Thursday, January 31, 2019

Brexit (2019) * * *

Brexit Movie Review

Directed by:  Toby Haynes

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Kinnear, John Heffernan, Richard Goulding, Simon Paisley Day, Lucy Russell, Paul Ryan

Watching Brexit is like tearing a scab off of a wound.   The wound is now exposed before it is fully healed, and process has to start again from square one.    It doesn't matter if you aren't British when you see Brexit.    The 2016 campaign for the UK to leave the European Union eerily mirrors the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, with many of the same themes at play.    Fear, check.   Immigration is going to be the death of us, check.   Unsubstantiated accusations, check.    Social media databases plumbed and targeted, check.   A nation's voters ultimately voting against their best interests, check. A battle which got ugly and sometimes violent?   Definitely. 

How did Brexit come to pass?    The movie Brexit tells us how.   It is troublesome to understand that even though we have access to more information than ever before, people seem less informed than ever before.    The Remain side, led by then-Prime Minister David Cameron's director of communications Craig Oliver (Kinnear), spread their message through substance and facts, while the Leave side, piloted by political strategist Dominic Cummings (Cumberbatch), weaponizes fear, xenophobia, unsubstantiated claims, and racism to plead its case.   

Brexit is not a good vs. evil story, however.   It explains in fast-paced detail how the Leave side controlled the game, with the Remain side seemingly on the defensive and catch-up at nearly every turn.   As Oliver puts it, "we keep putting out fires the Leave side starts,"   Does this sound familiar?   The Leave message ultimately prevailed by a slim margin, but it seems the UK has been dealing with buyer's remorse ever since.    Three years later, an exit strategy to leave the EU is still not in place.  
But, that is of little consequence to Cummings, who as Brexit opens is looking for a job and trying to distance himself from the Brexit campaign.  

Cumberbatch's performance reminds us of his stellar work in The Imitation Game (2014).  In both films, he rubs his superiors the wrong way with his coarse manner and arrogance, but he knows his stuff and his message of "Let's Take Back Control," resonates with enough UK voters to win the referendum.    It is ironic that Cummings seemingly distrusts and dislikes most people, but finds a way to understand their fears and disenfranchisement.    What are they disenfranchised about?    It doesn't matter.    Being so is enough to swing the vote, and a social media database company opens up access to millions of unregistered voters to the Leave side, many of which are open to exploitation.

But, where Brexit stumbles is how it seems to want to paint Cummings as having something of a conscience.    Does he have one?    The movie clumsily suggests so, but it feels more like the movie hedging its bets, as if we would not be able to tolerate a story with an amoral main character.    The movie's attempts to humanize Cummings is a weakness, but not a fatal one.    Brexit is at its best when it confronts the overall feeling which allowed such a referendum to pass even though it is against the best interest of voters.    If there is anything the Brexit and Trump campaigns have taught us, is that voters are sometimes swayed by emotion over logic and fact.    Trump somehow convinced enough voters that he is the champion of the working class, and the Leave campaign convinced UK voters that setting a course on a ship bound for nowhere was also a good idea.    How's that working out so far? 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Dave (1993) * * *

Dave Movie Review

Directed by:  Ivan Reitman

Starring:  Kevin Kline, Frank Langella, Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Dunn, Ben Kingsley, Ving Rhames, Laura Linney, Charles Grodin

In our currently combative political climate, watching Dave again feels like a breath of fresh air, and perhaps a fairy tale.    Dave is a political satire which doesn't mention liberalism, conservatism, Democrats, Republicans, or immigration.   The problems plaguing the nation in the time of Dave are financially driven and fixable.    How do we save shelters from closing?   By getting rid of programs which spend millions on ad campaigns so "people can feel better about cars they've already bought,"   Or maybe we should stop paying contractors on time for work they haven't completed.    Sounds reasonable enough.   Dave was made during, if not a simpler time, a time in which the responsibilities of the presidency were taken more seriously.

We first meet the stoic, charisma-free President Bill Mitchell (Kline), who sleeps in a separate bedroom at the White House from his wife Ellen (Mitchell), and, besides being engulfed in a savings and loan scandal, suffers a debilitating stroke during sex with one of his assistants.    While keeping Mitchell's incapacitation a secret from the American people, Chief of Staff Bob Alexander (Langella) hatches a plan:   Quickly find a lookalike to play the part of the President, and Alexander can pull the strings and run the country from behind the scenes.   The last thing Alexander wants is to hand the country over to "that boy scout" Vice-President Nance (Kingsley), who he plans to frame for the savings and loan fiasco.   

The lookalike falls from the sky in the form of a temp staff agency head named Dave Kovic (also Kline), who was hired as a stand-in when the Prez is having his tryst.    After some coaxing, Dave agrees to play the part of President permanently.   It's easy enough to avoid Ellen, since Mitchell rarely sees her, and things go as planned...until Dave actually wants to use his role to actually do some good for the country and have some fun at the same time.    This causes a slow, intense burn for Alexander, played with appropriate, sinister teeth-gnashing by Langella.    His monster has now grown out of his control.  

Naturally, Ellen won't stay on the sidelines.   Her passion project is a local homeless shelter for children which will soon be closed due to budget cuts.   She confronts Dave about the matter while he is taking a shower, which one would think would lead to discovery, but doesn't.   Dave promises to save the shelter, and hires his accountant friend Murray (Grodin, in a funny cameo) to help him sort out the budget.   As Murray pores over the confusing federal government books, Murray observes, "If I ran my business like this, I'd be out of business,"

Dave is satirical to be sure, but warm and with a heart.   The movie, directed by Canadian Ivan Reitman, still believes in utilizing the power of the presidency to do good.    The American people put their trust in the President to make their lives better, to paraphrase Dave during an important speech.   Kline brings just the right amount of everyman and decency to the role, with Weaver being his match.   The inevitable romantic complications are less interesting than the main event, and the final scene brings about a payoff which would lead to rumblings and questions by anyone with half a brain.  

However, the bulk of Dave fights for the positives a President can bring to enrich the lives of his (or one day her) constituents.    People in positions of power have that duty.   A President's job isn't simply to figure out how he will be re-elected in four years.   Even though the film was made twenty-five years ago, its message is more welcome now than ever before.

Monday, January 28, 2019

The 25th Annual Screen Actor's Guild Awards: Some Thoughts

At least this broadcast is kept at two hours, and while Megan Mullally hosted, after her initial monologue we forget she was the host.   She reappeared in a couple of segments which fell flat, and that was it for the very talented Will & Grace star.    This year's Oscars telecast is unlikely to have a host, and that is just fine with me.    Please, don't assume nature abhors a vacuum and fill the void with film clip montages.   Thank you.

The 25th SAG Awards yielded some thoughts about the upcoming Oscars.    The SAG awards are sometimes a decent barometer as to which way the Academy will lean in its acting categories.    The Best Motion Picture Ensemble is supposed to be the Best Picture of the SAG Awards, but it tends to go to the movie with the largest cast.    Black Panther won the Ensemble award, but don't count on it winning Best Picture.   

*  A Star Is Born's chances for Best Picture and any acting awards are dead in the water.   The film netted four nominations, the most for any film this year, but came away empty-handed.    Bradley Cooper again had to sit quietly and pretend to be happy that Rami Malek took home a Best Actor trophy instead of him.    Lady Gaga is clearly not going to best Glenn Close, and Mahershala Ali is on too much of an awards season roll to be tripped up at the Oscars by Sam Elliott.   Roma was not nominated for Best Ensemble, and A Star Is Born didn't even come away with that prize in Roma's absence.

*  Rami Malek may be more of a serious Best Actor contender than I realized.    I picked Christian Bale to win the Oscar for Best Actor and I stick by it, but Malek now has two major acting prizes.    Did Malek suddenly seize Bale's momentum?   

*  Malek played Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, but lip-synched the musical performances.   Bradley Cooper played guitar and sang in A Star Is Born, and is now probably wondering aloud why he tried so hard after seeing Malek win again.    Bohemian Rhapsody's success in awards season continues to baffle me.    It plays more like a safe TV-movie of the week about Mercury than providing him with much life or insight.    Cooper's performance was much more resonant, although neither actor was as memorable as Viggo Mortensen's Tony Lip in Green Book.

*  The Best Supporting Female Actor award went to Emily Blunt for A Quiet Place, even though she was shut out of any Oscar nominations this year.    Oscar frontrunner Regina King was not nominated for a SAG Award oddly enough, and neither Amy Adams, Emma Stone, or Rachel Weisz, all up for the Oscar, benefited from King's absence with a trophy here.   This solidifies my belief in King's eventual Oscar win.

*   There is a lot of union business discussed in the acceptance speeches and the address by Screen Actor's Guild President Gabrielle Carteris.    The audience at home relates to this union talk as much as they do when winners thank their teams and agents.    A big thanks to Patricia Arquette for reminding actors to make copies of their call sheets so they can be paid right.   Am I watching an employee union meeting at a factory or an awards show?   

Serenity (2019) *

Serenity Movie Review

Directed by:  Stephen Knight

Starring:  Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jason Clarke, Djimon Hounsou, Diane Lane, Jeremy Strong, Rafael Sayegh

It now makes sense why Serenity's trailers were so vague in an age in which they reveal almost everything about a movie but the end credits.    But, the trailers aren't hiding anything deep or next level, instead it is concealing just what an odd duck of a movie this is.    No worries.   The opening weekend box-office grosses suggest Serenity won't be around long enough to be discovered by audiences.   It will be available at Redbox quicker than you can say Serenity.

Matthew McConaughey stars and continues his string of duds since his Oscar-winning role in Dallas Buyers Club (2013).    The exception is Interstellar, but only barely.   Free State of Jones (2016) and White Boy Rick (2018) failed to impress, and now we have Serenity, which reunites McConaughey with his Interstellar co-star Hathaway and leaves both looking adrift in a bizarre story.   McConaughey plays Baker Dill, a chain-smoking, rum-guzzling fishing boat captain who is so intent on catching a massive, elusive tuna that he takes over the fishing line from his customers who pay hundreds of dollars to go deep sea fishing on his boat.    Baker's first mate Duke (Hounsou) not unreasonably objects to Baker wanting to catch the tuna himself, because this makes the paying customers mad.    The tuna is Baker's Moby Dick, for reasons revealed later if not exactly made clear.

The island on which Baker resides is seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and everyone knows everyone's business, which is discussed at the one bar on the island or in the local bait shop.    Baker lives in what looks like a converted mini-mobile, and "takes showers" by jumping naked off a cliff into the sea below.    When Baker is short on funds, he becomes a trick for a lonely woman (Lane), who has an off-putting habit of wearing a robe while having sex.   She pays him, and longingly looks out the window awaiting Baker's return.    What role will she play in the events to come?    None, as it seems.    Lane's character is completely unnecessary, although she won't be the only one.

Baker is seemingly an Iraq war veteran who came home to find his wife Karen (Hathaway) with another man and he lit out for this remote island while pining to see his son again.    One night, Karen reappears and offers Baker $10 million to kill her abusive husband (Clarke), who appears to be a rich asshole with a nasty streak just waiting to rear its ugly head.   Baker balks at this proposal, while Duke flat out tries to talk him out of it and a bespectacled, buttoned-up man in a suit tries to track down Baker and keeps missing him by twenty seconds.

Because the people behave strangely and the island is like no place on Earth, it is not difficult to realize all is not what it seems.    We see cutaway shots of Baker's son pounding away furiously on a computer keyboard while his mother and her no-good new husband argue in the next room.    But, when the twist is revealed, and then another twist on top of that one, I was aghast at the silliness of it all.    Serenity is maddening in its attempt to attach some deep meaning to these events and characters, and simply keeps burying itself in stupidity.  

Once everything is sorted out, it becomes understood Serenity is just biding its time until it can spring its Big Reveal on you, so I stopped caring.    Why bother investing my energy into something which I know isn't really real anyway?    The film's ending is supposed to be an emotional high, but how could it be based on how things turned out?    Are we expected to even care about anything by that point?    Serenity is constructed around its plot twists, without any thought to how ludicrous and telegraphed they are.    If Serenity is the best work McConaughey and Hathaway could find, McConaughey should stick to Lincoln car ads, while Hathaway should inquire as to whether a sequel to Les Miserables is somehow in the works. 

Roma (2018) * 1/2

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Directed by:  Alfonso Cuaron

Starring:  Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Marco Graf, Diego Cortina Autrey

It took me a couple of days to gather my thoughts about Roma.   I read the glowing, almost genuflecting critical reviews and I started to wonder if something was wrong with me because I missed the boat.   Roma succeeds in authentically capturing a time and place near and dear to director Alfonso Cuaron's heart.    There is no doubt a personal attachment to Roma for Cuaron, but for me the movie wasn't just slow, it stopped.    Roma has a "you had to be there" feel to it, like someone telling a personal story or joke he or she no doubt thinks is hilarious or meaningful, but you sit there and nervously smile along for fear of revealing your boredom.

I have no issues with stories which quietly build characters and reveal their personal natures in dramatic ways.    But, Roma is stilted in the drama department.    We see things happen, but they are about as involving as an acquaintance's Facebook video clips posted on someone's timeline.   The person who shot them may adore the subjects, but all you see is people engaging in activity who have little if any connection to you.    Roma is more professionally photographed, but the effect is still the same.

Roma is not a movie about plot as much as it is a document.    The focus is Cleo (Aparicio), the maid for a well-off family in the Roma section of Mexico City in the early 1970's.   The family itself is undergoing some underlying tension due to a largely absent father who goes away on business seemingly for weeks at a time.    Cleo is considered part of the family, but that doesn't mean she won't be chastised for failing to scoop up dog poop in the driveway or keeping lights on.    Cleo herself soon becomes pregnant after hooking up with a friend of her cousin's.    The baby's father flees from her life right after she breaks the news to him, and she will soon face the prospect of being a single mother.    The movie soon drifts along quietly, and the lack of a score soon becomes noticeable, which I'm sure was Cuaron's intention. 

This may sound like the setup for a rich family drama, but Roma never builds to that or even a satisfactory payoff.    Shot in lush black and white cinematography, Cuaron adores the visuals to be sure, but the subjects are a crushing bore.    The reviews I've read for Roma highlight Cuaron's visual flair and emotional power, and I agree with the former while being completely not feeling the latter.    Roma means a great number of things to many people, but I can only speak for myself when I say the movie works aesthetically while failing on other levels.    Cuaron won an Oscar for directing the gripping space drama Gravity (2013), and is a skilled filmmaker, but Roma didn't resonate with me as clearly as it did others. 

Friday, January 25, 2019

Saints-Rams Refereeing Controversy: SMH

Yes.   Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman clearly committed pass interference on New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis on the 3rd and 10 pass play with 1:49 left in the fourth quarter of a 20-20 game.   And yes, no flag was to be found anywhere on the field.    It was an egregious no-call, which cost the Saints an automatic first down at the spot of the foul and a chance to continue to drive for a game-winning touchdown or at least a game-winning field goal attempt with little or no time left on the clock.   But, did it cost them the game?   No.  

I know this is not a popular opinion; nor one which people, especially Saints fans, want to hear, but the game's outcome was still firmly in the Saints control as it became clear the Saints would not benefit from a pass interference call.    But the Saints kicked a go-ahead field goal which put them up 23-20, but then the Rams drove down the field into Greg Zuerlein's field goal range and by the end of the fourth quarter, the game was tied at 23.    The Saints then won the coin toss and the offense had first crack at the ball in overtime, but Drew Brees threw a costly interception which the Rams turned into a game-winning 57-yard field goal by Zuerlein which sent the Rams to Super Bowl LIII and the Saints and their fans to misery.   And insanity.

Saints coach Sean Payton was furious, and continued to express his displeasure to referee Bill Vinovich and his crew even while the game was still going on.    As a poker player, I know what it is like to suffer a bad loss on a hand and go on tilt.   That is what Payton did.   His comment after the game, "We will never get over this," was very revealing.   He sure didn't get over it while the game was still happening, and it cost the Saints.     The Saints went on tilt, and never recovered from the bad break.    Again, I know this is not a popular opinion, but the results speak for themselves.

So, what has happened since?   Two Saints fans filed federal lawsuits against the NFL, while many more demanded Commissioner Roger Goodell order the final 1:49 of the game to be played again.    I'm sure he will get right on that.    Saints fans want to hold a parade to honor the Saints anyway even though they did not win the NFC title.    Louisiana's governor and a member of the House of Representatives from Louisiana called for a congressional hearing.   What, we don't have more pressing matters the House should be attending to right about now?   

Let me be clear by stating the refereeing crew made an indefensible non-call of an obvious pass interference penalty.   The league office will likely take action against the official who failed to throw the flag.    Maybe there is some merit to looking into adding pass interference penalties as part of the review process.    I don't think it is wise to stop the action every time there is contact between defenders and receivers because the game will take five hours.    And don't tell me it is worth it to have a game be five hours long as long as the calls are right.   Baloney.   Let's see how patient you are when you have to sit through a five-hour game.   You can add pass interference to the list of reviewable plays, but let the coaches determine if they really want to throw a challenge flag before having it reviewed and potentially burning a time out on a failed review.   I don't feel adding five more challenges to each coach is the way to right this supposed wrong.   

But, are we really going to say the Saints have never benefitted from refs keeping flags in their pockets?    Earlier in the same game, the refs missed a face masking penalty against the Saints on Rams quarterback Jared Goff which would've added 15 yards to their drive.    I wasn't hearing about congressional hearings when that happened.    Refereeing is an inexact science.    Calls are missed.  Flags are sometimes thrown when they shouldn't be and not thrown when they should be.   Teams benefit from this and are sometimes burned by it.   It balances out during the course of a game or a season.   

It is easier to blame a handful of referees for heartbreak than it is an entire team you love.    The Saints had a lead erased twice during the NFC Championship game, including a 13-0, 20-10, and 23-20 lead.    The fans are champing at the bit to hear the league office comment on the matter.   What could they say but the call was blown?    What confession would fans like to hear which would assuage their outrage?    Assuming we add pass interference to reviewable plays, then should be add holding?   Face masks?    Blocks in the back?   

The Saints caught a bad break.   No doubt.   At some point, they likely benefitted from getting away with a penalty also.    We can't be calling for Congressional hearings every time hometown fans experience heartbreak from perceived outside forces.    In nearly every circumstance, there is still plenty of game to be played following the error.    Bad breaks happen.   Errors suck, but there are errors and always will be in the world of sports.    But, Congress has enough on its plate without worrying about why the New Orleans Saints aren't playing in next week's Super Bowl in Atlanta.    

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Overboard (1987) * * * 1/2

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Directed by:  Garry Marshall

Starring:  Kurt Russell, Goldie Hawn, Edward Hermann, Katherine Helmond, Michael Hagerty, Hector Elizondo, Roddy McDowall

While the 2018 remake of Overboard had its charms, the original 1987 comedy works just that much better.    Russell and Hawn have undeniable chemistry, not surprising considering their decades-long relationship, and the supporting cast doesn't just stand around acting grateful to be in the same scenes as Russell and Hawn, they create some hilarity of their own.   

The plot is sly fun.   A working-class carpenter named Dean (Russell) is contracted to build a new shoe closet aboard the yacht owned by the haughty, filthy-rich, and bored Joanna Staten (Hawn).   Dean finishes the work, but Joanna is not satisfied because of some ticky-tack reasons and, after a verbal dispute, she tosses Dean's tools and Dean himself overboard.    He is out his money and his tools, and plots revenge, although how he would accomplish isn't known until fate and opportunity intervene.

Soon after, Joanna falls overboard while at sea and swims to shore with amnesia.   She has no idea who she is, but is still insufferable to the local hospital staff.    Dean sees the story on television and has a plan:   He will pretend to be her husband and take her home to have her work off her debt to him and make her life hell.    Dean, a single father with four out-of-control kids, lives in a pig sty of a house which looks like it has never been cleaned, and can barely contain his grin when he gives Joanna a laundry list of house chores. 

Since Overboard is a romantic comedy, we know Dean and Joanna will fall in love, but it is done more or less logically and touchingly.   Joanna learns how the other half lives, and becomes a better person for it.    Even Dean learns from the experience to be a better father and a potentially fitting partner for Joanna, if the whole lie about their relationship wasn't in the way.    Joanna's husband Grant (Hermann) meanwhile, takes off after learning of Joanna's dilemma and parties on the yacht.    He only reenters the scene when Joanna's even wealthier mother (Helmond) forces him to find her or be cut off.    Also on the scene helping Dean keep up the false front is his pal Bad Billy Pratt (Hagerty), who realizes more quickly than Dean that he and Joanna belong together.

Overboard transcends simply being a romantic comedy and takes it a step further.   It is just as interested in having its characters grow, mature, and transform into better people.    As Joanna's long-suffering butler Andrew, Roddy McDowall has a scene with Joanna which rings absolutely true, and nails the point home.    Director Garry Marshall, who made other successful comedies about familial relationships like The Flamingo Kid (1984) and Nothing in Common (1986), makes extra effort to make Overboard something special and lasting. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

2019 Oscar Nominations and Predictions

The Academy Award Nominations were announced this morning.    To be frank, 2018 was a lean year for movies.   Only three of the eight best picture nominees this year received a three-star rating or better in my reviews.    Those movies are:  A Star Is Born, Green Book, and BlackkKlansman.   Green Book is by far the best of the best picture nominees.   Please note my predictions are not based on my reviews or my preferences, but my opinion as to what the Academy will choose as its winners in each category. 

Best Picture: 

Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
A Star Is Born

Prediction:  Roma.   To my surprise, Bradley Cooper was passed over in the Best Director category, as was Peter Farrelly for Green Book.    This severely hampers their chances at a Best Picture win, because only four times in the history of the Oscars has a movie won Best Picture without a corresponding Best Director nomination.    The last time this occurred was Argo (2012).   This puts Roma in the frontrunner position.   I'm sensing A Star Is Born will win Best Song and maybe a technical award or two, but shut out of the big prizes.   Green Book will likely take home two, maybe three awards, but not Best Picture despite its recent PGA win.

Best Director: 

Spike Lee (BlackkKlansman)
Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War)
Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)
Alfonso Cuaron (Roma)
Adam McKay (Vice)

Prediction:  Alfonso Cuaron.   With a Golden Globe and Critics' Choice win already bagged, an almost certain Directors' Guild award and an Oscar is in Cuaron's future.    He previously won Best Director for Gravity (2013). 

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Christian Bale (Vice)
Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)
Willem Dafoe (At Eternity's Gate)
Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

Prediction:  Christian Bale.   A Best Supporting Actor winner for 2010's The Fighter, Bale has already taken home a Golden Globe and Critics' Choice Award for his portrayal of Dick Cheney.   Bale morphed his look and body, thanks to makeup and a surely poor diet, into that of the former VP.    The Academy likes that.    Your opinion may vary as to whether the physical transformation equates to a great performance. 

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)
Glenn Close (The Wife)
Olivia Colman (The Favourite)
Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born)
Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Prediction:   Glenn Close.   This is her seventh nomination and first since 2011's Albert Nobbs.   This will be her year.    Oh, and her performance is really good also.  

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Adam Driver (BlackkKlansman)
Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)
Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Sam Rockwell (Vice)

Prediction:  Mahershala Ali.   There may be a temptation to predict Sam Elliott because of the sentimental vote.   This is Elliott's first nomination in a small role, but Ali's performance won't be denied in a mostly strong category. 

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams (Vice)
Marina de Tavira (Roma)
Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Emma Stone (The Favourite)
Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Prediction:  Regina King.   King won a Golden Globe and Critics' Choice Award for her role, and I can't bet against her in this category.    Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are previous winners, with Amy Adams securing her sixth nomination.    She will have to wait for at least her seventh to be named an Oscar winner.

Best Original Screenplay

The Favourite
First Reformed
Green Book

Prediction:  Green Book.   Despite the controversy surrounding the film, (i.e. criticism of the film's veracity by members of Dr. Don Shirley's family...surprise, surprise), Green Book will win a tight contest.  

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
If Beale Street Could Talk
A Star Is Born

Prediction:   If Beale Street Could Talk.   Barry Jenkins shared the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 2016 for Moonlight.    I anticipate Jenkins takes the award solo this year.   A dark horse may be for BlackkKlansman, which would net Spike Lee his first competitive Oscar.   He already has a Governor's Award from the Academy.

Splash (1984) * * *

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Directed by:  Ron Howard

Starring:  Tom Hanks, Daryl Hannah, John Candy, Eugene Levy, Dody Goodman, Richard B. Shull, Howard Morris

Alan Bauer (Hanks) is a successful New York grocer who is unlucky in love until he meets Madison (Hannah), who is beautiful, sweet, and perfect in nearly every way except she is a mermaid.    She has fins when in the water, but out of the water she has very shapely legs.    She saves Alan's life one day after he falls out of a boat on Cape Cod and then, after falling for him, she tracks him back to New York.    He thinks a goddess made just for him fell from the sky and into his life, but this isn't quite the case.    At first, she can't speak at all, but learns by watching television in a single afternoon, and Alan is perplexed when Madison asks for salt in her bathwater and devours a lobster, shell and all, at dinner.   But, hey, she's a babe, so such matters can be dismissed.

Splash is a sweet high-concept comedy which one would think could write itself.    Alan and Madison have chemistry and are nice people, but Splash spreads the laughs around with the supporting players, including John Candy as Alan's loyal, sex-crazed brother Freddie and Eugene Levy as Dr. Walter Kornbluth, who also encountered Madison while conducting underwater research on Cape Cod and wants to prove to the scientific world that mermaids exist.    Candy provides Freddie some depth at times you would least expect it.    After all, he once brought a date to one of his own weddings.   And Kornbluth, even after succeeding in his quest, feels some unexpected guilt at ruining Alan and Madison's happiness in the name of scientific credibility and subjecting her to heartless scientists who only want to see what makes her tick.

Splash is among Ron Howard's first films, and this is the genesis of his mostly excellent directing career.    He proved quickly to be an adept comedy director, and soon he delved into drama with equal success, culminating in a Best Director Oscar win for 2001's A Beautiful Mind.    Splash could've taken the low road and lazily went along trying to bilk laughs out of its concept, but Howard and screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel infuse some sweetness and charm into the proceedings, making as funny as romance as can be expected between a man and a half-fish. 

Stan & Ollie (2018) * * * 1/2

Stan & Ollie Movie Review

Directed by:  Jon S. Baird

Starring:  John C. Reilly, Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda, Rufus Jones, Danny Huston

The bulk of Stan & Ollie takes place sixteen years after Laurel and Hardy's heyday, when they were among the biggest box office draws in Hollywood and hanging out on yachts with other equally famous stars on weekends.    In an extended tracking shot, we see Stan Laurel (Coogan) and his comic partner Oliver Hardy (Reilly) walking to the soundstage for their latest shoot.    They discuss Oliver's money woes due to two divorces and losing at the track, while Stan presses Oliver to demand a raise from their tight-fisted studio head Hal Roach (Huston), who clearly doesn't appreciate their value to him.    We concisely learn more about the duo in this five-minute opening shot than we would if the movie took us back to the beginning and wasted precious screen time showing us the early years.  

Stan demands a raise, while Oliver tries to mollify the situation and keep whatever income he has flowing in.    Hal gets rid of Stan, and teams Oliver up with another actor assuming he could interchange Laurel and Hardy and still have a hit.    This is referred to disdainfully as "the elephant picture", which turned out to be a flop and pushes Laurel and Hardy into obscurity.    Sixteen years later, the comic duo reunites for a British stage tour, and the sparse audiences indicate the names Laurel and Hardy don't have the drawing power they used to.    Their manager, Bernard Delfont (Jones) suggests promoting themselves as business openings and judging beauty contests.   Stan and Oliver balk at first, because they are Laurel and Hardy after all, and such things are beneath them, but Stan desperately wants financing for a comeback movie and thinks they should do whatever it takes to make the tour a hit.

Stan and Oliver perform their classic movie bits onstage, but there is clearly tension underneath the gags.    Stan thinks Oliver was disloyal for staying with Hal Roach and teaming with someone else, while Oliver thinks Stan only cares about their brand and not him.    The tour rousts up old wounds and takes a toll of Oliver's fading health, and the arrival of their respective wives doesn't help matters.   Each spouse is fiercely protective of their respective husbands, and nurse some grudges of their own.   But, why Stan & Ollie works so well is how much we see their affection for each other.   They love each other, but can they stop being so stubborn and admit it before it's too late?

Coogan and Reilly are masterful comic actors who are not impersonating Laurel and Hardy, but embodying them in every way.    They have palpable chemistry together, but each creates a distinguishable person away from their professional lives.    We care about them individually and as a duo.    We cringe when they perform their hearts out in front of half-empty houses who laugh heartily, but Stan and Oliver wish there were more of them in the seats.    It is obvious the movie deal won't go as expected, and there is a later payoff to this subplot which hits all the right notes.    You could say the same for the rest of Stan & Ollie, which transcends its biopic origins to give us a touching story with a genuine heart, and a love for its subjects.  

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) * *

If Beale Street Could Talk Movie Review

Directed by:  Barry Jenkins

Starring:  KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Colman Domingo, Michael Beach, Anjanue Ellis, Diego Luna, Ed Skrein, Brian Tyree Henry

There is a powerful story lurking at the edges of If Beale Street Could Talk, one which would promote outrage and maintain a relevant contemporary perspective, but director Jenkins prefers to show us close-up after close-up of its protagonists making lovey-dovey eyes at each other.    They are in love.   We get it.   I'm happy for them even though I'm not particularly moved.    The injustice which keeps them apart is the real story here.

We meet Tish (Layne) and Fonnie (James) in the opening shot walking hand-in-hand down some steps and Tish asks, "Are you ready to do this?"   It is early 1970s Harlem, and Tish and Fonnie are ready to build a life together, but this dream is quickly dashed when a woman accuses Fonnie of raping her in a darkened apartment hallway one night.    Fonnie was nowhere near the scene on the night of the rape, and we learn he is the victim of a racist cop with an ax to grind.    Fonnie was hanging in his apartment with Tish and his childhood friend Daniel (Henry), who was just paroled.   When Daniel is picked up again for a parole violation, Fonnie's lawyer grimly explains how Tish's testimony is judicially worthless and Daniel's shady past could promote doubt about the alibi, even though it is the truth. 

Tish soon reveals to her family, and to Fonnie, that she is pregnant, which is met with universal support from her family, but with disdain and scorn from his.    Fonnie's mother is a sermonizing holy roller who accuses Tish of sin, while Tish's mother Sharon (King) tries in vain to convince Fonnie's mom of what a miracle this all is.    Sharon isn't successful, and Tish now has to face the prospect that she will have to raise the baby while Fonnie languishes in prison for a crime he didn't commit.   Whatever idealist, romantic views of the world Tish and Fonnie had are now crushed.    The light has disappeared from their eyes and replaced with sadness.  

Based on James Baldwin's 1974 novel, If Beale Street Could Talk captures its era and racial attitudes precisely, but yet I was left indifferent.    The film is overly stylized, including way too many long close-ups of its characters staring into the camera.    The movie could've benefited from fewer expository scenes of Tish and Fonnie's blossoming romance, because frankly they're boring.   These are nice people, and the performances feel natural, but yet I was apathetic when I should've been riveted.  

The dubious circumstances which keep Tish and Fonnie apart are treated as a subplot, when in actuality it is the plot.    Blacks are still treated to disproportionate justice even today, and in 1970s America, such stories as Tish's and Fonnie's were sadly common.    Is Jenkins suggesting their love overcame their outrage?    Perhaps so, but this is a duller take on a story just waiting to take a hold of you and stir you, but it never does.   Jenkins told a much more powerful tale in Moonlight, in which a young gay black man is unable to express himself on the mean streets of Miami.    We understand why Shiron (the subject of Moonlight) is afraid to be himself in the drug world he grows up in, and it creates the dramatic power lacking here.   

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Glass (2019) * *

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Directed by:  M. Night Shyamalan

Starring:  James McAvoy, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Sarah Paulson, Spencer Treat Clark, Anya Taylor-Joy

I was not a fan of Split (2017), but begrudgingly admitted it was M. Night Shyamalan's best work since Unbreakable (2000).   This isn't high praise, but maybe with Glass, a one-stop shop sequel to both Unbreakable and Split, I was curious to see if Shyamalan had found his footing again at long last.    My curiosity was rewarded with a schlocky, scaled down, wannabe superhero movie which at times feels like a Tony Robbins seminar urging people to reach down deep and tap into their limitless potential, which likely seems shorter than Glass.

When we left Split, Kevin (McAvoy), the man with 24 different, distinct personalities had morphed into The Beast, the deadliest of all of the personalities in which McAvoy hulks up and thrashes people.    David Dunn (Willis), aka The Overseer, who dons his hoodie raincoat and conducts vigilantism around Philadelphia, is tracking him with help from his grown son Joe (Clark).    Just as The Overseer locates Kevin, who has since kidnapped four more high school female cheerleaders and chained them to a wall in an abandoned factory, and the two start brawling, they are captured by psychiatrist Dr. Ellie Staple (Paulson) and taken to a mental institution.    Shyamalan must've wanted to scale back on extras, but this place seems to have only Kevin, David, and of course Elijah as patients, plus one or two staff members to look after them.    Imagine the cost of property taxes and upkeep on such a large place used just to hold three people.    Talk about a waste.

Kevin is kept from turning into The Beast with aid of a strobe light which flashes when he is about to change into another personality, and David is kept at bay with about an elaborate shower system which drenches him if he tries to escape.    (David's weakness is water, which led me to wonder if he only practices vigilantism on dry days).    Elijah is seemingly catatonic from medication, but we all know better.   You would think Dr. Staple would know better also.   We see a McAvoy performance, which like in Split, he shows off his various accents which he obviously has mastered.    Jackson spends a good portion of the movie in catatonia, but then he babbles on about being a mastermind who can unleash the supposedly terrifying potential in David and Kevin.    Willis acts as if he is on sleep medication even when he's not.   In the past few years, Willis has skated by on reputation while giving as little energy to his performances as possible.    He barely seems to be able to rouse himself enough to even be heard in some scenes.

You would not be far off if you suspect what will happen next:   Mr. Glass will form an alliance with Kevin, although it's The Beast in which Mr. Glass is most interested, and David will try to stop it as Dr. Staple tries to convince each of them that are insane or at least have frontal lobe brain damage.    This leads to a climax which serves as an underwhelming payoff to all that has gone before it.   Because this is M. Night Shyamalan, we know there will be a Big Reveal or two before the final credits, but in Glass I may be low by one.   And the Big Reveals don't much matter anyway, because they don't make the finale any more thrilling or satisfying.    But just when you think Glass is over, it continues on.   So much so, we don't know if it is ever going to end.

Monday, January 14, 2019

A Dog's Way Home (2019) * * *

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Directed by:  Charles Martin Smith

Starring:  Shelby, Bryce Dallas Howard (voice), Ashley Judd, Jonah Hauer-King, Wes Studi, Edward James Olmos, Alexandra Shipp, John Cassini

The title, trailer, and the idea that a family movie won't end with the dog not finding her way home makes the conclusion of A Dog's Way Home a formality.    Nonetheless, it had me choked up or sobbing throughout most of its running time, so it did what it was supposed to do:   It jerked the tears right out of me.    A Dog's Way Home isn't complicated, and its mission to tug at the heartstrings is a successful one.   

We first meet Bella (voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard), a sweet dog who is raised under an abandoned Denver house by a cat when Bella's mother is snatched up by animal control.    Bella soon meets a gentle young man named Lucas (Hauer-King), whom Bella instantly connects with.   Lucas takes her home to his military veteran mother (Judd) who suffers from PTSD.   But, Bella is soon part of the family, but has to keep a low profile because pets aren't allowed in the apartment and animal control is under antiquated city orders to pick up any pit bulls off the streets.    Bella doesn't look like a pit bull, but as another character explained, it is what people offhandedly call some dogs when no other name will do.

Bella sees the world simply and on her terms.   She thinks everything is a game, including "go home" and waits anxiously at home for Lucas to come home.   She wants food, a warm blanket, and her family.   Life is simple, until one day it isn't.   Because of a persistent animal control officer (Cassini)
who can't wait to arrest Bella if she is caught outside her home, Lucas temporarily sends Bella to New Mexico until he is able to find a home outside of Denver where Bella won't be pestered.    Bella escapes from her temporary home in New Mexico and wanders the wilderness for two years in her quest to go home again.

Naturally, such a journey isn't easy, and Bella battles frequent bouts of hunger, extreme weather, wild animals, and sometimes even more dangerous humans.    She befriends a young cougar cub she dubs Little Kitten, and they form a friendship despite their different species.    The CGI used for Little Kitten is less than convincing, reminding me of the lion Russell Crowe battles in Gladiator when CGI was in its infancy.    Gladiator won on Oscar for Best Visual Effects, but I don't anticipate A Dog's Way Home will follow suit.

We hear Bella's voice throughout, and Howard does a stellar job in capturing Bella's sweetness and fear of her situation.   But, she persists and when she reaches her destination, it is an emotional moment which, even though we saw it coming, still doesn't disappoint.    Surely, the humans are a bit more broadly drawn than the animals, because this is a movie told from an animal's point of view, but the story of Bella is engaging and yes, it put me through the emotional wringer in a tender way. 

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Upside (2019) * *

The Upside Movie Review

Directed by:  Neil Burger

Starring:  Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman, Aja Naomi King, Julianna Margulies

It is interesting to see Kevin Hart play a comic role with an edge.   He isn't playing the affable screw-up he usually plays.   No, he is playing a hardened screw-up who stumbles into a job as a caretaker for a quadriplegic billionaire.    The Upside contains strong work from the cast, and it is all in the service of a movie which doesn't go anywhere and isn't in too big of a hurry to go someplace even if it wanted to.  

We first meet Dell Scott (Hart) as a paroled ex-con desperate for work, or at least the appearance of looking for work.   He applies for the caretaking job, for which he is completely unqualified, but Phillip (Cranston), hires him anyway, against the objections of his uptight, stuffy assistant Yvonne (Kidman), for reasons hinted at but not made clear.    Dell screws up on the job at first, and even steals a book from Phillip's library to give to his estranged son as a gift.   But, of course, Dell grows into the role and is even able to change Phillip's catheter in a pinch in an elongated scene which is mostly buildup and little payoff. 

Dell is fighting to get back with his wife and son, who have had it up to here with him, but soon they warm up to him as he pays back the child support he owes and moves them from a crappy projects apartment to a nicer neighborhood.    Yvonne, who may or may not be secretly in love with Phillip, also warms up to Dell and learns to loosen up, or at least not look so uncomfortable in the stylish business attire she wears.    It is always good to see Nicole Kidman, a naturally beautiful and charismatic star, but what about this role intrigued her?    It is mostly one-note, with occasional peeks into her soul courtesy of that amazing smile she has, but the most fascinating thing about her performance is the fact that she is even in the movie.

Cranston is his usual dependable self as a man haunted by the death of his wife coinciding with his paralysis caused by a paragliding accident.    He has frequent nightmares, and is naturally unhappy with his fate.   He has money, possessions, and a posh Manhattan penthouse, but he needs to be assisted 24-7 and can't enter into any meaningful relationships with women because of his condition.    Of what good is having all the money in the world if you can't walk or feel anything below the neck? 

The Upside is supposed to be a tale about accepting the joys of life, yet it never soars.    It has a pall hanging over it which never allows us to embrace it.    We know the story (based on a true story for what it's worth) will predictably check all the boxes we expect as far as plot points and character development are concerned, but it runs over two hours and feels muted and deflated.   Is this the case of a comedian taking on a dramatic role in an attempt to gain awards season recognition, or will Kevin Hart expand his repertoire?    I guess we will see.   As far as the awards season stuff, Hart and company can stay in bed or go out jogging when any award nominations are announced.   

The Boys from Brazil (1978) * * *

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Directed by:  Franklin J. Schaffner

Starring:  Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, James Mason, Jeremy Black, Steve Guttenberg, Uta Hagen

After Dr. Josef Mengele (Peck) is involved in a fistfight at a gathering of escaped Nazis in 1970s Paraguay, another man asks if there is a doctor in the house.   "I AM a doctor," Mengele asserts, and we have to acclimate ourselves to this fact.    This is a man responsible for thousands of deaths and disfigurements in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, but indeed was a medical doctor.   He took the Hippocratic oath to do no harm, and then did harm thousands of times over.   He conducted human experiments and selected those who would be gassed.    Hitler would not have been able to carry out his final solution if people like Mengele weren't so eager to assist him.  

The monster known as Josef Mengele escaped capture and fled to South America.   He was among the most hunted escaped Nazis, and evaded justice.    He drowned in 1979 following a stroke while swimming, but his body wasn't found until 1985 because he was buried under a false name.   The Boys from Brazil presents alternative history mixed with harrowing science fiction, and it was made at a time in which the capture of escaped Nazis was still a very real possibility.   

Mengele (Peck) is discovered by novice Nazi hunter Barry Kohler (Guttenberg) to be meeting secretly in Paraguay with other high-ranking Nazis.   Kohler presents his evidence to Ezra Lieberman (Olivier), who at first dismisses the sighting, but after Kohler is killed trying to obtain further evidence, Lieberman travels to Paraguay to hunt Mengele.    Lieberman stumbles across a plot for 94 men in different parts of the world to be killed.    Why would 94 random, unrelated men on different continents be executed?   The reason leads to the unearthing of a plot which is terrifying even now:  Mengele has created numerous clones of Adolf Hitler, and is plotting to turn the 13-year-old boys into the next Fuhrer.   Besides genealogical factors, Mengele needs to recreate the exact family and social environments which will allow the cloned Hitlers to thrive.

Cloning is 1978 was merely a fantasy, but in the past forty years, the practice has made advances.    We may not be able to clone humans yet, but it may not be far off.     The screenplay by Heywood Gould brings all of the pseudo-science and Nazism together plausibly, with Peck, who was normally the epitome of good and pure, relishing his villainous role.   Olivier's Lieberman is elderly and fading, but keeps up his dogged pursuit of Mengele.   If you ever wanted to see a physical showdown between Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier, this is your movie.    I found the premise challenging, with moral implications it doesn't sidestep.  

Is it possible Mengele himself saw or heard about this movie while hiding out in South America?   The Boys from Brazil wasn't afraid to name him as its villain, because what was he going to do?   Sue for defamation of character? 

Monday, January 7, 2019

Freeway (1996) * * *

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Directed by:  Matthew Bright

Starring:  Reese Witherspoon, Kiefer Sutherland, Brooke Shields, Dan Hedaya, Brittany Murphy, Wolfgang Bodison

Freeway is a disturbing update on Little Red Riding Hood, as if we needed an update on Little Red Riding Hood.    The Riding Hood is Vanessa (Witherspoon), an illiterate teen from a broken home in which her mother is a prostitute and her father abuses her.   She has been in trouble with the law and placed in the foster care system which has done nothing to help her.   She is even seen carrying a red basket as she steals her foster mother's car.   She comes across the Big Bad Wolf, conveniently named Bob Wolverton (Sutherland), a psychopath who is the elusive I-5 killer.    He picks her up after her car breaks down on Interstate 5, treats her to dinner, gets her to open up about her horrible past, and then tries to assault and murder her.    Where was she heading to?   To her grandmother's house in Stockton, of course.

While the movie moves uneasily between satire and plain, old gruesome violence, I can't say I was bored.    Witherspoon, in one of her earlier film roles, is a mouthy firecracker so wounded by life she can hardly feel anything but rage.    After Bob attempts to kill her in a remote area off of the freeway, Vanessa turns the tables and shoots him in some very bad places while leaving him for dead.  "I hope you don't hold this against me and hate me more than you already do," she tells Jesus in a prayer.    It is hard not to disagree with her assessment that the Almighty may have it in for her.

Bob is not killed, but is horribly disfigured and must use a colostomy bag.   His na├»ve, unsuspecting wife (Shields) paints her husband as the victim, and Vanessa can't get the police to believe her story.   Not that she tells it in the most pleasant or understandable way.   Vanessa awaits trial as an adult for attempted murder, while Bob and his wife go on television advocating victim's rights.    Shields is quite effective as the wife who is so clueless you just want to reach through the screen and shake her until she learns to at least question why her husband was in the company of a runaway teenager.

Sutherland has played these types of killers before, and is well suited for it because of his otherwise normal appearance and too calm demeanor.   Watch how he is able to penetrate Vanessa's exterior posing as a caring psychologist.   I assume he actually is a thriving one based on the size of his house.    Of course, the first encounter between Vanessa and Bob won't be the last, and the ending is a bit too much Little Red Riding Hood-ish for my taste, while the violence at times is a tad on the gratuitous side.   But, then there is the thoughtful side of Freeway, one which examines the futility of the justice system which is automatically inclined to disbelieve Vanessa because of her troubled past and her nasty demeanor.   Surely, Bob must be innocent because he has a respectable job and lives in a posh house, right?    And surely Vanessa is the perpetrator because she doesn't have a respectable job or live in posh house, right?   When the smoke clears, even the cops know the answer to that question. 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

On the Basis of Sex (2019) * * *

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Directed by:  Mimi Leder

Starring:  Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Sam Waterston, Justin Theroux, Kathy Bates, Chris Mulkey, Cailee Spaeny

It was a tiny tax law case which propelled Ruth Bader Ginsburg from Rutgers University law professor to powerful litigant for women's rights to a seat on the United States Supreme Court.   On the Basis of Sex focuses on the case in which an unmarried, male man who takes care of his mother is denied a $296.00 tax write-off because the framers of the tax law didn't anticipate a caretaker might be a man and not a woman as expected.    It is not a stretch to understand that discrimination on the basis of gender wasn't cracked until the early 1970s, and there are still battles today to be won for equal pay and workplace sexual harassment.    You can thank Ruth Bader Ginsburg, among others, for shoving the door wide open.

Ginsburg (Jones) was one of the first female law students accepted at Harvard.   This is met with much muted pleasure by Dean Erwin Griswold (Waterston), who at a welcoming function asks each female student to stand and explain why she wants to practice law and thus take away a spot from a male student.    Ruth capably puts Griswold in his place and earns a lifelong enemy.   Ruth is married to second-year Harvard student Martin Ginsburg (Hammer) and has a young child.   Marty is soon stricken with testicular cancer, so Ruth takes his classes as well as her own and essentially tutors Marty into a law degree while earning her own.    Due to professional reasons, Ruth wants to finish her law classes at Columbia and still earn a Harvard degree, which Griswold attempts to reject, leading to a funny payoff line later in the film.

Ruth, despite graduating at the top of her class, can't find a job at any New York law firms, thanks to the male-dominated culture which believes the typical stereotypes of female workers (i.e. too emotional, should be home with the family, etc.)   In her frustration, she begins a professorship at Rutgers, which goes on for eleven years until Marty presents her with the aforementioned obscure tax case pending before the federal courts.    If the federal court can agree the law discriminates against a man, then the discrimination against women can also be wiped off the books.    It isn't easy for Ruth, but nothing ever was.

History shows who won out, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a big reason why.   Felicity Jones doesn't just give us a feisty Ruth, but one whose verbal arguments need polishing and who fights constantly with her teenage daughter (Spaeny), who is joining the protest movement against, well, anything.   Ruth isn't a secular saint, but just someone determined to fight to right a centuries-old wrong.   Hammer's Marty is the near saintly one, fully supporting Ruth in her endeavors while knowing full well of the case's pitfalls.    Hammer, while being very tall and classically handsome, isn't just a pretty face.   He isn't afraid to take on roles with gravitas and challenges, although he was no one's idea of an ideal Lone Ranger.

On the Basis of Sex is a thoughtful legal drama in which Ruth must tread in dangerous legal waters.   As her boss at the ACLU Mel Wulf (Theroux) warns, she could set the women's movement back ten years if she loses.    But, yes we know she will prevail, and she does.   Except for Mel, Marty, and Charlie Moritz (Mulkey), the plaintiff in the tax case, the men in the film are seen as Neanderthal caricatures defending sexism openly and wantonly.   I'm not sure if the men in the villains needed to be presented in such a light, but On the Basis of Sex is not about historical accuracy, but paints in broad strokes, entertains, and occasionally even challenges our own perceptions.    The attitudes towards gender have changed for the better, but it is still an ongoing fight.

Love, Gilda (2018) * * *

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Directed by:  Lisa D'Apolito

Featuring:  Gilda Radner, Gene Wilder, Bill Hader, Amy Poehler, Melissa McCarthy, Chevy Chase, Laraine Newman, Alan Zweibel, Lorne Michaels, Martin Short, Maya Rudolph

It is almost a bad cosmic joke that Gilda Radner, after finally finding love with Gene Wilder and some semblance of peace with herself, would be diagnosed with ovarian cancer.   After a three-year battle against the disease, she died in April 1989 one month shy of her 43rd birthday.   She battled cancer as she did any other issue she had:  with humor, self-deprecation, and occasionally gallows humor.    "I decided to be funny about what I didn't have, instead of worrying about it," is her quote which sums up her attitude towards life itself.   It gave her lemons, and she made lemonade.

Born to a well-off Jewish family in 1946, Gilda grew up in suburban Detroit.   She was a chubby girl who liked being the cut-up, and after her father's untimely death when she was 14, she channeled her emotions into making others laugh.   Before long, she was contacted by John Belushi to perform with the National Lampoon radio troupe and later Second City before breaking through as a member of the inaugural Saturday Night Live cast.    As a woman, she found it difficult to express her comic voice.
There wasn't overt sexism, but she found her ideas were passed over in favor of the men's ideas, and her initial roles on Saturday Night Live were to either kill a few minutes between sketches or stand around with one line in other sketches.

But, with characters like Barbara Wawa (a parody of Barbara Walters) and Roseanne Roseannadanna, she became a late night star.   As in the eerily similar The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, we learn through diary entries of the pressures and self-doubts she faced while being a rising star.   She battled eating disorders while trying to remain thin for television, and for the longest time she could not find her footing in her career or personal life.   She married guitarist G.E. Smith, but that marriage deteriorated after she met Gene Wilder while filming Hanky Panky, the first of three films the duo would make together.  

The best segments of Love, Gilda take us inside the wild life of the first few seasons of Saturday Night Live, which wasn't an instant hit and took about six to eight episodes to finally gain an audience.   Gilda worked long hours, burned the candle at both ends, and was lonely, even with adoring crowds surrounding her.    As one friend indicated, working on Saturday nights didn't exactly help her social life.   But she persevered, and made a name and legacy for herself.

I know I am committing heresy here, but if you aren't familiar with Gilda Radner already, the footage of her famous Saturday Night Live bits and Broadway show will not exactly wow you.   The bits are not shown in proper context, and are just pieces of a bigger whole.   I also wasn't enthralled with the use of contemporary SNL stars like Bill Hader or Amy Poehler as interview subjects who also read from Gilda's diaries.   Maybe the filmmakers wanted to show how long a legacy Gilda Radner left for future generations.   My feeling, and this may not be the case, is the filmmakers are hedging their bets by throwing in some stars the younger generation may recognize, in case Martin Short or Chevy Chase were too much before their time.

The stronger parts outweigh the weaker ones by a decent margin in Love, Gilda, because we get a chance to glimpse into a weathered soul who had a brief, but memorable impact on the world of comedy.    Gilda Radner died thirty years ago, and even in her lowest moments, we saw the humor peeking out.   One of her last public appearances was a cameo appearance as herself on It's Garry Shandling's Show, in which she basked in the audience's adulation even at the expense of the bit.   "Well, I've been battling cancer, what about you?" she tells Shandling when he asked what she's been up to.    That quote is the essence of her.