Movie Review: Airplane! (1980)


Title: Airplane!
Release Date: July 2, 1980
Director: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Production Company: Paramount Pictures | Howard W. Koch Productions
Summary/Review:

The team of Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker didn’t invent the spoof movie but their style of clever wordplay and visual gags set a pattern that’s still being followed 40+ years later.  This is a movie I remember watching again and again in my childhood (mostly in an edited for tv version, more on that later) and still remember most of the gags revisiting the movie all these years later. Nevertheless, there are so many jokes packed into this movie that you always notice something new.

Now I’ll admit that there is an element of nostalgia to this movie. Air travel has changed so much in 40 years and there are references in this movie that a younger viewer just might not get the jokes.  As always with 70s/80s comedy there’s a concern with racially and sexually insensitive jokes and Airplane! has a few (African villagers playing basketball, jiggling breasts) but fortunately not too many as much of the humor is situational rather than stereotypical. I won’t excuse Airplane for being “of its time” because I remember people in the 80s criticizing the movie for being crass.

I first watched this movie on TV in the mid-80s and I think watched a video tape of that version for years afterwards.  The TV version not only cut out the raunchier parts but actually added scenes.  I particularly remember the “Hi, Jack!” gag and more scenes with the children acting like they’re grownup business travelers.  I found a compilation of the cut scenes on YouTube and remember every single one vividly.  I would totally watch a cut of the movie that reincorporated these scenes into the theatrical version.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: She’s Gotta Have It (1986)


Title: She’s Gotta Have It
Release Date: August 8, 1986
Director: Spike Lee
Production Company: 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks
Summary/Review:

I watched She’s Gotta Have It way back in the 1980s and remember liking it, except for THAT SCENE (but we’ll get to that latter).  This was Spike Lee’s first feature film as director, shot in black & white (except for one brilliant burst of color mid-movie), and has more of an arthouse vibe to it than any of Lee’s later work.

The movie focuses on Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns), an artist in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, and her romantic sexual relationships with three different men.  Jamie (Tommy Redmond Hicks) is presented as the “good guy” and I think the narrative wants the audience to believe that until the rug is pulled out from us later on.  Greer (John Canada Terrell) is a vain model.  Mars Blackmon (Spike Lee) is a goofy sneakerhead and basically a Brooklyn hipster before his time.  Lee has also portrayed Mars in commercials and his own identity and the character’s are sometimes intermingled.

The movie basically does a good job of deconstructing the double standards of a woman who wants to be sexually active with more than one man.  In the documentary-style interviews with the men, they basically “self-own” themselves with their hypocritical views.  This movie is also sex positive in the way that it depicts how Nola is sexually fulfilled in different ways by each of the men.  Still though, this movie fumbles at times where it clearly feels it was written by a straight man. One of the worst is examples is a lesbian character portrayed by Raye Dowell acts like a male fantasy of a lesbian woman.

And now we come to the end of the movie for which I will have to discuss SPOILERS. Angry that Nola won’t choose to be only with him, Jamie brutally rapes her. Later Nola calls it a “near rape” which is an understatement at best. She decides to break it off with Mars and Greer and be exclusive with Jamie but also to be celibate for a time.  Now, it is not unrealistic for a seemingly “good guy” in a patriarchal society to become a rapist, nor is it unrealistic for a woman to internalize abuse and feel that she has to be the one to change her behavior but it does seem to send the wrong message that undercuts everything that came before.  In the final shot, Nola abruptly admits that her period of celibacy was short and she eventually broke it off with Jamie, which, good for her, but it also feels like this movie is trying to have it both ways.

Despite its flaws, She’s Gotta Have It, was a groundbreaking film.  It kicked off Spike Lee’s career, and was in the vanguard of movies by Black filmmakers that shook off the Hollywood stereotypes of Black stories in film.  The movie depicts Brooklyn as home to successful Black people pursuing their interests in careers and personal lives in a way that sadly hadn’t been seen in movies before.  It was also a big boost to independent movies at a time of major studio dominance, and the indies still flourish today because of it.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: The Circus (1928)


TitleThe Circus
Release Date: January 6, 1928
Director: Charles Chaplin
Production Company: United Artists
Summary/Review:

This Charlie Chaplin film comes in-between The Gold Rush and City Lights but is not as highly acclaimed as those two movies, and I can see why.  Chaplin’s Tramp stumbles into a circus and inadvertently becomes a comic star.  He also falls in love with the horse rider Merna (Merna Kennedy) who is brutally abused by the Ringmaster (Al Ernest Garcia).  The arrival of a new tightrope walker, Rex (Harry Crocker), leads to a love triangle among the Tramp, Myrna, and Rex.  There are a number of good gags and stunts in the film, but overall the movie just feels thin.  It’s like a good short film got stretched to be a feature.  Still, Chaplin’s comedic brilliance is always worth a watch.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Who Killed Captain Alex? (2015)


Title: Who Killed Captain Alex?
Release Date: 1 March 2015
Director: Nabwana I.G.G.
Production Company: Ramon Film Productions
Summary/Review:

Who Killed Captain Alex? is Uganda’s first action film.  How do I know this? Because the movie itself let’s it be known that it’s “Uganda first action film” on multiple occasions.  It’s reported to be made on a budget of approximately $200 and it shows. It tells the story of the titular Captain Alex leads his commandos against the Tiger Mafia, and then is mysteriously murdered. By pretty much any standard this is not a “good” movie.

But it does have a few things going for it.  For one, everyone involved seems to be having a good time and fully invested in making Uganda’s first action film with whatever tools they can find.  All the more so since it’s unlikely anyone was actually paid for their work out of that $200.  The other feature is narration and commentary from what sounds like a party MC/hype man provided by V.J. Emmie.  This is what is known in Ugandan cinema as a video joker.

While only 68 minutes long, it’s still a bit too much for one running gag.  Nevertheless it was fun to watch something so earnestly produced and quite unlike anything I’ve ever watched before.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Next Stop Wonderland (1998)


Title: Next Stop Wonderland
Release Date: August 21, 1998
Director: Brad Anderson
Production Company: Robbins Entertainment
Summary/Review:

Next Stop Wonderland was released almost simultaneously with my move to Boston in 1998.  I remember walking across the Longfellow Bridge to Kendall Square Cinemas and then seeing that same great view of the city from the bridge in the opening shot of the movie.  The movie makes great use of Boston area locales, including MBTA subway trains, the New England Aquarium, and The Burren pub in Somerville which was my local watering hole for many years.  Almost all movies set in Boston involve mobsters, fanatic sports fans, and/or academics, so it’s great to have Next Stop Wonderland as Boston’s only romantic comedy.

So, I’m predisposed to enjoy this movie for many nostalgic reasons, but rewatching it for the first time in many years I also feel that it is just a really good romantic comedy.  The movie tells the parallel stories of two characters, Erin Castleton (90s indie movie queen Hope Davis) and Alan Monteiro (Alan Gelfant).  Erin is a registered nurse who’s live in boyfriend Sean (Philip Seymour Hoffman between The Big Lebowski and Boogie Nights but not a huge star yet) leaves her at the beginning of the movie and whose mother places a personal ad in Erin’s name leading to a series of comically bad dates. Alan is a working class son of a plumber going to college to study marine biology and volunteering at the New England Aquarium in his spare time.

The movie has a slice-of-feel to it as the two leads go about their everyday lives while dealing with inappropriate relationships. Erin is briefly drawn to a Brazilian patient (José Zúñiga) while Alan is drawn in by advances of a younger student in his class (Cara Buono, looking very different than on Stranger Things).  A number of quirky, comical things happen along the way involving things ranging from kidnapped ballonfish to misattributed Ralph Waldo Emerson quotations.

SPOILER: Erin and Alan finally do meet at the end of the film, which is kind of expected.  What is an unexpected is that the ending is ambiguous.  They may fall in love, they may just be friends, or they may not ever meet again.  What I like about this movie on this watching is that it is really an introvert’s romance.  Both characters express a contentment with being alone that you don’t often see in the movies.  This could be another reason why this is one of my favorite movies of all-time.

Rating: ****

Recent Movie Marathon: Encanto (2021)


Happy New Year! I’m kicking off 2022 by watching and reviewing a bunch of movies from 2021.

Title: Encanto
Release Date: November 24, 2021
Director: Jared Bush & Byron Howard
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures & Walt Disney Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

In Disney’s latest animated musical, we meet the Madrigal family of Columbia who have magical abilities and live in an enchanted house (“Casita”).   The main character is Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), a 15-year-old who is the only member of the family who did not receive a magical gift.  The premise is simple, Mirabel must use her natural gifts of empathy and resourcefulness to hold the family together during a crisis.

This is one of those movies where a summary would not do the film justice.  This is partly because much of the “magic” of this film is the bright colors and beautiful visuals.  It’s also blessed with catch tunes by Lin-Manuel Miranda (who seems to be everywhere these days).  Finally the interrelation of the large, extended family each with individual talents and personality quirks just won’t translate to a list.

I enjoyed Encanto and it’s a worthy addition to the growing library of Disney animated features.

Rating: ***1/2

Recent Movie Marathon: Together Together (2021)


Happy New Year! I’m kicking off 2022 by watching and reviewing a bunch of movies from 2021.

Title: Together Together
Release Date: April 23, 2021
Director: Nikole Beckwith
Production Company: Wild Idea | Stay Gold Features | Haven Entertainment | Kindred Spirit
Summary/Review:

Matt (Ed Helms) is single and in his mid-40s and very much wants to be a father.  He chooses Anna (Patti Harrison) to the be the surrogate to carry his baby to term.  The movie explores the 9 months of pregnancy for these two characters as they go to doctor’s checkups, therapy sessions, and getting to know one another better.  They form a friendship but also learn where to set boundaries in their relationship.

A lot of the humor in this movie relies on the awkwardness of their situation and moments that make you just cringe.  At times I hated this movie, and found Helms’ character particularly insufferable.  But I ultimately also found it insightful and rather touching.  It’s a strange movie that feels honest and human beneath a layer of artifice.  So I guess I’m right in the middle on how I feel about this movie.

Rating: ***

Christmas Movie Marathon Review: Tangerine (2015)


TitleTangerine
Release Date: July 10, 2015
Director: Sean Baker
Production Company: Duplass Brothers Productions | Through Films
Summary/Review:

On Christmas Eve in Hollywood, Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), a transgender sex worker just released from 28 days in jail, learns that her boyfriend/pimp Chester (James Ransone) has been unfaithful. Sin-Dee goes on a rampage hunting down the cisgender sex worker Dinah (Mickey O’Hagan) for revenge. Meanwhile, her compatriot Alexandra (Mya Taylor) tags along trying to prevent “drama” and promoting her musical performance at a local bar.  While this is all happening, we also see Armenian cab driver Razmik (Karren Karagulian) pick up passengers, and also be a customer of Alexandra and Sin-Dee, as well as have Christmas dinner with his family.

As you may have guessed, this is not your traditional Christmas movie.  The humor can be very dark, but also offers a real glimpse into a subculture.  The film was shot on iPhones which helps lend it a verite feel.  I thought things get very grim for all the main characters by the end of the movie, but it ends with a scene of kindness that lends a sweetness to the whole movie.

Rating: ***1/2

Hamilton and other theatrical productions I have seen


On Thursday night, I took my daughter to see Hamilton at the Providence Performing Arts Center (there’s a nice review from The Providence Journal). We’d watched the filmed version of Hamilton on Disney+ and listened to the cast recording countless times but this was the first time we attended a live performance.  It was nice to get the wide view from the First Dress Circle where we could see the intricate choreography of the ensemble cast.  I was also impressed with the lighting design.  And it was interesting to see the different takes the actors had on the characters from the original cast.  Not related to the show, the Providence Performing Arts Center is a lovely theater although a bit short on leg room.

Anyhow, it got be thinking of what other theatrical productions I’d seen in my life.  So I brainstormed a list with the help of some old ticket stubs I’ve collected.

Broadway

  • Annie (early 1980s) at the Alvin Theatre – I remember getting autographs from the young cast members outside the theater although those weren’t saved. Sarah Jessica Parker might’ve been in the cast at the time.
  • Barnum (early 1980s) at the St. James Theatre – A musical about the life of P.T. Barnum long before The Greatest Showman. I remember being impressed by a woman purportedly supposed to be George Washington’s nurse singing a bluesy tune.  Also, jugglers and acrobats performed in the audience before the show.
  • Peter Pan (early 1980s) – A revival of the 1954 musical starring Sandy Duncan.  She flew out over the audience at the end of the show.
  • Lost in Yonkers (December 29, 1992) at Richard Rogers Theatre – A nostalgic comedy-drama by Neil Simon. Didi Conn played the main role replacing Mercedes Ruehl, much to the disgruntlement of my sister.
  • Jelly Roll (January 10, 1995) at 47th Street Theatre – A biographical musical about jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton.  I remember that it was performed by the second cast much to the disgruntlement of the guy behind me.
  • A Funny Thing Happened on Way to the Forum (March 19, 1997) at St. James Theatre – Whoopi Goldberg starred in the lead role that previously had been reserved for a man.
  • Once Upon a Mattress (March 19, 1997) at Broadhurst Theater -Sarah Jessica Parker was definitely in this show.
  • The Lion King (January 22, 2000) at New Amsterdam Theatre – Some friends convinced me to get SRO tickets for this show although I was resistant to Disney musicals at that point in my life.  I ended up liking it.
  • Monty Python’s Spamalot (November 19, 2005) at Shubert Theatre – As a long time fan of Monty Python and Tim Curry, I was eager to so this show and was severely disappointed.  Maybe because the cast felt like they were phoning it in the whole time?

Off-Broadway

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (early 1980s) at Radio City Music Hall – This production was made long before Disney movies were routinely adapted into Broadway musicals.  My dad took us to this show because he felt we needed to see something at the great Radio City Music Hall.
  • The Fantasticks (January 1995) at Sullivan Street Playhouse – Saw world’s longest-running musical when it was in the 35th year of its 42-year run. It was great.

West End

  • The Mousetrap (February 28, 1998) at St Martin’s Theatre – Since I’d seen the world’s longest-running musical in New York I had to see the world’s longest-running play of any kind in London.  This is a famous Agatha Christie murder mystery.
  • An Inspector Calls (February 28, 1998) at the Royal Theatre  – The second show I saw on the same night that featured people impersonating police officers.  This one was a satire of Edwardian society.

Touring Productions

  • Les Miserables (August 2, 1990) at National Theatre – The summer I went to a high school program at Georgetown University, I learned that big, bold, Broadway musicals are good actually.
  • 42nd Street (February 7, 1993) at Chrysler Hall – Part of a series of shows my Mom and I went to see when I was in college.
  • Last of the Red Hot Lovers (May 9, 1993) at Chrysler Hall – This production starred Don Knotts and Barbara Eden!
  • Camelot (October 24, 1993) at Chrysler Hall – I’ve loved Camelot since watching the filmed version of the 1982 revival so I was eager to see a live performance. Robert Goulet, who played Lancelot in the original production, starred is King Arthur.  This was a bit of a waste of his big voice since Arthur’s part was written for a lesser singer, but it was still fun and inspiring.
  • Rent (August 26, 1997) at National Theatre – The musical that brought a 1990s sensibility to Broadway.  I saw this with some friends in Washington and then listened to the cast recording for the next year.

Repertory, Community, and College Theaters, etc. 

  • Fiddler on the Roof (late 1980s) – My childhood parish had a community theater called the St. Catherine Players, although the performers weren’t generally members of the congregation.  Anyhow, I first saw this terrific musical about Jewish people in Russia in the basement of a Roman Catholic church.
  • Broadway Bound (August 1990) at Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse – This is the third in a trilogy of Neil Simon’s plays after Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues (which I only saw as movies).
  • Antigone (August 1990) at Tisbury Amphitheater – This was a modernized take of the Sophocles’ play performed in a lovely wooded setting on Martha’s Vineyard.
  • All the King’s Men (Autumn 1991) at William and Mary Theatre – Robert Penn Warren’s fictionalized story of Huey Long was set to music by Randy Newman.
  • Once Upon a Mattress (October 16, 1992) at William and Mary Theatre – I saw this on a bad date.
  • Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat at Matthew Whaley School – Sometime, I some group perform this at a public school in Williamsburg.  It was good, I recall.
  • Godspell (April 1993) at St. Bede’s Catholic Church Parish Hall – The Catholic/Episcopal Covenant Players performed this at William & Mary.
  • Night Sky (November 19, 1993) at William and Mary Theatre – A play in which the protagonist suffers from aphasia after an accident.  This was part of a much better date to celebrate my birthday.
  • Working (April 1994?) at The Fellowship Hall at the Williamsburg Presbyterian Church – Another Covenant Players production of a musical by Studs Terkel.
  • Into the Woods (January 20, 1994) at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall – The Sinfonicron Light Opera Company performed this Stephen Sondheim musical.  I remember feeling it was mean-spirited and feeling very depressed after watching it.  I’d probably like it better if I was in a better mind.
  • Helene (April 14, 1995) at William and Mary Theatre – I know this has something to do with Greek mythology, but I have no recollection what it was about.
  • Junebug/Jack (September 9, 1995) at The Arts Center Theatre – Another show I don’t clearly remember but it looks like something I would like.
  • Jim Crow Gotta Go (April 13, 1996) at William and Mary Theatre – I think that this was a touring production based on oral history experiences of people in a Southern town during the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Walk Together Children (1996) – This was a production that took its inspiration from Jim Crow Gotta Go to specifically focus on the stories of people in Williamsburg.  My good friend and housemate worked on producing this show.
  • Crazy For You (October 17, 1997) at William and Mary Theatre – A romantic comedy musical with Gershwin brothers songs that I thought was funnier than my date did.  But it was still a good date.
  • Angels in America: Part One (April 18, 1998) at William and Mary Theatre – A production of Tony Kushner’s groundbreaking drama about the AIDS crisis in the gay community was still controversial in Williamsburg 23 years ago
  • Jesus Christ Superstar (May 11, 2000) at Turtle Lane Playhouse – The main thing I remember about this production is that they made Mary Magdalene look like Monica Lewinski.
  • Blue Man Group – “Tubes” (September 8, 2000) at The Charles Playhouse – Got to see this show free-of-charge for participants of the Boston -> New York AIDSRide.  A Blue Man spat a piece of chewed-up Toblerone in my hand.  It was gross.
  • Miss Folk America (May 19, 2001) at Somerville Theatre – A comedy about the Boston area folk scene starring some of our favorite singer/songwriters at the time as fictional versions of themselves.  Extremely niche.
  • Nixon’s Nixon (March 2002) at Huntington Theatre – I volunteered as an usher and got to watch this comic drama of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger on the last night of Nixon’s presidency.
  • Blithe Spirit (February 19, 2004) at Walpole Footlighters – A colleague of Susan’s was involved in this production of the Noël Coward comedy.
  • The Birthday Party  (March 2004) at American Repertory Theatre – A very strange and very uncomfortable Harold Pinter play with the set’s furniture slowly being pushed into the center of the stage.
  • The Sweetest Swing in Baseball (2006?) at Cyclorama – A woman artist adopts the persona of Darryl Strawberry and becomes a success painting pictures of chickens.  Surprisingly it works.
  • Pippin (September 21, 2018) at Footlight Club -I’d long loved the music from this show but it wasn’t quite expected.
  • The Haunted Life (March 23, 2019) at Merrimack Repertory Theatre – An adaptation of a autobiographical Jack Kerouac novel about growing up in Lowell.

Shakespeare

  • Macbeth (Summer 1992) at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall – This was part of the Virginia Shakespeare Festival.  The star of the show also taught a theater course I took at William & Mary that summer.
  • Twelfth Night (February 25, 1993) at William and Mary Theatre – I played Sir Toby Belch in a high school production of Twelfth Night, so I love this comedy, but I don’t remember this William & Mary production at all.
  • Richard III (July 22, 1995) at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall – Another Virginia Shakespeare Festival production.
  • Measure for Measure (July 28, 1998) at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall – The main thing I remember about this Virginia Shakespeare Festival production is that they emphasized style over substance and I really hated it.  Also, music by the Gipsy Kings.
  • Twelfth Night (Summer 2001) at Boston Common – The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s production of Shakespeare on the Common set Twelfth Night in the early-60s JFK/Camelot era.
  • Macbeth (2003) at Boston Common – Another Commonwealth Shakespeare Company production that moved the Scottish tragedy to Juan Perón’s Argentina.  Memorably, the three witches remained on stage for the entire show, pulling strings in the background.
  • Hamlet (2005) at Boston Common – In this production, the Danish prince had a swimming pool, I think?

Opera, Light Opera, Ballet, etc.

  • Romeo and Juliet (October 20, 1991) at Chrysler Hall – This was the first ballet I ever saw performed by the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.  However, the main thing I remember about this performance is that my sister mistook a Navy officer in his dress uniform for an usher.  Welcome to Norfolk!
  • Patience (January 19, 1995) at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall – Another Sinfonicron Light Opera Company performance.  This made me realize that I really don’t like Gilbert & Sullivan
  • La Boheme (January 21, 1997) at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall – Having seen Rent, I saw the original with my Mom. Mimi has a strong voice for someone with consumption.
  • The Magic Flute (1997?) at Harrison Opera House – My first opera, also in Norfolk.
  • The Nutcracker (December 30, 2005) at The Opera House – Amazingly, I’ve only seen this ballet once, performed by Boston Ballet.  Maybe next Christmas?
  • Semele (September 28, 2006) at New York State Theatre – This was an adaptation of an oratorio by Handel that made the main character in Marilyn Monroe.
  • Urban Nutcracker (December 16, 2006) at John Hancock Hall – Another Christmas classic I need to see again.
  • Madama Butterfly (April 22, 2007) at New York State Theatre – A treat from my mother that I saw with Susan in the last months before we became parents.
  • Così fan tutte (March 24, 2018) at Metropolitan Opera House – My first show at the Met set the Mozart opera in a Coney Island-style beach resort. Broadway star Kelli O’Hara made a nice transition to opera.

I’ll add more if I remember them.

Movie Review: Boogie Nights (1997)


Title: Boogie Nights
Release Date: October 10, 1997
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Production Company: Lawrence Gordon Productions | Ghoulardi Film Company
Summary/Review:

Set over the years 1977-1984 in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Boogie Nights is the story of Eddie (Mark Wahlberg), a busboy at a nightclub recruited by the idealistic adult films director, Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), to be an actor in his X-rated movies.  Taking the stage name Dirk Diggler, he rises to a superstar level within the porn industry.  This movie has the familiar feel to of a typical show business story of a meteoric rise to fame followed by a descent into drug abuse and violence.  And it is all those things, but it also is disarmingly sweet.

Dirk forms a found family with Jack and fellow actors Maggie (Julianne Moore), Rollergirl (Heather Graham), and Reed (John C. Reilly).  I suspect the adult entertainment industry, like the movie industry in general, is ripe for abuse and exploitation, but I suspect that it is also plausible for a group of outsiders to come together as a community in a place where they feel like themselves as depicted in this movie.

What makes this movie great is that each of these characters is shown in their full humanity.  It helps that this movie features some amazingly talented actors.  Don Cheadle, William H. Macy, and Philip Seymour Hoffman all appear in smaller parts that are nonetheless fully-realized characters.  And yes, I do see the irony of great acting being the biggest strength in a movie about pornographic films.

If I can quibble with this film, it’s main flaw is that its runtime is too long and might feel less ponderous if given some judicious trimming.  I also felt that the running gag about Eddie/Dirk’s large penis kind of undercut the sympathetic and non-judgmental tone of portraying these outcasts as real people.  Still, I never thought that I would like this movie at all, and I ended up being really impressed.  It’s definitely not the movie I thought it would be and that’s a great thing.

Rating: ****