Spoiler-Free Reviews of Trending Movies (OCT 2020)

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (Amazon)

Yes, Rudy is in this mock documentary (and doesn’t come off as so innocent)! Of course, y’all can see and judge if you’re curious. This is NOT the type of humor for sensitive viewers, as some of it is quite gross, vulgar, and cringe-y. This time, Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) is joined by his wide-eyed teen daughter, Tutar (24 y.o. Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova), who may be interested in becoming a journo also. Bakalova may be the breakout star here, as she can go toe-to-toe w/ the British comedian/filmmaker! Look out for a touching scene involving Borat and two elderly Jewish women. There is also a Black woman (babysitter) who gives Tutar some good advice. If you’re already a left-of-center (liberal) individual, you may be LOL-ing at the politically-charged stuff. I almost couldn’t believe that Cohen snuck into CPAC (which took place in FEB 2020 in DC)!

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix)

In Chicago 1968, the Democratic convention was met w/ protests from activists like the moderate Students for a Democratic Society led by Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and the militant Yippies led by Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong from Succession), which led to violent confrontations w/ police. Seven of the accused ringleaders are arraigned on charges like conspiracy by the hostile Nixon administration, incl. Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II- a rising star in Hollywood) of the Black Panthers (who wasn’t involved in the incident). What follows is an unfair trial presided by Judge Hoffman (veteran actor Frank Langella) and prosecuted by a reluctant, but duty-bound Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Two of the defense lawyers are William Kunstler (Mark Rylance- a British theater star) from the ACLU and Leonard Weinglass (character actor Ben Shenkman), an expert on constitutional law.

I saw this last week; I’m a big fan of Aaron Sorkin’s writing (though haven’t seen all of his shows). Sorkin was approached by Spielberg several years ago re: writing this film- WOW! If you’re into US history, costumes, legal drama, and politics- you’ll enjoy the movie. Otherwise, it could come off as a bit boring; the directing style Sorkin uses is simple/straightforward. I liked the humor (which was mainly provided by Baron Cohen and Strong) and I learned some new things, too. I enjoyed seeing the subtle acting from Gordon-Levitt (now almost 40- whoa), Rylance, and Shenkman (who you may know from Angels in America).

Rebecca (Netflix)

Here was the (short) review I shared via Twitter last FRI night: Not sexy, not suspenseful, not one bit scary- just cliched, colorful, & clueless! Fans on my Alfred Hitchcock Facebook group were (mostly) reluctant to watch this version, though it’s not a remake. This is an adaptation of the novel (which I didn’t read); I suspect it’s not totally faithful. Though it delves into class issues, there is very little age gap between the leads. Viewers looking for the LGBTQ element to be explored further (w/ Mrs. Danvers) will be disappointed. The director (Ben Wheatley) doesn’t do much w/ light and shadow- a missed opportunity!

I don’t love or hate Lily James, but I don’t think this role suited her. The same goes for Armie Hammer (tall/conventionally handsome); he acts wooden, lacks mystery, and has no romantic chemistry w/ James. His accent is way off- it’s more Mid-Atlantic than British. I haven’t seen much of his acting, but I thought he’d be a LOT better than this! I did enjoy seeing Ann Dowd (The Handmaid’s Tale) and the (still gorgeous) Kristin Scott Thomas. What we have is a movie where the costumes and scenery overtake the people in the story. The supporting actors did well w/ what they were given, esp. the prosecutor (in the third act). The ending scene looks like it belongs in a different movie- MANY viewers were confused!

“Deadline – USA” (1952) starring Humphrey Bogart, Ethel Barrymore, & Kim Hunter

Ed Hutcheson, the editor of a crusading NYC newspaper- The Day– finds that the late owner’s daughters will soon be selling it to a rival (which focuses more on sensationalism). At first, he sees impending unemployment as a chance to win back the ex-wife he still loves, Nora (Kim Hunter). Then, a reporter pursuing a lead on a racketeer, Tomas Rienzi (Martin Gabel), is badly beaten. Hutcheson goes into fighting mode, trying to connect Rienzi to a young woman’s murder… and maybe even saving the paper (and the jobs of his co-workers)!

Ed Hutcheson: A free press, like a free life, sir, is always in danger.

The story is based on the closing of the The Sun, founded by Benjamin Day, in 1950. The Sun was sold to the Scripps Howard chain and merged into The World-Telegram. Location shooting took place both in the newsroom and the printing plant of The New York Daily News, w/ real pressmen playing themselves. There was also a reproduction of a newsroom on a Hollywood soundstage.

Alice: [After her mother announces she’s buying back the paper] What changed your mind?

Mrs. Garrison: Have you seen today’s paper? And yesterday’s? Loyalty changed my mind. A principle evidently lacking in today’s generation.

There are unpredictable scenes, many fine supporting actors, and a very strong script. The writer/director, Richard Brooks, worked on The Brothers Karamazov (1958) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), and Elmer Gantry (1960). He had 6 Oscar noms during his film career- wow! Bogie (over 50, yet still going strong) gives an energetic and powerful performance, though it never seems over-the-top. Each line comes across as if he’d thought it up himself at the moment! Ethel Barrymore lends even more gravitas to the story w/ her portrayal of Margaret Garrison, the widow of the paper’s respected founder.

[1] …a realistic look at the life of a big city paper in days gone by. It’s a gritty piece of nostalgia, as timely in its day as The Front Page was in the Twenties. Cast members like Paul Stewart, Jim Backus, and Ed Begley look and feel right at home at their jobs.

[2] Kim Hunter excels also as the Bogart ex. Martin Gabel eerily predicts the Tony Soprano performance of today as an underworld Kingpin shown with his perfect domestic arrangement.

[3] …surprisingly up to date in its concern with how the public often doesn’t really care about the news, and that a lot of what’s packaged as news is just entertainment.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Caught” (1949) starring James Mason, Barbara Bel Geddes, & Robert Ryan

Maxine: [Persuading Leonora to attend a charm school] You’re not going just to get a better job. A charm school is like college and finishing school combined.

Leonora Eames: I can read, Maxine.

Maxine: Well, all I can say is, without a social education, you’re never gonna’ meet a real man.

Though she is struggling to pay bills in SoCal, an idealistic waitress from Iowa, Leonora Eames (Barbara Bel Geddes), decides to spend on a 6-wk. course at a charm school. She soon becomes a department store model like her friend/roomie (Maxine). Leonora gets noticed by a man at the perfume counter (as she’d imagined); he invites her to a party on a yacht owned by bachelor/millionaire Smith Ohlrig (Robert Ryan). Thinking that she’s in love, Leonora marries Smith, and begins her life on his Long Island estate. It turns out that Smith is a workaholic; he’s also a cold-hearted/controlling husband. After a year of (miserable) married life, Leonora leaves him. She answers an ad for a receptionist for a doctors’ office on the Lower East Side. One of the doctors is an obstetrician; the other, Larry Quinada (James Mason), is a pediatrician.

How do I wish to be remembered, if at all? I think perhaps just as a fairly desirable sort of character actor. -James Mason

Some classic film fans may realize that Smith is based on (another difficult millionaire) Howard Hughes. The 1992 restoration of this film at UCLA was financed by Scorsese, who later directed The Aviator (2004). For his American film debut, Mason (then 40 y.o.) was first cast as Smith; he asked to play the other male role, as he wanted to change his (villainous) screen image. The director (Max Ophuls) brings an European (German to be exact) sensibility to the melodrama/noir. The angles, lighting, and movement of the camera help in creating an unique, yet unsettling film showing the dark side of “The American Dream.” Bel Geddes does fine, but she’s not a very nuanced actress; she is known best as Ellie Ewing (matriarch) on Dallas. Ryan and Mason are the ones who shine here. They are filmed and lit in different ways; Ryan looks threatening/dangerous (shot from below or farther away) and Mason comes across as relatable/comforting (shot more close-up at eye-level). I’d like to check out more of this director’s English-language films.

[1] … it was brilliant casting: Ryan was a superb actor. He was tall and intense. …the character he plays here is withdrawn, well-spoken, and even a bit effete. It’s an exceptionally good performance that today would win an actor all sorts of awards.

[2] The messages about the state of that world are strong, indeed almost totally lacking in any subtlety… all of which starkly inform the viewer that the price of excessive wealth and social nihilism combined is so close to madness it’s not worth chasing; far better, instead, to reject such excesses and concentrate on being a valuable member of society.

Some great camera work and all in lovely black and white makes this movie a worthwhile addition to the film-noir genre.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Moon Over Parador” (1988) starring Richard Dreyfuss, Raul Julia, & Sonia Braga

A sort of annoying and also kind of charming actor, Jack Noah (Richard Dreyfuss), is shooting a film on location in the (fictional) country of Parador when its seemingly benevolent dictator, Alphonse Simms, suddenly dies. The dictator’s right-hand man, Roberto Strausman (Puerto Rican actor Raul Julia), makes Jack an offer he can’t refuse-impersonate Simms… or die! Jack’s acting skills fool the masses, but not the palace staff; they play along to keep their jobs. Simms’ mistress/nightclub dancer, Madonna Mendez (Brazilian actress Sonia Braga), decides to help Jack play his role convincingly.

Jack: [after being asked to be the dead dictator’s imposter] Why couldn’t you get Bobby DeNiro or Dustin Hoffman?

Roberto: Not available! I would have given my right arm to work with Bobby DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman!

Jack: [under his breath] They always say that about DeNiro and Hoffman.

The plot of this comedy was re-used for the movie Dave (1993) starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver. In the age of Trump (often called a wanna be dictator), it’s not far-fetched to see a leader w/ dark makeup, who makes appearances at beauty pageants, and avoids questions from the press. However, this dictator cares for the regular people! Dreyfuss played dual roles of both Jack and the double of Pres. Alphonse Simms; the real Simms was played by his brother Lorin. When Jack is applying make-up to look like Simms in the meat locker, Dreyfuss’ brother is playing the part of the corpse. This movie received two Golden Globe Award noms in 1989- Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for Braga and Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for Julia. Even w/ big hair and wild/revealing outfits, Braga’s soulful characterization shines through. Julia (sporting blonde hair) creates a sadistic/power-hungry villain w/ a maniacal laugh… and a brain (he went to Harvard).

The country’s name of Parador is a mash-up of Paraguay (PARA) and Ecuador (DOR). The 14 families that control Parador refer to the 14 families that (in reality) controlled El Salvador in the early 1970s. Ralph (Jonathan Winters) tells a long story re: an English pirate who founded the country of Parador (to explain why Simms has an Anglo-Saxon name). The real reason is that the film was shot in Brazil, and director Paul Mazursky needed a shot of a crowd of extras chanting the dictator’s name. When the crowd is chanting “Simms,” they are actually saying “Sim” (“yes” in Portuguese). There are scenes from Carnivale; people of all ages w/ various skin tones dance and party.

Moon Over Parador pokes fun at government and show business, which is filled w/ many neurotic/egotistical actors. It contains many references to pop culture, incl. A Streetcar Named Desire, Casablanca, Dynasty, and Hollywood Squares. Jack is dressed like Don Johnson during his Miami Vice years (complete w/ a blonde mullet wig) when filming the movie in the first act; a young Dana Delaney plays his leading lady. During a scene where Jack has to address the crowd as Simms, he ad-libs and uses lines from The Impossible Dream from Man of La Mancha. Only Roberto (a theater buff) gets this reference, which is a call-back to Julia’s leading role (Don Quixote) in the Broadway musical. Fans of SVU- look out for Dann Florek (one of Jack’s NYC actor pals). The earlier national anthem (O Parador) is sung to the tune of O Christmas Tree. After Jack changes the song, Sammy Davis Jr. (wow) sings it to the tune of Besame Mucho. Dick Cavett (playing himself) interviews Simms and Madonna in the third act of the film.

[1] …this movie is funny, yet has a serious side as well… the main character, who at the start of the movie is a struggling actor and somewhat of a buffoon, evolves too and by the end of the movie commands respect.

[2] Paul Mazursky’s film is under-rated in my opinion; maybe because the film never takes itself seriously.

…quite clever issues are brought out, as Noah begins to enjoy his role and tries to bring in social reforms.

[3] Is it appropriate to turn the tense situation in Latin America into comedy? Well, “Moon Over Parador” does a good job with it. No matter what they do in this movie, they pull it off.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Beware, My Lovely” (1952) starring Ida Lupino & Robert Ryan

Howard Wilton (Robert Ryan), a handyman/drifter, arrives at the house of widow/teacher Helen Gordon (Ida Lupino). He is hired for the day to help clean the house, incl. waxing the floor. It soon becomes apparent that Howard’s behavior is unusual. Howard anxiously asks Helen if his work is satisfactory. He works hard, but is uncomfortable b/c he thinks she is watching him. Helen’s teen niece, Ruth (Barbara Whiting), reacts badly when Howard doesn’t appreciate her flirty behavior. She taunts him; this makes him mad. After she leaves, Howard locks the doors, and makes Helen a prisoner in her own home!

The petite Lupino makes a striking contrast to the dark/tall (6’3″) Ryan. This taut/thought-provoking 77 min. noir was also owned/produced by Lupino and her husband, Collier Young. This is the first movie directed by Harry Horner, who worked as an art director/ production designer for theater, opera, as well as movies. The head of RKO, Howard Hughes, held the film from release for a year. Ryan felt Hughes (known for his right-wing politics) tried to “bury” it b/c Ryan was publicly active in left-wing politics. The staircase was left over from the set of The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and would be used in many RKO films.

We (in the modern world) are wary to have strangers work our homes (w/o a reference from a friend, family member, or trusted neighbor). Of course, many of us do research on businesses online. However, this story is set in 1918 in a small town, where almost everyone knows each other. Helen’s boarder, Mr. Armstrong (Taylor Holmes), jokes around w/ her before leaving town for the holidays. A group of young schoolchildren bring gifts for Helen to place under her Christmas. This is not the type of environment where we expect danger, in reality and in fiction. But you never can tell! “Women in jeopardy” movies used to be a staple of ‘90s cable TV; however, the story here is more nuanced than you’d expect.

[1] I was attracted to this film because the title suggested a tough detective film noir… Very quickly though I realised that this was down to some people’s assumption that anything that is black and white and tough gets called a “noir,” but I was not disappointed because this domestic thriller is driven by two very good performances. 

[2] …wow did Ryan do a really good job portraying this man! You really find yourself feeling for Ida Lupino as he destroys her life. So with such intense acting and menace…

[3] The suspense comes from her various ploys to keep him happy while trying to escape. It’s a nail-biter all the way. 

-Excerpts from IMDB movies