FALLING FOR FIGARO (2021)

September 30, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. There aren’t many Opera singer-Romantic Comedies, so that alone made this one worth checking out. Writer-director Ben Lewin (THE SESSIONS, 2012) co-wrote the script with Allen Palmer (his first feature film) and cast the film perfectly, while also gifting us an inordinate amount of beautiful singing voices, as well as a uniquely picturesque setting in the Scottish Highlands.

Danielle Macdonald (PATTI CAKE$, 2017) stars as Millie, an American who has been living in London, and establishing herself as a highly successful fund manager. After an evening at the opera with her boyfriend (and co-worker) Charlie (Shazad Latif, “Penny Dreadful”), Millie makes a life-altering decision. Rather than accept a big promotion at work, she’s going to sacrifice her career and follow her dream of becoming an opera singer. Of course, as with most rom-coms, none of this really makes much sense. Rather than compare this to reality, it’s best to enjoy the fun parts (and there are plenty) and disregard the rest.

Those fun parts begin once Millie leaves London and lands in the Scottish Highlands. Her first comical interaction is with the proprietor of The Filthy Pig played by Gary Lewis (GANGS OF NEW YORK, 2002). This only pub in the village also serves as its only restaurant and motel. More zaniness ensues as Millie auditions for Megan Geoffrey-Bishop (a terrific Joanna Lumley, “Absolutely Fabulous”), a “retired” singing teacher who once made her own mark on the stage. Her only current pupil is Max (Hugh Skinner, LES MISERABLES, 2002), a local who has been training for years. Max and Millie have the same goal – qualify for the ‘Singer of Renowned’ competition. So we immediately know where this is headed … and sure enough, it does.

While much of the story focuses on the ‘will they or won’t they’ connection between Millie and Max, it’s Ms. Lumley who steals every scene she’s in. Her theory that opera singers must suffer is part of her curriculum for both of her students. At first we aren’t sure whether she’s just taking Millie’s money because she needs it, but that answer comes soon enough. The actual competition is packed with amazing singing voices, and the three-way love story follows many of the rom-com clichés – though we don’t seem to care because Millie and Max are so torn between their dream and each other, and Ms. Lumley just keeps cracking wise.

Of course we know that opera singers train most of their lives for competitions and stage roles, so it’s absurd to think that a fund manager can take a year off work and reach this level. But again, this isn’t about reality. No, this is about Millie singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” like you’ve never heard it before. It’s about “fish and chips without the vinegar”. It’s about not wanting to rent a room because the floor would need to be mopped. It’s about opening your heart and chasing a passion – following a dream. And we can all use a little of that right now.

In select theaters and on VOD beginning October 1, 2021

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DATING & NEW YORK (2021)

September 9, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. One must presume that many Millennials in their mid-to-late 20s will recognize and relate to the characters and situations in this indie Romantic Comedy from writer-director Jonah Feingold. For those born prior to 1980, that’s likely to be more challenging, and in fact, some of the conversations may more closely resemble a foreign language than familiar human exchanges. We can almost picture the emoji’s as these characters speak.

Milo (Jaboukie Young-White) and Wendy (Francesca Reale) are two single New Yorkers who match on the cleverly-named dating app, “Meet Cute”. Of course, that’s also the cinematic description for most every Rom-Com initial introduction since the days of Howard Hawks, Frank Capra, and Ernst Lubitsch. After a perfect first date-turned one-night stand, Milo and Wendy ghost each other. Three weeks later they have a café meeting where Wendy presents a “Best Friends with Benefits” contract. He wants more, while she just wants this. BFWB is a step beyond FWB since it’s more than sex. The two will regularly hang out and offer each other life and relationship advice – but definitely no “I love you” or PDA. Even their friends Hank (Brian Muller) and Jessie (Catherine Cohen) recognize this for the bad idea it is … but Hank and Jessie are too distracted developing their own bond to care too much.

Feingold utilizes some very cool water colors over the opening credits, and Grant Fonda’s score is spot on throughout. There will be comparisons to FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS and NO STRONGS ATTACHED, two movies released in 2011. However, a better and more interesting connection is to see how Feingold was influenced by WHEN HARRY MET SALLY… (1989) and ANNIE HALL (1977), two of the very best romantic comedies. Just keep in mind that this film is for those born in this modern era, where the rules of dating are determined by social media and dating (hook-up) apps. We are told that Millennials are “cursed with choices”.

Feingold’s characters discover break-up email templates (these people can’t subject themselves to face-to-face conflict), the real world expense of wedding planners, the confusing dynamics of haggling over who pays for dinner and drinks, and of course, the importance of guacamole. The characters are believable and seem like folks we could know … except when they speak. Jerry Ferrara (Turtle in “Entourage”) plays doorman Cole and also serves as the film’s narrator, a welcome guide through the reasons behind the actions.

Cinematographer Maria Rusche effectively captures the familiar sites of NYC, as well as the food and drink moments that go with dating. Director Feingold comes up short in his cameo, although in a humorous way. The four lead actors are not yet household names, and probably won’t be recognized by most viewers – though expect them to be part of the next wave. Mostly Feingold keeps things light and cutesy, and whether intentionally or not, reminds us that social media can be manipulative and controlling. Those pushing 30, especially New Yorkers, will likely enjoy seeing their life on screen, while the rest of us simply wonder how hooking up and hanging out isn’t considered a serious relationship.

In select theaters and available on digital beginning September 10, 2021

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MONDAY (2021)

April 15, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. I will admit upfront that I’m no fan of watching late thirty-somethings living their lives like a never-ending fraternity party. So when the film opens on a disco ball, and we see a woman breaking up with her boyfriend on the phone while the thumping dance blasts, and then she immediately hooks up with the equally-aged DJ … well, I was concerned that writer-director Argyris Papadimitropoulos and co-writer Rob Hayes decided to make this film as a kick to the shins of any job-holding, respectable grown-up movie watcher. Fortunately, it’s not as bad as all that.

The two instant-lovers wake up naked on the beach the next morning and introduce themselves while handcuffed in the back of a police car. Denise Gough (JULIET, NAKED) is Chloe, an immigration lawyer who has been in an abusive relationship, and seemed to move on quickly (minutes later), without much thought. Sebastian Stan (Bucky from “The Avengers” franchise) is Mickey, a party boy DJ who is also an advertising jingle writer. Chloe and Mickey are both American ex-pats living in Athens, Greece. He’s been knocking around for almost 7 years, and after 18 months, she’s now scheduled to head back to the U.S.  And yes, we do get the obligatory frantic airport moment – this one is less touching and more contrived.

The next few weekends basically involve these two going at it like rabbits at any time and in any place. Chloe and Mickey are a beautiful couple in a gorgeous setting, and it’s quite obvious they are incompatible as a couple doing anything other than coupling. If thirty-somethings bonding over partying seems like a recipe for disaster, the party they throw will prove your point. It’s an understatement to say her circle of sophisticated friends don’t mingle well with his group of belligerent scofflaws. Supporting work is provided by Dominique Tipper as Bastian, a former bandmate with Mickey, and Yorgos Pirpassopoulos as Argyris, Mickey’s close friend who wields power locally due to family money.

This is really the Sebastian Stan and Denise Gough show. He’s a good fit as the charming, self-defeating guy who can’t grow up, while she’s an enigma – a woman seemingly too smart to fall for this guy and screw up her life after a weekend fling. Ms. Gough is strong in her ability to create a complex character from a fragmented script that forces her to overcome weak dialogue and absurd situations. As an example, Chloe and Mickey have 3 police encounters … which is 3 more than the average person experiences in a lifetime.

Athens and the island of Antiparos make for a stunning setting for a movie, but the script falls short of the work necessary for this couple to transition from a wild weekend fling to an actual relationship with responsibilities, jobs, and a kid. We see how Chloe feels trapped, but the third act spins out of control as lot of Fridays turn into the titular Monday of reckoning.

In theaters and On Demand April 16, 2021

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SENIOR MOMENT (2021)

March 25, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Making concessions to age is something all of us deal with … even former test pilots – although some of them might be a bit less inclined to adapt. Such is the case with Victor Martin. He’s in his 70’s and still enjoys ogling beautiful younger women and zipping around Palm Springs in his vintage Porsche convertible. Some might call it cliché or even pathetic, but Victor and his lifelong pal Sal Spinelli are enjoying life.

Director Giorgio Serafini is working from a script by co-writers Kurt Brungardt and Christopher Momenee, and the first thing viewers must overcome is the casting. See, Victor is played by William Shatner and Sal by Christopher Lloyd. Yep, Captain Kirk from STAR TREK and Doc Brown from BACK TO THE FUTURE are the senior citizen buddies living it up. Both actors seem to be having a good time, and seeing the two men on screen together is quite pleasing.

All good things come to an end, and when the city’s new DA cracks down on dangerous elderly drivers, Victor has his license revoked and his treasured car impounded. He’s frustrated, but by happenstance meets Caroline Summers (a terrific Jean Smart). The two are polar opposites, yet there’s a clear connection. She’s a former National Geographic photographer who now owns and runs the local Cuckoo Café – so named despite the titular time piece not being in working order. Caroline is a free-spirited former hippie, and her organic diet contrasts with Victor’s processed honey buns.

Victor admits he’s “still trying to figure out what I’m going to do when I grow up”, but he soon realizes his attraction to Caroline has impacted him more than he expected. It’s an awkward romance made more challenging by the presence of artist Diego Lozana (Esai Morales) and Caroline’s mystical belief in the story attached to the cuckoo clock. The film is loaded with lunacy and is not one that benefits from viewers who prefer thoughtful messages. This is designed to be mostly light-hearted fun with an element of late-in-life romance tossed in for good measure.

As a gift to its target audience, Ruta Lee (SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, 1954) makes a brief appearance, and of particular note is the final screen appearance by Kaye Ballard (she died at age 93). Also appearing in the supporting cast are Don McManus, Joe Estevez, and Jack Wallace. Maja Stojan plays Sonja, Caroline’s daughter, Carlos Miranda plays Pablo Torres, and director Serafini’s wife, LaDon Drummond makes an appearance as one of Victor’s former flings.

The film has faced numerous delays since it wrapped, and lead William Shatner just recently turned 90 years of age. It’s rare when a movie involves a broken cuckoo clock and a tortoise photo, but it’s even less common for the focus to be on humor and a romance between senior citizens. This is one that plays to its intended audience, and doesn’t much care about the rest.

In theaters and On Demand on March 26, 2021

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WILD MOUNTAIN THYME (2020)

December 10, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. While I have Irish ancestors, the uproar of the Irish press over the accents in the film is a bit puzzling to me. Any frequent movie watcher can tell you that cinema history is filled with actors giving difficult accents their best shot – and the results have ranged from ‘spot’ on to ‘not even close’, and everything in between. As a Texan, I can vouch for the sometimes cringe-inducing ‘not close’ efforts, but I’ve never judged a film by such trivial matters. Why do I start with this? Only to get it out of the way in order to have a more meaningful discussion of the latest film from writer-director John Patrick Shanley (DOUBT, 2008, and an Oscar winner for the MOONSTRUCK screenplay, 1987). It’s based on his 2014 Broadway play, “Outside Mullingar”.

After the breathtaking shots of the Irish countryside over the opening credits, we learn of two neighboring farms belong to the Muldoons and the Reillys. Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt) and Anthony Reilly (Jamie Dornan) have known each other their entire lives, and it’s been assumed by locals that they would someday marry each other. Their elderly parents are dying off, yet what prevents the relationship from deepening beyond “Good morning to ya’” is Anthony’s bizarrely awkward social skills compounded by his constant bickering with his father (Christopher Walken), and his belief in a family curse. The two men still mourn the passing of Anthony’s mother, and Rosemary has her own sadness to deal with … while growing a bit antsy waiting for Anthony to come around.

Anthony’s father is concerned that the family name is in danger of ending, due to his reticence to marry. Because of this, dad decides to give the family farm to another relative. The fun kicks off when Adam (Jon Hamm) arrives. Adam is the stereotypical “Yank” – arrogant and showy, with only a romantic notion of what being an Irish farmer means. If that’s not bad enough news for Anthony, Adam also sets his sights on Rosemary and convinces her to visit him. He can’t imagine how the excitement of New York City contrasted with daily life in Ireland won’t win her over.

We don’t actually see any real farming in the movie, and Anthony’s sullen act gets a bit tiresome, but the message is conveyed well by Ms. Blunt and Mr. Dornan. Filmmaker Shanley has delivered more of a romantic drama than romantic comedy, but there are humorous moments included, not the least of which being Anthony’s practice proposal to a donkey. Ms. Blunt proves again what a fine actor she is, and her sequence inside her home in the final act is terrific. As for the accents, Mr. Dornan’s holds up the best, while Mr. Walken’s downright comical, but the story and characters are what we remember when this one ends … unless, of course, you are part of the Irish media.

In theaters and On Demand November 11, 2020

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THE PROM (2020)

December 3, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. The success of his TV series “Glee” and “American Horror Story” has delivered Ryan Murphy the creative freedom to explore other projects. This time out he directs the cinema version of a Tony-nominated musical, and blends star power with newcomers in an extravaganza meant to fill the gap left by the darkened stages of Broadway during the pandemic. Created by Jack Viertel, with a book and screenplay from Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin, it’s a story of homophobia and narcissism, and the battle to defeat both.

Meryl Streep stars as Dee Dee Allen, and along with James Corden as Barry Glickman, their opening night exuberance for “Eleanor! The Eleanor Roosevelt Musical” fades quickly when the reviews hit. Licking their wounds at Sardi’s, the two are told by the producer that nobody likes narcissists. Joined by chorus girl Angie Dickinson (played by Nicole Kidman) and Julliard-educated actor/bartender Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells), they decide what’s needed to revamp their careers is a ‘cause celebre’. Thanks to Twitter trends, they locate the plight of Emma Nolan (newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman), whose Indiana High School PTA has just voted to cancel prom rather than allow Emma to bring another girl as a date.

As you would imagine, becoming an activist for the wrong reasons (publicity) can make things messy. These flamboyant city slickers aren’t exactly welcomed with open arms by Midwestern folks. Plenty of touching moments occur between Barry and Emma, Barry and Dee Dee, Angie and Emma, Dee Dee and school Principal Mr. Hawkins (Keegan-Michael Key), and mostly, Emma and her closeted girlfriend Alyssa (Ariana DeBose, who will also star in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming remake of WEST SIDE STORY). PTA leader and leading homophobe Mrs. Greene (a fiery Kerry Washington) does a nice job as a bigot and caring parent.

So while a story exists and messages are conveyed, this is, more than anything, a glitzy musical covered in primary colors as only Ryan Murphy can. Each of our main players gets a featured song, with Ms. Streep’s campy “Not About Me” a highlight, along with Ms. Kidman’s Fosse-esque “Zazz”. Mr. Corden probably gets more than his fair share of screen time, while Ms. Pellman and Ms. DeBose shine brightly in their numbers, and both possess lovely voices. Young Ms. Pellman is especially impressive holding her own on screen with Oscar winners Streep and Kidman.

There likely aren’t many gay teen rom-com musicals set in middle-America, especially ones with a Tina Louise reference, but leave it to Ryan Murphy to make it work. There is some quality humor, though it’s likely the song and dance segments are what will draw the audience. Choreographer Casey Nicholaw takes full advantage of the athletic youngsters and fills the screens with backflips and leaps – complimenting the dance moves of the stars. It’s a shame inclusivity must still be addressed, but at least it can be battled in a fun and colorful way.

Opening in theaters December 4, 2020 and on Netflix December 11, 2020

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LOVE, WEDDINGS & OTHER DISASTERS (2020)

December 3, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Very much in the same mold as the late Garry Marshall’s VALENTINE’S DAY (2010), NEW YEAR’S EVE (2011), and MOTHER’S DAY (2016), this one also utilizes the multi-story approach with all characters ultimately crossing paths as a payoff. If you are familiar with those movies, then you know what to expect here. However, if you are not familiar, there is no good way to prepare you, other than you’ll either love it or hate it.

Writer-director Dennis Dugan has been a frequent Adam Sandler collaborator, with movies landing in the “good” (HAPPY GILMORE, 1996), the “bad” (GROWN UPS 2, 2013), and the “ugly” (JACK & JILL, 2011). Mr. Dugan’s co-writers here are married couple Eileen Conn and Larry Miller. The cast includes Oscar winners Diane Keaton (ANNIE HALL, 1977) and Jeremy Irons (REVERSAL OF FORTUNE, 1991), and many faces you’ll recognize from other films.

The opening sequence will be enough to let you know where you fall on the ‘love it or hate it’ scale. Jessie (Maggie Grace, TAKEN) is skydiving with her local news anchor fiancé, and their mid-dive argument leads to a break-up and a crash landing into a lakeside wedding. The video (there’s always a video these days) goes viral, and Jessie becomes a social media celebrity burdened with the moniker, “Wedding Trasher” … not the best marketing for a wannabe wedding planner.

Jessie goes up against legendary wedding planner Lawrence (Mr. Irons) for the soon-to-be Mayor’s wedding, which loosely ties into the Mayor’s brother’s participation in a TV Game Show called “Crash Couples”, where mismatched folks are chained together in hopes of taking home the one million dollar prize. The show is hosted by the film’s director, Dennis Dugan. Lawrence is an egomaniacal high-falutin wedding planner and all-around rude dude who gets set up on a blind date with Sara (Diane Keaton), who is, yes, actually blind. Her entrance is just one of the painfully overdone physical pratfalls dropped in throughout the film, presumably to appeal to a wider comedy audience.

Andrew Bachelor plays the charismatic laugh-a-minute guide on a Duck tour who goes searching for his “Cinderella” … love at first sight for him. Next up we have Diego Bonita as a sensitive guitar player in the band Jessie wants to hire for the Mayor’s wedding. And I’ve yet to mention the involvement of the mafia thanks to the Mayor’s brother’s partner in the “Crash Couples” game. The multitude of characters and story lines all intersect at the wedding Jessie has planned – an event with hurdles just high enough for her to conquer. Some of the characters tie in more easily than others, but it’s best to just go with the flow here, no matter how cringe-inducing it might be at times.

On the bright side that surely most of us can agree on, Elle King (Rob Schneider’s daughter) is superb as the singer in the park who reappears throughout. Her songs fit the story, and her voice and sound are top notch and quite welcome. Romantic comedies sometimes get a bum rap, and few slide as cleanly into the “love it or hate it” mode as this one.

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THE APARTMENT (1960) revisited

June 20, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. This is the latest addition to my “revisited” series where I re-watch and then write about (not a review) a genuine classic movie. It’s been 60 years on this one, so please expect spoilers with no spoiler alerts. Appearing on most every legitimate list of greatest cinematic comedies, director Billy Wilder’s film actually defies categorization and is a terrific blend of comedy-romance-drama and commentary on societal gender roles of that era. Mr. Wilder co-wrote the razor-sharp script with I.A.L. “Iz” Diamond. The two were collaborators off and on for 15 years, including what many consider to be the best comedy of all-time, as well as one of Marilyn Monroe’s finest films, SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959).

Jack Lemmon stars as CC “Bud” Baxter, a clerk at Consolidated Life, a New York insurance company with 31,259 employees. Baxter is but a minor cog in the conglomerate wheel, save for one thing: he allows upper management to use his apartment for their extramarital affairs. He doesn’t much like the arrangement, but lacks the backbone to stand up to them – especially since they dangle the carrot of promotion. Although the neighbors think he is a womanizing Lothario, Baxter’s life is void of companionship. He’s on the outside (of his own apartment) while others are living it up. Elevator Operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) has caught Baxter’s eye, yet while she is courteous and friendly, she politely deflects his flirtations.

When that promotion finally comes through, Baxter finds himself with yet another executive requiring use of the apartment. Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) is the Human Resources Manager, and his demands lead to a most disheartening discovery. Baxter is crushed when a broken compact mirror and the office Christmas party allow him to figure out that Mr. Sheldrake is having an affair with Ms. Kubelik, and he himself has been providing the place.

 There are so many terrific scenes and performances, it’s not practical to go through each and every one. The early interactions between Baxter and Kubelik are quite fun – he’s so eager, and she’s so careful not to wound his pride. Kubelik and Sheldrake in the booth at the Chinese Restaurant is quite remarkable, and Baxter’s neighbors (Jack Kruschen and Naomi Stevens) are especially effective as the doctor and his quick-to-judge wife. Sheldrake’s secretary, Miss Olsen (Edie Adams), is a standout in her Christmas Party scene with Ms. Kubelik, and watching Baxter and Mrs. MacDougall (Hope Holiday) drunkenly dance the holiday hours away is comedic genius, although nothing can top Baxter deftly wielding a tennis racquet (wooden frame, of course) to strain pasta.

The film earned 10 Oscar nominations, and won in 5 categories: Best Picture, Best Director (Wilder), Best Screenplay (Wilder and Diamond), Best Art/Set Direction (Alexandre Trauner, Edward G Boyle), and Best Film Editing (Daniel Mandell, who also won Oscars for THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, 1946, and THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES, 1942, and who also started in showbiz as an acrobat for The Flying Mandells in Ringling Brothers Circus). The film’s other nominees were Best Actor (Lemmon, a 2-time Oscar winner for MISTER ROBERTS, 1955, and SAVE THE TIGER, 1973), Best Actress (MacLaine, Oscar winner for TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, 1983), Best Supporting Actor (Kruschen), Best Cinematographer (Joseph LaShelle, and Oscar winner for LAURA, 1944), and Best Sound (Gordon Sawyer). Somehow Adolph Deutsch’s film score got nominated for a Grammy, but not for an Oscar. He did win 3 other Oscars for ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (1950), SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954), and OKLAHOMA! (1955).

Writer-director Billy Wilder is truly one of cinema’s giants. In his career, he was nominated for 21 Oscars, winning 6 (THE LOST WEEKEND 1945, SUNSET BLVD 1951). This film was released one year after SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959), a film that often tops the list of best all-time comedies. That film and this one, are also in the battle for best final line: “Nobody’s perfect” vs “Shut up and deal”. Wilder admitted that his idea for THE APARTMENT came from one scene in BRIEF ENCOUNTER, the excellent 1945 film from director David Lean, adapted from Noel Coward’s play.

Jack Lemmon’s “Bud” Baxter is just one of many memorable characters throughout his stellar career that featured 8 Oscar nominations, 2 Oscars, and roles in comedy and drama. He was a close friend of comedian Ernie Kovacs who was married to Edie Adams (Miss Olsen in this movie), and had a remarkable comedy partnership (10 movies) with Walter Matthau, the best known of which is THE ODD COUPLE (1968).  Lemmon appeared in 7 Billy Wilder movies, and was the first actor to win Oscars for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.

Shirley MacLaine was only 25 years old when she starred as Fran Kubelik. Like Mr. Lemmon, her (6) Oscar nominations were spread across four decades (50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s), finally winning for TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983). In real life she is Warren Beatty’s big sister, although they’ve never appeared in the same film. Ms. MacLaine is renowned as a film actress, stage performer, dancer, author (multiple books), and of course, New Age guru. She’s now 86 years old and still working.

Fred MacMurray plays the scoundrel Jeff Sheldrake. Mr. MacMurray is best known for his 12 seasons and 380 episodes as the most patient father on “My Three Sons”. His career spanned fifty years (1929-1978), and he made his mark as a serious actor in such films as the ultimate film noir classic DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) and THE CAINE MUTINY (1954). He sprinkled in some westerns, before shifting to comedy in the first Disney live action film THE SHAGGY DOG (1959), and then family fare like THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR (1961) and SON OF FLUBBER (1963). He was certainly an underrated, though never out-of-work actor. On an interesting side note, when he was age 22, he played saxophone in a band that featured Bing Crosby as the lead singer.

 Edie Adams plays Miss Olsen, secretary to MacMurray’s Sheldrake. Her screen time here is limited, but her role is crucial to the story and well-crafted by Ms. Adams. She was the wife of early TV comedy legend Ernie Kovacs, who died in a car accident in 1962 at age 42. Ms. Adams put together a multi-faceted career including time as a nightclub singer, and actress on TV, stage, and film. She is still remembered for her iconic cigar commercials:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7EbLIdE88Q

Baxter’s neighbors are played by Jack Kruschen as the understanding Dr. Dreyfuss and Naomi Stevens as the more direct Mrs. Dreyfuss. Mr. Kruschen’s 48 year career covered more than 220 credits in TV and film. Ms. Stevens is remembered for her role in VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1967) and a recurring role on “The Doris Day Show”. She passed away (age 92) just a couple of months before her 70th wedding anniversary.

Joyce Jameson plays “the blond” Marilyn Monroe lookalike. She is best known for her roles in Roger Corman horror films, and for a recurring role as bombshell Skippy on “The Andy Griffith Show.” Another link to that classic TV series comes from Hal Smith, who dons the Santa Claus costume in the bar. You might recall Mr. Smith as Otis, the town drunk in Mayberry. He was also the voice of Owl in numerous “Winnie the Pooh” cartoons and movies. Hope Holiday plays Mrs. MacDougall, Baxter’s dance partner on Christmas Eve. Ms. Holiday was known as “the voice”, and made frequent appearances in Billy Wilder films.

In addition to MacMurray’s Sheldrake, the other four managers to take advantage of Baxter and his apartment were played by David Lewis (a recurring role as the Warden on “Batman” TV series), Willard Waterman (well-known character actor in radio, TV, film), David White (Larry Tate on “Bewitched”), and Ray Walston. Mr. Walston had many memorable roles including teacher Joe Dobisch in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982), JJ Singleton in THE STING (1973), co-starring with Bill Bixby in “My Favorite Martian”, and as Judge Henry Bone in “Picket Fences.” He’s yet another in the cast whose career lasted nearly 50 years.

The film’s lasting impact comes courtesy of the fun and energy and comedy on the surface, supported by a sadness lurking underneath. It offers a brilliant balance between lightness and serious social issues, and provides quite a statement of the times. A glance at the era shows us what a typical office environment was like. Women were subjected to endless harassment and unsolicited offers from the men in charge. They either had to find a way to deal with it, or quit and find another job – one where they’d likely face the same culture. Still, despite the sadness, the film does offer a bit of hope … plus some truly classic lines (including that last one). Girl with the “wrong guy” is common theme in movies and literature (and life), but “that’s the way it crumbles, cookie-wise.” And the next time you are debating with friends over a list of Christmas movies, don’t forget Billy Wilder’s THE APARTMENT. Hey, if DIE HARD qualifies, this one surely must!

watch the trailer:


ODE TO JOY (2019)

August 7, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. You might be familiar with the disease “narcolepsy”, but unless you or someone close to you suffers from it, you’re likely unfamiliar with “cataplexy” – a symptom of narcolepsy that causes sudden and extreme muscle weakness typically brought on by severe emotions such as sadness, anger or excitement. For Charlie (played by Martin Freeman, THE HOBBIT), the trigger is happiness, so he has learned to (mostly) cope by avoiding his triggers: puppies, weddings, random acts of kindness, kids playing, and relationships. What he couldn’t avoid was being a groomsman in his sister’s wedding, which is how director Jason Winer and co-writers Max Werner and Chris Higgins choose to begin the film. We see the full effects and fallout (no pun intended) of Charlie’s disease.

Charlie listens to Wagner’s “Funeral March” on his commute to a calm job (out of necessity) at the public library, and his co-workers have mastered the art of assisting in keeping Charlie thinking non-happy thoughts. As tends to happen in life, love finds a way. Charlie crosses paths with Francesca (Morena Baccarin), a spirited woman who appears to be Charlie’s opposite in most every way … making the attraction even stronger. At a first date to a community theatre where a one-man show titled “Great Depression” is playing, we get the full effect of the challenges Charlie faces.

Cooper (Jake Lacy), Charlie’s younger brother, has been his main support system for most of his life – which is even more remarkable when we get the story of how Cooper got his name. When things fizzle between Francesca and Charlie, Cooper swoops in to date her and they set up Charlie with Bethany (a brilliantly funny Melissa Rauch). Bethany’s own quirks seem to be a good fit, even if Charlie’s torch for Francesca still flickers. Surely you’ve never seen an oboe sing-a-long to the Cranberries “Zombie”, and if somehow you have, it likely pales in comparison to the one Ms. Rauch performs.

The laughs are many, yet the script and Freeman’s performance remain respectful to the disease and those who suffer from it. Jane Curtin appears as Francesca’s Aunt who is cancer-stricken, and no, the purpose wasn’t to show a disease worse than cataplexy, but rather to show we all have challenges in life – and how we deal determines the type of person we are. The story was inspired by a segment on Chicago TV’s “This American Life”. It’s a delightful (if you can get over the use of a genetic disease as comedy fodder) little gem that I caught at the 2019 Dallas International Film Festival, and hopefully it will find an audience.

watch the trailer:


LONG SHOT (2019)

May 2, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Romantic Comedies and Political Parodies are staples in the film industry, and have been for many decades. The combination of the three – a political romantic comedy – is a bit rarer, though we have seen it in such films as DAVE (1993), THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (1995), BULLWORTH (1998), and LOVE ACTUALLY (2003). This latest from director Jonathan Levine (50/50, 2011) has elements of those well-known movies, while incorporating a very high level of raunchiness in a gender-reversed template of PRETTY WOMAN (1990).

We first meet Fred Flarsky (played by Seth Rogen) at a neo-Nazi/white supremacist gathering. He’s actually a left-wing journalist for an alt-weekly publication, and he’s so intent on getting the story that he’s willing to get a swastika tattoo and leap out of a second story window. Standing firm on his idealism, Fred quits his job when informed that his magazine has been bought out by Wembley Media … a right-wing organization in the vein of Fox News. It’s an odd opening for the film, but sets the stage for Fred to be reunited with his one-time babysitter Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) who is now the U.S. Secretary of State.

When President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk) summons Charlotte for an Oval Office meeting, we get our first glimpse of the filmmakers’ parody of the actual current office holder. Chambers is a former TV star who was Golden Globe nominated for acting like a President on his show, and now wants to capitalize on his popularity by transitioning to a more prestigious career … movies. He’s willing to endorse Ms. Fields for the nation’s highest office in the next election, and she’s all in.

Charlotte’s reconnection with Fred leads her to hire him to “punch up” her speeches with some humor. See, testing has shown that she scores high in most categories with voters – but not for her sense of humor. Despite the protests of her staff, Maggie (June Diane Rafael) and Tom (Ravi Patel), Fred comes on board and quickly works his way into Charlotte’s favor – to say the least.

Yes, on top of the political jabs and typical Rogen stoner humor, there is an inherent comedic element placing glamorous Charlize Theron and schlubby Seth Rogen in a blossoming romance … together. The idealism of their characters play a role in the story (she truly believes in her environmental initiative), and the supporting cast is terrific, but this is mostly a show for Ms. Theron and Mr. Rogen to go full-force comedy (including a Molly-trip). We have seen this from him many times, but the real gem here is Oscar winner Theron, who is likely the only actress who could pull off such diverse films as MONSTER (2003), MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015), ATOMIC BLONDE (2017), TULLY (2018), as well as this crowd-pleasing political raunch-fest with a political bent.

Additional supporting work is provided by Lisa Kudrow, Randall Park, and Alexander Skarsgard (who excels as the awkwardly funny Canadian Prime Minister, in a direct spoof on Justin Trudeau). There is also an unrecognizable Andy Serkis as a frumpy Steve Bannon type, and O’Shea Jackson Jr (Ice Cube’s son) is a standout as Fred’s best friend … one with some terrific one-liners and a secret that nearly crushes Fred’s idealism. The campaign travels the world (though the film barely takes advantage), and the script from Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah serves up a clever Jennifer Aniston joke, a sight gag to rival THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, and enough bawdy sex comedy that the political satire sometimes fades (but never for long). It’s meant to be a crowd-pleaser and it seems to succeed on that; although its greatest strength may be in showcasing another side from the immensely talented Charlize Theron.

watch the trailer: