Saturday, 31 December 2016

Movie Review: Maid In Manhattan (2002)

A romantic comedy derived from Cinderella, Maid In Manhattan showcases the worst of the genre in a gag-inducing saccharine package.

Single mom Marisa Ventura (Jennifer Lopez) works as a maid at the swanky Beresford Hotel in New York City. Marisa looks after her young son Ty as best as she could, and harbours ambitions to apply for the management training program. One of the guests at the hotel is Chris Marshall (Ralph Fiennes), a third generation politician running for a Senate seat. Marshall's campaign manager is the highly strung Jerry Siegal (Stanley Tucci).

Chris bumps into Marisa just as she is surreptitiously trying on a designer Dolce & Gabbana suit belonging to Caroline Lane (Natasha Richardson), another guest at the hotel, and he is immediately smitten. They start an unlikely relationship, and Marisa keeps her identity as a maid a secret. Meanwhile Jerry recognizes that his candidate is inviting bad publicity, while Caroline has ambitions of her own to seduce the handsome Chris.

Directed by Wayne Wang, Maid In Manhattan is an inoffensive fairy tale with a predictable start, middle and end, fully dependent on coincidences and misunderstandings due to characters never saying what needs to be said when it needs to be said. There are maybe two sharp lines of dialogue delivered by Jennifer Lopez to underline issues of classicism, but otherwise the Kevin Wade screenplay is an exercise in vanilla bland dialogue set to a vanilla bland music soundtrack.

The tired ingredients are all here: the cute kid, the lovable dog, Marisa's sassy maid friends, the romantic competition in the form of the conniving Caroline Lane. Two elderly French sisters provide attempted comic relief as incompetent hotel burglars.

Lopez is not a horrible actress and spends long intervals in a deglamorized maid outfit, but she does tend to over emote at every opportunity. The supporting cast contains plenty of talent taking the day off, with Ralph Fiennes, Bob Hoskins (as the hotel's head butler), Natasha Richardson, Stanley Tucci and Frances Conroy slumming it in the overacting department for an easy paycheque. Fiennes never comes close to establishing chemistry with Lopez, and the comic moments are more silly than funny.

The only miracle of Maid In Manhattan is that it ever got made.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Movie Review: Jackie (2016)

A drama focusing on the week after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Jackie is the personal story of a wife and mother forced to grieve in front of the entire, shocked world.

A week after the assassination, Life reporter Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup) is summoned by Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) to the Kennedy's Hyannis Port, Massachusetts estate for a private interview. In flashback, the events immediately before, during and after the harrowing assassination in Dallas are presented from her perspective.

Jackie has to contend with the sudden death of her husband, her young children losing their father, making funeral arrangements with the leaders of the world attending, and the incoming Johnson administration, all while adjusting to the end of her life as First Lady. She uses the interview to help shape President Kennedy's legacy as an idyllic Camelot-like brief but shining period in US history.

Directed by Pablo Larraín, Jackie focuses on the other victim of November 22, 1963. While the nation lost a leader, a woman lost her husband and her life as she had planned it came to an appalling end. The film intercuts interview scenes, with Jackie and Theodore sitting face to face and staring straight at the camera, with flashbacks to the events of the past week. Jackie's imperative to gather herself in a calculated manner while in the glare of the world's spotlight translates somewhat to the film, and a sense of theatre sometimes stands in the way of human warmth. The machinations behind Jackie planning JFK's funeral procession also receive inordinate attention.

The film is otherwise an intense personal experience, delving into the soul of a woman still processing a massive shock, forced to transition instantaneously from a world of elegance to cleaning the blood and brains of her husband from her face and pink Chanel suit. The interview scenes reveal a steely-eyed but still shaken former first lady intent on framing her husband's tenure in the best possible light. Theodore takes the brunt of her decompressing attitude, as she unloads her emotions with a mixture of haughtiness and raw anger at the injustice befalling her family.

The flashbacks look slightly to the side of world-shaping events, Jackie the unwilling secondary character in a tragedy that kills her husband, his bloodied head in her lap, and forces her to witness a change in administration and the inevitable pressure to move out of her White House all while maintaining poise in front of her children and the world.

Natalie Portman is excellent in a controlled performance, and is ably supported by Crudup as White and Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy. John Hurt appears as a pragmatic priest comforting Jackie as she processes her losses.

Larraín uses Jackie's redecoration of the White House, as featured in a groundbreaking February 1962 television documentary special, as a framing device to emphasize her passion for history and understanding of the continuum represented by successive Presidents. Misconstrued as a vanity project, Jackie wanted to bring to life the real men behind the legends who occupied the people's building.

Now she has to hurriedly add her husband, prematurely, to the ranks of leaders who contributed to nation building. His youth, enthusiasm, love for the arts and sense of idealistic optimism leads Jackie to the Camelot metaphor, ironically helping to create a legend out of a short-lived presidency. As one former first lady departs centre stage, the power of the media to shape a national narrative emerges from the margins, in readiness for more turmoil in the decades ahead.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Movie Review: Octopussy (1983)

A tired paint-by-numbers entry in the Bond series, Octopussy rehashes familiar elements and delivers a tepid experience.

The death of Agent 009 in East Berlin and the sudden emergence of an ancient precious Fabergé egg trigger a new mission for James Bond (Roger Moore): find out who is suddenly cashing in on the sale of rare gems. At a London auction he quickly identifies exiled Afghan prince Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan) as a middle man in the international conspiracy, along with his beautiful assistant Magda (Kristina Wayborn) and vicious henchman Gobinda (Kabir Bedi).

Bond travels to India in pursuit of Khan, and uncovers a plot whereby Khan and local all-woman cult and circus leader Octopussy (Maud Adams) are enabling the sale of jewels to finance the private warmongering efforts of Soviet General Orlov (Steven Berkoff). It does not take long for Bond to seduce both Magda and Octopussy, but putting a stop to Orlov's plan will require a manic race against time.

Directed by John Glen (his second of five Bond efforts) and featuring the penultimate outing for Roger Moore, now 56 years old, in the role, Octopussy is the oh-so-familiar mix of dry quips, chases, gadgets, stunts and travel to locations that would have been exotic 20 years prior. With the stuntmen and second unit getting the lions share of screen time, Moore mails in a lacklustre performance, unconvincing as an agent and less convincing as a lover. In the same year a rival, almost equally geriatric Bond in the form of Never Say Never Again was released, and neither set the world on fire.

The few good moments in Octopussy feature a Mercedes-on-rails chasing a train, while former real-life tennis star Vijay Amritraj shows up as an MI6 agent in India and uses a tennis racket to swat away some bad guys in yet another perfunctory chase. Kristina Wayborn and fellow Swede Maud Adams, both about 20 years younger than Moore, pretend to be interested and add decent doses of sensuality.

But otherwise this Bond goes through the motions almost in slow motion. India is condescendingly represented with wall-to-wall stereotypes of snake charmers and sword eaters. The villain Orlov is ineffective to the point of being dispatched early in the final reverse order elimination of bad guys. With both Magda and Octopussy at least partially rehabilitated from their evil ways after the sex-with Bond treatment, Octopussy somehow designates the smarmy Kamal Khan, a middle man, as culprit-in-Chief.

The climactic race against a ticking bomb features Bond in a full-blown clown suit, and rarely has a film so perfectly captured the sad decline of a once dangerous secret agent.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Movie Review: 9½ Weeks (1986)

A romantic drama drenched in eroticism, 9½ Weeks hints at a serious exploration of an emotionally perilous sex-obsessed relationship. But the film too often betrays its subject matter with an over-glamorized aesthetic.

In New York, divorced art gallery employee Elizabeth McGraw (Kim Basinger) meets and starts a relationship with handsome, mysterious and very rich Wall Street trader John Gray (Mickey Rourke). John expresses full devotion to Elizabeth, but also pressures her into kinky sex, including playing with blindfolds, food, cross dressing, sex in public, increasing levels of submission / domination scenarios, and threesomes.

Elizabeth is worried but also enthralled and plays along, captivated by the attention and the new experiences. Gradually she finds her limits, and has to decide how far she can tolerate John's proclivities.

Directed by Adrian Lyne and based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Elizabeth McNeill (a pseudonym for Ingeborg Day), 9½ Weeks pushed into new territory for mainstream films in its on-screen portrayal of raw human sexuality. Riding a bumpy wave of controversy, the film initially bombed in the United States but found an audience in Europe. The movie is sometimes erotic, often boring and always frustrating.

A serious and worthwhile story of a vulnerable woman falling under the spell of a charismatic all-powerful man and yielding to a sexual arrangement both thrilling and uncomfortable is hidden under layers of style emphasizing eroticism at the expense of compelling emotional drama. Lyne creates a combination of style-drenched music video and soft-core pornography, celebrating a minimalistic script, little dialogue, and plenty of silhouettes, rain spray, and gyrations to thumping music. The sets are sleek, with the SoHo art gallery and John's bachelor pad representing streamlined ideals.

The character development takes a back seat, and for a film with only the two principals, Elizabeth and John are short changed and reduced to sketches. They do exchange the most rudimentary of backstories, but these are written in shorthand and in John's case arrive way too late to resonate. Instead of investing in the characters and taking substantive risks 9½ Weeks defaults to plenty of creatively filmed animal magnetism set to sensual music, with Joe Crocker's You Can Leave Your Hat On, the soundtrack to Elizabeth's private striptease for John (no, she's not wearing a hat), best signifying the film's intentions.

Mickey Rourke does not help matters by gliding through the film on a wave of handsome visual appeal and nothing else: his perpetual smirk gets annoying after the first 10 minutes, yet never departs his face. Kim Basinger, in one of her best roles, does all the heavy lifting to convey a woman torn between the potential for genuine romance and sexual pleasure dancing on the edge of degradation and danger.

25 years later British writer E.L.James would import her own version of wealthy businessman Mr. John Gray into the Twilight young adult series, borrowing many of the themes from 9½ Weeks to create Fifty Shades Of Grey. The world of 2011 was more ready to embrace a story of a woman's fantasy bumping up against a powerful but damaged man's kinky sexual demands. Back in 1986, Elizabeth and John were the pioneers for exploring chic displays of twisted pleasure, winning points for artistic merit if not much else.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Movie Review: Test Pilot (1938)

An aviation drama, Test Pilot in an excellent combination of airborne thrills and complex on-the-ground emotional turmoil.

Jim Lane (Clark Gable) is a dashing test pilot tasked with the dangerous job of flying and testing the speed and altitude limits of new and experimental aircraft. His sidekick and mechanic Gunner (Spencer Tracy) is a lifelong companion, and the two men have a deep friendship. Lane gets his assignments from the US military through businessman Drake (Lionel Barrymore).

On a cross-country flight to set a new speed record, Lane encounters trouble and lands in a Kansas field, where he meets feisty farm girl Ann Barton (Myrna Loy). The two hit it off immediately and get married within a day. After Jim and Drake have a falling out, Anne is properly exposed to Jim's world of risk taking, hard drinking and the constant danger of death. Gunner perceives Ann as a distraction and a threat to the friendship between the two men. Although Jim does his best to make the marriage work, the spectre of tragedy hovers over the couple and takes an emotional toll.

Directed by Victor Fleming, Test Pilot is a perfect mix of adventurism and human drama. The airborne photography celebrates the burgeoning birth of the aviation era for both military and civilian uses, but the film also soars on the ground: this is a story of love, friendship, and the compromises needed to make life happen.

A love triangle with a difference, Test Pilot gains most of its momentum from Jim Lane as the irresistible centre of attention for both Gunner and Ann. The destiny of the two men is inexorably linked, and Gunner is Lane's guardian as much as Lane is Gunner's reason to live. When Ann marries Lane on a whim, the careful equilibrium between the two men is disrupted. Fleming and his team of script writers (including Howard Hawks) handle the ripple effects of the unexpected marriage with a clever sensitivity, with Gunner carrying the paradoxical burden of wanting Lane to be happy but realizing that Ann does not know what she signed up for. Spice is added through the hint of attraction that Gunner also senses towards Ann.

Up in the air, Test Pilot offers plenty of thrills and action, with regular interludes of flying, racing, and mid-air mishaps. The special effects team members earn their salaries through some terrific model work, with more than one airplane encountering serious trouble and landing with spectacular inelegance.

The perfectly cast trio of Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and Myrna Loy infuse Test Pilot with potent star power. Gable as Jim Lane is all about dashing charisma. a man who laughs in the face of death and drowns the reality of his absurd risk-taking in large volumes of alcohol. Tracy is much more cerebral as Gunner, the mechanic on the sidelines of Lane's life and therefore in a better position to assess Lane's trajectory.

Loy has the most difficult role as Ann Barton, and is exceptional in first finding infatuation with a man who literally drops from the sky to scoop here away from a boring farm life, then coming to terms with what it means to marry a man who fences with death as a career. Lionel Barrymore adds depth as businessman Drake, and Test Pilot is an early look at the world of industry comfortably holding hands with the military to advance weapons of war.

Test Pilot soars when the machines are in the sky and is just as enthralling when the stars are on the ground.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

The Movies Of Eva Marie Saint

All movies starring Eva Marie Saint and reviewed on the Ace Black Blog are linked below:

On The Waterfront (1954)

Raintree County (1957)

North By Northwest (1959)

The Sandpiper (1965)

Grand Prix (1966)

Winter's Tale (2014)

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.
The Index of Movie Stars is here.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Friday, 23 December 2016

The Movies Of Marg Helgenberger

All movies starring Marg Helgenberger and reviewed on the Ace Black Blog are linked below:

Tootsie (1982)

Always (1989)

Bad Boys (1995)

Species (1995)

Erin Brockovitch (2000)

In Good Company (2004)

Mr. Brooks (2007)

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.
The Index of Movie Stars is here.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Movies of Kathryn Hahn

All movies starring Kathryn Hahn and reviewed on the Ace Black Blog are linked below:

How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days (2003)

The Holiday (2006)

Revolutionary Road (2008)

How Do You Know (2010)

Wanderlust (2012)

She's Funny That Way (2014)

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.
The Index of Movie Stars is here.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Movie Review: The Prince And The Showgirl (1957)

A romantic comedy that fails on both counts, The Prince And The Showgirl is a monumentally dull waste of talent.

It's 1911 in London, and members of the royal family of Carpathia, a fictional Balkan country, arrive to witness the inauguration of a new British monarch. Charles (Laurence Olivier), the Prince Regent of Carpathia, is ruling the strategically important nation until his 16 year old son King Nicolas (Jeremy Spenser) achieves adulthood. The Dowager Queen (Sybil Thorndike), Charles mother-in-law, is the other key member of the delegation. British civil servant Northbrook (Richard Wattis) is assigned to satisfy Charles' every demand. The Prince goes looking for female companionship for the night, and picks unknown American stage actress Elsie Marina (Marilyn Monroe) to join him for a private dinner and romance at the Embassy.

Elsie resists the Prince's stiff and insensitive romantic advances, but nevertheless gradually starts to develop an affection for him. Meantime, she also gets wind of political turmoil back in Carpathia, with King Nicolas seemingly involved in a plot to overthrow his father. As the day of the inauguration arrives, Elsie believes she has survived her interactions with the royals, but she soon finds herself in the company of the Dowager Queen attending the grand ceremony, and then playing peacemaker between the Prince and the young King-to-be.

Produced and directed by Olivier, The Prince And The Showgirl is an adaptation of the 1953 play The Sleeping Prince. The film effectively locks itself into the Embassy of Carpathia for 115 endless minutes, with characters swinging in and out of rooms for no particular reason other than to introduce some camera movement. There are a few touristy scenes related  to the inauguration event, and these could have been lifted from any British travel advertorial.

Fundamentally, the film never comes close to a convincing romance between Charles and Elsie. He is a boorish lout looking for a one-night floozy, she is suddenly much savvier than a ditzy showgirl. Elsie only starts to express some feeling for the Prince when he overloads her with alcohol, and at no time does he actually do anything to deserve any sympathy. What remains is a stiff Olivier performance playing a cartoonish villain, and a game Monroe doing all she can to match her co-star in the acting department, but it is all for naught. Not even a hint of a spark breaks through the listless Terence Rattigan screenplay.

The subplots related to the political turmoil in Carpathia and the family intrigue swirling between the Prince, the King and the Queen are neither properly developed nor remotely successful as comedy.

The Prince And The Showgirl incessantly attempts to milk a single joke about how to properly address the various members of the Carpathian royal family. The simple answer is to summarily send them all back to Carpathia, unaddressed.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

The Movies Of Zoe Kazan

All movies starring Zoe Kazan and reviewed on the Ace Black Blog are linked below:

Revolutionary Road (2008)

It's Complicated (2009)

Meek's Cutoff (2010)

Ruby Sparks (2012)

In Your Eyes (2014)

The Big Sick (2017)

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.
The Index of Movie Stars is here.

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