizes that Mimi -- whom he has grown to love -- needs to be purged of the bitterness that is poisoning her life. He proposes marriage to Mimi, but she doesn't say yes and she doesn't say no; to help her make up her mind, he puts her over his knee and spanks her. As I said at the outset, that is the key scene of this film. It should not be ignored in future reviews.
By the way: To disabuse you of any thoughts that I might be wrong about considering the spanking as "the key scene," consider buying the DVD. And notice the still that appears repeatedly, every time you try to change the disc features. Yep, it shows Mimi getting spanked. Apparently the disc producers consider that the "key scene" too.
In the early 20th century, Audrey Munson made her movie debut in Thanhouser's "Inspiration" (1915), essentially playing herself: an artist's model. A year later, she appeared in another film, "Purity" (1916).
What is remarkable about these films is that in both, Miss Munson appears in the nude. This is in the nineteen-teens, remember. There were censorship boards then, run by the states rather than the film industry... and of course they always sought to keep the movie screens free of smut.
And yet, both "Inspiration" and "Purity" were approved for public exhibition... because the nudity in them was artistic and non-erotic. I don't know if that standard has ever been applied, to any other film; or rather, I didn't know, until I chanced across "Sheena" (1984).
Browsing through the channels one evening, I found this film, starring Tanya Roberts as Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. "I'll give it a chance," I figured. So my wife and I watched as Ms. Roberts, clad only in a leather bikini-like garment, went about her adventures in the jungles of darkest Africa.
Then, out of nowhere, there's a scene where she stops by a lake to bathe. I figured she would just jump in, since she's already wearing practically nothing anyway, right? Wrong!
Before we knew what was happening, Tanya Roberts slipped out of her garment and entered the lake nude, in all God's glory. I mean it when I say I didn't see it coming. Most of the time when you see nudity on the screen, you kinda know it's coming, but this was a real surprise.
I checked the program guide for the MPAA rating. Gotta be an R, right? Wrong again! Sheena was given a PG rating -- not a PG-13, not an R, not an NC-17. It's a PG, meaning any youngster, of any age, can see the movie without an adult. And, come to think of it, the "Parental Guidance" suggested by PG is probably because of some battle scenes in the movie.
Thinking back, I wonder: Is this the first time since the two Audrey Munson films in 1915 and 1916, that on-screen adult nudity has been allowed, with no restrictions whatsoever?
I'm not a big fan of nude scenes, and I don't seek them out. But this one, in Sheena, has to be the most innocent one I've ever seen.
In Lizzie Borden's "Love Crimes" (1992), Sean Young plays a gritty D.A. in Atlanta. She's a loner who gets herself too deeply involved in the case of a man (Patrick Bergin) who poses as a famous fashion photographer and seduces women, takes compromising photos of them, then leaves them.
Sean Young's tough loner decides to enter the phony shutterbug's life by posing as his prey, intending to bring him to justice. They meet, they have sex, then the next thing she knows, she is over his lap, getting spanked. (Note: The spanking scene is only in the "unrated" version of this film. The R-rated version omits it and several other scenes that would make the plot more lucid.) This psychological thriller includes several scenes of female nudity and disturbing images, such as Bergin chasing one of his victims around the room, flailing at her with a riding crop.
As a thriller, "Love Crimes" is at its best when Sean Young is playing her cat-and-mouse game with Bergin, trying to catch him in an incriminating act. It's unfortunate that the film doesn't end, it just stops. That's true. Director Lizzie Borden may have just run out of story to tell, but after 92 minutes the credits roll, and we are left with a puzzling "what just happened?" bewilderment.
The unfolding of Young's plan is played out in engaging style, but the lack of a coherent ending will be a turn-off for some viewers.