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The Bickering Critics – Anita and George

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G.I. Joe: Valor vs. Venom (2004) – reviewed by George

This CGI animated feature is pretty good, but I had to see about half of it to begin appreciating it. I guess that’s because the intended audience is adolescents.
Basically the G.I. Joes make up an organization of men and women who fight evil, and their major foe is Cobra. In this story Cobra Commander’s personal scientist Dr. Mindbender has invented a drug containing animal DNA which can be sprayed on people and it “venomizes” them, giving them strength and stamina and making them puppets of Cobra. Thus giving Cobra Commander a chance to say, “I love science!!”
C.C. also captures one of the Joes, Hawk, and turns him into Venomous Maximus, the strongest force for evil in Cobra’s arsenal.
So the G.I. Joes have to invent an anecdote and then use it on a small army of innocent people, including Hawk, who have been victimized as well as venomized. There’s plenty of action, and there are slightly lame jokey comments from both sides as we move toward an action-packed resolution.
Enjoyable, but I recommend watching with a beer or two, or maybe three (it’s 1:17, and I can guzzle three in that time, so probably you can too. Remember – drink responsibly!).
Written by Judith Reeves-Stevens & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, Directed by Dale Carman.

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Merry and Bright (2019) – reviewed by George

If it’s not too early for Hallmark to broadcast a new Christmas movie, then it’s not too early for me to review one. Right?
So here’s  a love story set at Christmas, between two people who definitely have different opinions about what brought them together, and it involves business plans mixed up with Christmas plans. The Merry and Bright Candy Cane Company has been around for 50 years, and its founder, Carol Merriwether, has recently died. Taking over the company falls to, not the daughter-in-law Joy (Sharon Lawrence), but the grand-daughter Cate (Jodie Sweetin), who likes the seasonal aspects of the job, since the canes are only made and sold (to specialty shops and candy stores all over the country) from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Of course the work in the factory is seasonal, so I’m thinking the workers are mostly wives who can afford to lay off the rest of the year.
However, the Board of Directors wants a year-round operation and has hired a consulting company (without first telling Cate) to check things out and recommend changes. The guy who is somewhat famous for doing this kind of miracle is Gabe Carter (Andew Walker), who thinks working with a small company is beneath him, but it’s his job, so he’ll suffer with a smile on his face. And while he is pleasant and unintimidating, Cate is suspicious and feels threatened.
Nice setup, and of course other conflicts are added in. Joy, not a dog person, has rescued a dog for Cate’s Christmas present, and has to hide it in her home. Sophie (Stephanie Moroz), one of Cate’s close friends at the company, is in love with Pete (Darren Martens), who is a bit clueless, so while he loves Sophie, he can’t figure out what to do about it.
The movie is brisk and amusing with good dialogue, the candy canes come in different flavors, and it’s a pleasure to see Jodie Sweetin and Sharon Lawrence again. The three other stars certainly add to the doings, and I found this to be a wonderful start to the Christmas season, despite the fact that it’s not even Thanksgiving yet. I think you’ll like it too.
Based on a Short Story by Mary Kay Andrews, Teleplay by Karen Wyscarver and Sanford Golden and Erinne Dobson, Directed by Gary Yates.

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Dumb Captions # 51: The Weather Channel, November 2019

Weathercaster: (in this kind of weather -) “The cold air is boss.”
Caption: “The cold air is bought’s.”  Whaat?
I’ve said before that trying to caption a live broadcast is one of the toughest jobs in existence, but I couldn’t let this one go.

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Harold Lloyd in “Among Those Present” (1921) – reviewed by George

“The Place: Society’s outer crust – Where the Want-to-be’s and the Would-be’s shake hands with the Never-will-be’s.”
The little family at the heart of this tale consists of Mother, the climber (Aggie Herring), who is the reasonable half – all she wants is to have her own way in everything, and the unreasonable half: dad and daughter (James Kelly and Mildred Davis), who actually enjoy Irish music and Irish dancing, and still pronounce their name “O’Brien” instead of “O’Bree-on”
Mom has an employee, The Society Pilot (Vera White), to guide her through the shoals and rapids of the New York set, and this woman has set up a guest list for the family’s upcoming fox hunt, and has brought it for Mrs. O’Bree-on’s approval. But today Mom has just read in “Who’s Who” that Lord Algernon Abbott Aberdeen Abernathy has checked in to The Ritz-Waldorf. As she scans the list she wants to know why Lord Abernathy is not on it, and the omission will be quickly corrected.
The S.P. hurries to meet her confederate, another person in the household, and tells him that their scheme is ruined unless they please “the old dame, so bring Lord Algy if you have to kidnap him.”
Thus, in four minutes the set-up is complete, because we already know that somehow The Boy (Harold) will be at the party in Lord Abernathy’s place, and a title card describes the guests as “14-carat lounge lizards and re-painted wallflowers”, so he won’t have to try very hard to impress them.
The fox hunt is terrific, the point of the picture, and it involves Harold getting the killer horse Dynamite (how many subsequent movies have you seen this in?), and includes a series of angry animals, and Harold losing his pants. Great, great fun! Even before the hunt there’s a super bit about head-scratching, and a scene of punch-spiking that goes very wrong (as far as the spiker is concerned). I loved it.
Music by Robert Israel, Story by Hal E. Roach and Sam Taylor, Directed by Fred Newmeyer, Titles by H.M. Walker.

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Dolomite Is My Name (2019) – reviewed by George

This is the first streaming movie I’ve ever reviewed. I have three streaming services but rarely watch, since the other options (network, cable) are so crowded with material. But after seeing this terrific comedy there will be more streaming movies reviewed on this site.
And incidentally, this film is already being shown all over the world.
This is based on the true story of Rudy Ray Moore, a 1970’s rap and comedic kung fu phenomenon, who actually starred in the first filming of this material in 1975. Here he’s played by Eddie Murphy in a bravura performance, and it’s easy to see that Eddie had the time of his life doing it. Large supporting roles are played by Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Tituss Burgess, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph. Smaller roles by Kodi Smit-McPhee, Snoop Dogg, Ron Cephus Jones, Barry Shabaka Henley, Tip “TI” Harris, Luenell, and Tasha Smith, with cameos by Wesley Snipes and Chris Rock.
Moore was a fascinating character, and his life makes a great movie. You can already figure out that the script contains action, comedy, and raunch, and you will not pause your TV or leave the room while this film is playing. Highly recommended.
imdb.com has a quote (not from the movie): a producer told Rudy Ray that you don’t make a movie for the five square blocks of people you know, and Rudy Ray replied, “That’s fine with me. ’cause every city in America’s got those same five blocks.”
Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, Directed by Craig Brewer.

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Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – reviewed by George

This delightful classic musical is set in 1927, when the release of the first talking feature “The Jazz Singer” changed movies forever (there’s a phrase I don’t like and would not normally use).
At the premiere of Monumental Pictures latest (silent) triumph, called “The Royal Rascal”,  Hollywood columnist Dora Bailey (Madge Blake) is live on the radio, interviewing arriving celebs and puffing up “Rascal” as the picture of the year. She introduces Zelda Zanders, the Zip Girl (Rita Moreno) and Olga Mara (Judy Landon), a Theda Bara type who is accompanied by her latest Baron (John Dodsworth), and both times the crowd goes wild. But the wildness becomes mania with the arrival (together) of Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), the stars of “Rascal”. And it is very obvious that Lina says nothing, while Don tells his life story: “The one motto that I’ve always lived by is Dignity, Always Dignity”. He tells how he and best friend Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor) met at conservatory, and enjoyed training in classical theatre and dance. The visuals tell a different story – meeting on the street and then performing in pool halls and rathole saloons, and finally vaudeville, where they are as unappreciated as they have been everywhere else. But “Dignity, Always Dignity”, and the crowd goes wild again.
This charade (Don talks, Lina smiles and listens) continues after the picture ends and the stars come out for bows. But once offstage Lina demands to know why she is always told to do this – in a screechy voice with a Brooklyn accent. Right away I thought of the sad tales of lost careers when talkies came in, but this is played for laughs. Lina also thinks she and Don are engaged because she read it in a fan magazine. Well, the studio head R.F. Simpson (Millard Mitchell) tells Lina that Don has always been the voice of the team, and he thinks that should continue. And she calms down.
After the premiere there’s a party and on the way Don gets mobbed by fans who literally are undressing him by ripping his coat and shirt to shreds which the mob considers souvenirs. He gets away by jumping into traffic, riding a streetcar (on top), and jumping into the car being driven by Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), who recognizes him from a magazine, but the wrong magazine – she thinks he’s a gangster. Secretly she does know who he is, but she likes giving him a bad time about “dumb show” (the put-down description of silent film acting) and the exaggeration that is necessitated by the absence of speech. She says she is on her way to Broadway to do real acting, and names the great playwrights as her heroes.
They meet again at Simpson’s mansion, where Miss Classical Theatre turns out to be one of the chorus girls hired to entertain at the party.
The next morning the papers are full of the triumph of the night before: not “Rascal”, but the first talkie. Now Monumental is about to be ousted from the Hollywood Firmament, so R.F. decides to turn the next Lockwood-Lamont movie, “The Dueling Cavalier”, into a talkie. It’s already set to start shooting, but he closes the studio for two weeks so the sound stuff can be installed and the crews can learn how to work with it. The shooting of this pretty-much doomed film is very funny with director Roscoe Dexter (Douglas Fowley, doing his best burn) struggling with Lina’s denseness. And Don and Lina have to go to Diction Coaches: His is played by Bobby Watson, and hers by Kathleen Freeman, who amazingly does not go bonkers. Lina’s accent resists all lessons and all suggestions. She “kent sten ‘im”. So the idea is floated that Kathy can dub all of Lina’s dialogue and songs and save the movie (and of course destroy her career as a singer-dancer and get a new one as the unknown and unsuspected voice of Lina Lamont).
There’s a long (very long) musical number that is supposed to be the Dueling Cavalier’s dream sequence. It features Cyd Charrise and is stunningly good, but so out of the reach of 1927 films that it’s almost distracting (1930 would be more believable). But in the sequence of the film when Gene Kelly dances and sings in the rain, you have a true milestone for movie musicals. And the older man he gives his umbrella to at the end of the number is a silent movie star: Snub Pollard.
So what we have here is a history-making cinematic triumph.
Interesting note: You will hear that Lina Lamont dubbed – does not sound like Debbie Reynolds. And that’s because Jean Hagen used her real speaking and singing voice for those segments.
Songs: Lyrics by Arthur Freed and Music by Nacio Herb Brown, Story and Screen Play by Adolph Green and Betty Comden, Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen.

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Jonny Lee Miller is Sherlock Holmes in “Elementary”: Season 4, Episodes 1, 2, and 3 (2015)

Episode 1: The Past is Parent
A dead woman on a bed, stabbed many times, much blood. Pan to the twin bed where another body lies. Then cut to Sherlock who is contemplating the scene with blood on his hands (the corpses are played by Alia Attallah and Devika Bhise). A phone rings.
Sherlock asks, “Is that your cell phone?”  The first corpse rises up smiling. “Sorry. I forgot.” And the other young woman sits up as well. And the women want to know what this is in aid of. “Don’t you get enough of this at work?”
Sherlock has a photograph of the original 1927 crime scene, which he has duplicated precisely. He says that one of the victims let the killer “into this very apartment. He was never identified.” Of course the killer is now long dead, but Sherlock feels that looking at a recreation may help him ratchet in on one of several suspects.
He also answers the ladies’s questions about the fact that since he kicked the stuffing out of Oscar for offering him drugs (last season), the District Attorney is deciding yes or no on a charge of felonious assault against him. If the decision is yes, he will most certainly go to prison.
Watson (Lucy Liu) is home alone waiting for Sherlock’s dad to arrive at any moment, and she’s left several messages for Sherlock asking him where he is and to hurry home, when Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn) arrives with a bag of groceries and says that Sherlock promised to come see him, but hasn’t. Joan quietly, confidently says, “He will – when he’s ready.”
Later at home Sherlock doubts the accuracy of one of Watson’s statements: “Last week you’d have said that I wouldn’t relapse.” Her reply? “No, I wouldn’t.”
Then a shocker, and the opening credits roll.
There is a case, not connected with the New York City Police Department.  Sherlock connects a murder and a disappearance, and finds the murderer of both victims. And the D.A.’s ruling keeps Sherlock out of prison, but also out of working with the P.D. and Sherlock’s Dad (John Noble) finally shows up.
Written by Robert Doherty, Directed by John Polson.

Episode 2: Evidence of Things Not Seen
This is a nice twisty episode revolving around crowd control on one hand and mind control on the other, with a noise projector that affects breathing and a program that induces opinion change. There’s also a triple murder.
It all starts for our heroes with a desire for alternatives to Daddy Holmes’s offer of making one call and getting them back in at the N.Y.P.D. At the FBI they meet and are “tried out” by Agent Gary Burke (Jeremy Bobb) on a murder case. DARPA is also involved, so they meet Deputy Director Samuel Meher (Sean Cullen) and Head of Special Projects Alta Von See (Marin Ireland). Our guys are their usual very impressive selves and the offer of a regular position seems eminent, but there’s still Sherlock’s dislike of being controlled in any way, and his innate desire to stay with the police. So maybe a reconciliation of some sort with his father is in the offing? Or will Joan make a decision not including Sherlock?
Written by Jason Tracey, Directed by Ron Fortunato.

Episode 3: Tag, You’re Me
A case which begins with a double murder of two look-alikes, Otto Neuhaus and Timothy Wagner (both played by Brendan Bradley), and soldiers on through facial recognition software and a company that makes one such program, and an individual who has created a competing program, a luxury hotel on the Pacific coast of Costa Rico, and a fraternity hazing that causes an accidental death which becomes murder as soon as the two active members who are guilty decide to cover it up.
And Sherlock’s father Morland (John Noble) is still in town, actually working with the owner of said hotel, Dona (I can’t get the ~ to print over the n) Esfandiari (Shohreh Aghdashloo).
Also Tim or a look-alike checked $100,00 out of Tim’s bank account, and Tim’s and Otto’s cell logs had only one common number – that of a paralegal, Dorian Moll (Jefferson White), who wears blotchy clown make-up in public to defeat the program owned by Countenance Technologies, an outfit he claims is out to kill him. “Computers can’t identify a face if they can’t tell it’s a face.” Dorian has a facial site called doppelhunt.com, which allows people to find people who look like them, and is better than the professional program owned by Counttenance.
Sherlock is tied up with Morland, who says he’s leaving town as soon as the hotel thing is done (a consummation devoutly desired by Sherlock), so Joan and Det. Bell (Jon Michael Hill) are left with most of the heavy lifting. They visit Countenance and meet Curtis Tofano (Drew Rausch), who says the company is not trying to kill Dorian, in fact, his work against them helped the company improve their own facial recognition program. And Evan Farrow, another look-alike, shows up (also Brendan Bradley), who has an idea why Tim and Otto were killed.
Written by Bob Goodman, Directed by Christine Moore.

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Rawhead Rex (1986) – reviewed by George

This color horror movie was shot entirely in County Wicklow, Ireland. It features pre-Christian themes and characters, and is really scary. It takes place in an idyllic Irish village of good, honest people, though the Verger, Declan O’Brien (Ronan Wilmot) is sinister and has some weirdness about him.
An American family, the Hallenbecks, has come to the village so the husband Howard (David Dukes) can photograph the stained glass windows in the local church and examine the parish records. It’s not like he thinks there’s something wrong; he’s been doing this pretty much all over the countryside. But one of the windows here shows Rawhead being defeated and sent to Hell – obviously essential information. The problem being that damage to the window has caused the loss of the glass fragment depicting the weapon used. And you will be surprised at the weapon, a familiar talisman to many, and also at who uses it successfully.
But the movie actually begins with three men working to dig up the trunk (all that’s left) of a huge, huge tree. Two are running the tractor, and one (the owner of the land) is trying to use a lever to help. It just seems impossible, so the two men leave, but now the owner feels a tremor and the work begun was enough. The tree falls and a demon, Rawhead Rex (Heinrich Von Schellendorf), is released from the prison to which he was consigned by Christian monks centuries ago. Rex (King Rawhead) kills the owner and moves on to further destruction.
The Hallenbecks, Howard, Elaine (Kelly Piper), their son Robbie (Hugh O’Conor), and daughter Minty (Cora Lunny) are staying in the local inn, and quickly get involved in Rawhead’s destruction of the county. The other major characters are the local Vicar, Reverend Coot (Niall Toibin) and Detective Inspector Gissing (Niall O’Brien).
The score is very menacing, and the photography, through darkish, is much lighter than usual in this type of film. The townspeople, of course, are mostly demon-fodder. There are surprises along the way (always a good sign), and eventually Howard and one other (the unexpected weapon-wielder) play big parts in sending Rawhead back to Hell.
Music by Colin Towns, Screenplay by Clive Barker, Directed by George Pavlou.

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Don’s Party (1976) – reviewed by George

On Election Day 1969 in Melbourne, Don (John Hargreaves) and his wife Beth (Jeanie Drynan) go to the polls to vote Labor, like all their friends. And that night they have a big party for their friends to eat and drink and watch the predicted Labor win on telly.
First to arrive: Jody and Simon (Veronica Lang and Graeme Blundell), who turn out to have voted Conservative. This doesn’t necessarily doom the party, but it doesn’t get it off to a swell start either. Second arrivals are Don’s old university mentor  Mal and his wife Jenny (Ray Barrett and Pat Bishop), and then Mack (Graham Kennedy), whose wife has left him. He has brought along a nude photo he took of her in better days, in order to show it around and maybe put her down a little (although how that’s going to work when she’s left town, I don’t know).
Fourth to arrive are Evan and Kerry (Kit Taylor and Candy Raymond). Kevin is a dentist and likes renovating, and Kerry may be a prostitute, so the “real men” at the party look down on them. Well, Kevin had the guts to ask her to the party, so he’s not as effete as they think.
And the last arrivals are sex-nut Cooley and his date Susan (Harold Hopkins and Clare Binney), who turn on the music and start dancing.
An eclectic houseful indeed, and as they drink and argue, the election is slowly going to the Conservative Party. So they drink even more (except for Jody and Simon). With all the alcohol, the partiers get raunchier, and the movie features nudity and sex. And marriage bonds are strained, perhaps beyond repair.
This is not an exploitation flick; it’s an A picture from outside the USA, so maybe that explains its more relaxed attitudes. I liked it, but your reaction is going to rest entirely on your acceptance of the plot points.
From the Play by David Williamson, Screenplay by David Williamson, Directed by Bruce Beresford.

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The Happytime Murders (2018) – reviewed by George

A very unusual movie – an X-rated puppet show. The puppets will remind you of the Muppets, but their antics will soon end that illusion. After 12 or 13 minutes of watching with my mouth hanging open in disbelief, I started to relax and go with the flow.
Actually the rating is R, but wow! It sure looks like X to me.
Phil Philips is a puppet PI. He used to be a cop, but then all the puppets were kicked off the force, as puppets became third-class citizens. Anybody at all, from 6 to 96 years old, feels just fine murdering puppets or just pulling their eyes off. Well, not if Phil is around – he’s a very efficient protector. But he’s only one puppet against all of society. He has a nice office, with a beautiful human secretary, Bubbles (Maya Rudolph), and one day he takes the case of puppet Sandra White, who has received a note made by pasting letters on notepaper saying “Pay me 350,000.. by Saturday or we reveal your secret.”
“What’s your secret?”, asks Phil. and Sandra reveals her sex addiction with a novel description. She doesn’t want her family to find out her secret, and she tells Phil she will be sooo grateful – nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
Phil replies, “I appreciate grateful, but it’s $300 a day plus expenses.” Gee, what a bargain compared to paying the blackmail – unless he takes 116 days to find the blackmailer.
Phil recognizes the “P” in Pay me..and heads downtown to “Puppet Pleasureland – Video” to see a disgusting acquaintance, Vinny, who is busy making puppet porn in the back. Phil asks to see the latest edition of “Puppet ____ Party” and sure enough the “P” in each of the three words in the title matches the “P” in the letter Sandra received. So Phil asks Vinny for a list of customers who bought the mag, and Vinny sends him back to the office. While Phil is in the back, a guy comes in with a gun (the shot is of his stomach to emphasize the gun and also hide his face), and kills everybody in the front of the store. When Phil comes back he is stunned and calls the police. Arriving: Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), Phil’s old partner. They get along like wildfire and an old tree. And now we find out that the former members of The Happytime Gang, a group of puppets who had a kid’s show on TV in the ’80s, sre being killed off one by one. Phil used to be a member, and they had a beautiful human – what? “hostess”?  “leader”? “chaperone”? – named Jenny (Elizabeth Banks).
There’s also a puppet-hating FBI guy, Agent Campbell (Joel McHale), and of course Phil and Connie work together again.
No child should be allowed within several miles of this movie, but hey, there are R-rated laughs and the script is good, as are the performances. And now you know what you’re in for, so enjoy. Or don’t watch.
Story by Todd Berger & Dee Austin Robertson, Screenplay by Todd Berger, Directed by Brian Henson (some father issues at play maybe?).

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