Breakfast at Tiffany’s

  • Title:  Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • Director:  Blake Edwards
  • Date:  1961
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Genre:  Drama, Romance
  • Cast:  Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen, Mickey Rooney
  • Format:  Technicolor, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

I bought Breakfast at Tiffany’s as part of a three-pack of Audrey Hepburn films, but even though it’s regarded as a classic, it’s actually my least favorite of the three (my favorite being Sabrina). The problem with the movie, for me, is it’s not really about anything. There really isn’t much of a plot. The film doesn’t even have much of the standard romantic comedy plot, though romance is an important thread that runs through the picture. Hepburn is Holly Golightly, a party girl, who gives the impression there isn’t a brain in her head. She’s looking for a rich husband, and going through New York society to do it.

George Peppard is Paul Varjak, a struggling writer, and “kept man” who runs into Holly when he moves into the apartment above hers. The two have an attraction, especially as they keep running into each other over and over again. But she wants a rich husband, not someone who loves her, she says. And she’s cruel about it. When Paul ends his relationship with the woman who’s supporting him (Patricia Neal), Holly throws him out as well, announcing her intention to marry a rich Brazilian she met at one of her fancy parties. At the end of the picture, she even abandons her cat, “Cat”, on the cold, rainy, New York streets in an attempt to convince Paul she doesn’t care about anything.

Paul, who’s a much more sympathetic character, loves Holly. Or he keeps saying he does. But somehow, it seems skin deep. This film doesn’t have the realistic built characters, like, say The Apartment does, where we are sympathetic to Bud and Fran. Neither is the plot of a man being exploited by a designing woman and trying to get away, fully realized as it is in Sunset Blvd (where the writer fails). Rather, Breakfast At Tiffany’s just sort of meanders along, never reaching a goal, even the end doesn’t feel satisfying and happy like your typical romantic comedy. I liked Paul a lot, and Hepburn looks stunning as usual, but overall, not my favorite Audrey Hepburn film.

Recommendation:  Skip It
Rating:  3 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Breakfast Club

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The Blues Brothers

  • Title:  The Blues Brothers
  • Director:  John Landis
  • Date:  1980
  • Studio:  Universal
  • Genre:  Comedy, Musical
  • Cast:  John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Carrie Fisher, John Candy, Henry Gibson, Steve Lawrence, Twiggy, Steven Spielburg, Frank Oz, James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC (Expanded Ed.)

“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses.”  — Elwood
“Hit it!” — Joliet Jake

“They’re not going to catch us, we’re on a mission from God.”  — Elwood

“Well, this is definitely Lower Wacker Drive…” — Elwood

The Blues Brothers is a classic comedy, but it is also filled with great music and excellent musical numbers with some impressive choreography.  The film is a farce or screwball comedy in the best sense — from small, tiny events, things just snowball, and thus it gets funnier, and funnier, and funnier, as the plot gets more and more outrageous.  Simply, Jake is picked up by his brother, Elwood, from the Joliet State Prison in Illinois, after serving three years for we later find out armed robbery.  The first thing they do is visit The Penguin, a nun.  From her, they find out that the orphanage where they grew up needs $5000.00 to pay back taxes.  Jake and Elwood need to raise the money honestly, so they decide to get their blues band back together and do a few gigs to get the money.  From such tiny events…  First, the boys must find their band mates, who are now mostly in “straight” jobs, or married, or whatever.  Accomplishing that they must find a few gigs.  But, in the mean time, they manage to cross an awful lot of people who end-up wanting them dead, including the police, Jake’s ex-girlfriend (Carrie Fisher), the Neo-Nazi party of Illinois (led by Henry Gibson), and a Country-Western singing group called the Good Ole’ Boys, who’s gig they stole.  This results not only in a triumphant musical number, but quite possibly the best, and the funniest car chase ever filmed.  The film crew bought an entire year’s run of retiring police cars to trash in the film.  They also made a deal to film in and destroy a condemned shopping mall that was scheduled for demolition before it was destroyed.

The vast majority of the film was filmed in and around Chicago, including Waukegan (North of Chicago), and Joliet State Prison (South of Chicago), and a small portion was filmed in Milwaukee.  The final car chase down Lower Wacker Drive, LaSalle Street and Daley plaza is not only fantastically filmed, shot, and executed — but actually shows off that part of the city well.  (And some of the same locations were also used in Batman Begins / The Dark Knight and are recognizable, esp. if you know downtown Chicago).  The bridge scene, where Joliet Jake manages to avoid driving off a very high expressway bridge, back up, and flips their car, to avoid the Nazis — and the Nazi’s fall right off the bridge, was filmed in Milwaukee.  That’s the Horn Bridge (at the time under construction, when I lived in Milwaukee from 1995 to 2002 it had been completed), the tall white building behind the falling car is the First Star Building.  There’s a noticeable jump in the film where it moves from Milwaukee to Chicago (you can tell it’s Chicago when you spot the Hancock building — that’s a black building with slanting/angled sides).  By the bye, the Sears Tower is the square, black, stacked building — you can spot it several times in the film.  But what is also special is the shots of  the people, especially in the scenes in Maxwell Street.  And then there’s the music.

Credited Music
Shake Your Tail Feather (Created as “Shake your Money Maker”)
Soothe Me
Hold One I’m Comin’
Boogie Chillun
Let the Good Times Roll
Your Cheatin’ Heart
Anema & Core
I’m Walkin’
Ride of  the Valkyries
Minnie the Moocher — Performed by Cab Calloway

Uncredited Music
Peter Gunn Theme (Instrumental)
The Old Landmark — Performed by James Brown
Boom Boom
Think — Performed by Aretha Franklin
Shake a Tail Feather — Performed by Ray Charles
Theme from Rawhide — Performed by The Blues Brothers
Stand by your Man — Performed by The Blues Brothers
Everybody Needs Somebody to Love — Performed by The Blues Brothers
Sweet Home Chicago — Performed by The Blues Brothers
Jailhouse Rock — Performed by The Blues Brothers

That’s more music than the average traditional musical, also the film is almost completely scored, so the film is filled with music.  Great music!  And of course, it’s quite enjoyable, funny, fun, and a wild ride from start to finish.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Blazing Saddles

  • Title: Blazing Saddles
  • Director: Mel Brooks
  • Date: 1974
  • Studio: Warner Brothers
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Cast: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Slim Pickens, Alex Karras, Mel Brooks, John Hillerman, Harvey Korman, Dom DeLuise
  • Format: Widescreen, Technicolor
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC (Double-sided, Widescreen/Standard)

Mel Brooks is a Jewish writer/producer/director who had a lot of experience with Broadway before moving to Hollywood to make parodies of famous Hollywood genre pictures. However, many of his comedies have become more famous or at least as famous as the movies he pokes fun at. But he has the Jewish sense of  humor of poking fun at something that frightens or angers you. Keep that in mind when watching this film. Also, it’s a 70s movie and thus was able to get away with things that a movie made today probably wouldn’t.

That said, Blazing Saddles is a hilarious, laugh out loud movie, with a fantastic cast. Cleavon Little is the lead, a Black man who goes from being nearly a slave on the railroad, to being nearly hung, to suddenly being the newly appointed sheriff of Rock Ridge – a quaint Western town. However, the towns-people don’t accept him right away, and once they do (after he and the washed-up Pecos Kid (Gene Wilder) save the town) he leaves.

However, that really simplifies this movie that is just chock full of puns, silly humor, sight gags, clever wordplay, great performances (Who can forget Madeline Kahn as the lisping German bombshell Lily Von Shuppt?), and even theater in-jokes? The film, with all it’s humor, also is the story of Bart’s (Little) fight to be accepted, and a great friendship between him and the Kid (Wilder) who immediately takes a shine to him.

The film also plays with breaking the fourth wall, as characters stop the action to address the audience, and the film concludes with a fist fight that breaks into the studio lot and the Bugsy Berkley-style musical (directed by Dom DeLuise) filming next door. Brooks also has a fairly large role (rather than his usual cameo) in this film, as the corrupt governor as well as an Indian (Native American) chief in Bart’s flashback.

This film also has a kick-ass theme song (“He rode a Blazing Saddle…”) with music by John Morris and Lyrics by Mel Brooks sung by Frankie Laine, as well as other numbers with music and lyrics by Mel Brooks, including Lily’s “I’m Tired”, “The Ballad of Rock Ridge”, and the musical number at the end, “The French Mistake”.

Recommendation: See it, if  you haven’t already. Though, I would not recommend it for young children, simply because of the language.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next film: The Blues Brothers

Billy Elliot

  • Title:  Billy Elliot
  • Director:  Stephen Daldry
  • Date:  2000
  • Studio:  Universal (Working Title Films, BBC Films, et al)
  • Grant Funding:  Arts Council of England
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Cast:  Julie Walters, Gary Lewis, Jamie Draven, Jamie Bell (as Billy)
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R2, PAL (Anamorphic Widescreen)

“[Ballet is normal] For girls.  Not for lads, Billy.  Lads do football, … or boxing, … or wrestling. … Not frigging ballet.” — Jackie Elliot, Billy’s father.

I received Billy Elliot as a gift and knew nothing about it the first time I watched it.  But it is, nevertheless an excellent drama, set for the most part in a small British mining town in Northern England (County Durham), in the late 1970s or possibly the early 80s during a major Mine Union strike.  Billy is 11, and his life has already been torn apart by the death of his mother.  Now, he, his gran, and his father and older brother are merely existing in a flat that’s really only one or two rooms.  Both his father and brother are miners, and, because of the strike, there’s very nearly no money for the family.

Billy’s only solace is music, but since the death of his wife, Billy’s father forbids anyone to play her piano or to listen to the record player.  For recreation, Jackie sends his son to boxing lessons at the local community hall.  Since the lower level’s been turned into a soup kitchen to feed the striking miners, Mrs. Wilkinson’s ballet class is also moved upstairs to share space with the boxing coaching.  Billy, horrible at boxing, watches the girls with envy, and one day goes and tries it out.  Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters), sees special raw talent in Billy and teaches him, as well as being tough on him.

Meanwhile, things for the miners are getting worse and worse as the police are called in the escort scabs into the mine to work.  Billy’s brother, Tony, is the union leader, and thus, is wanted by the police.  His father is doing his best to make ends meet, but he’s a mess since the loss of his wife.  Billy’s best friend, Michael, is gayer than a Christmas tree, much to the surprise of the totally straight Billy — who’s also interested in his dance instructor’s daughter, Debbie.

Finally, Jackie Elliot discovers his son is not going to boxing lessons like he thought but to ballet.  Fearing his son is a “pouf” (e.i. gay), and not understanding why he would want to dance, he forbids his son from going to the dance school.  Billy, however, continues to take secret private lessons from Mrs. Wilkinson.  She, then, arranges for Billy to go to an audition for the Royal Ballet School in London that’s being held in Newcastle.  Billy has every intention of going, but his brother is chased down, beaten, and arrested by the police and he spends the day at the court house instead.

Mrs. Wilkinson goes to the Elliots’s house to confront Jackie — things do not go well, and Jackie forbids his son from dancing, seeing Debbie, or having anything to do with Mrs. Wilkinson.  And the situation deteriorates.  Billy continues to dance in the streets, or anywhere he can’t be seen.  Finally, at Christmas, Jackie takes the family piano, a piano obviously loved by Mrs. Elliot, we can safely assume, and chops it up with an ax to use as fire wood.  As the piano burns, he wishes everyone a happy Christmas – which his sons and Nana return, then Jackie begins to cry.

Later, Billy now with only Michael as a friend, ends up at the dance hall.  The two are playing around, Michael, in a tutu Billy has given him (we’ve seen Michael dressing up in dresses and make-up earlier in the film).  Billy shows Michael basic positions in ballet and then begins to dance.  The boxing instructor sees this, gets Jackie and brings him to see.  But when his father walks in, Billy dances — first Irish Step, then American Tap, and then Ballet.  Jackie is astonded and realises his son has real talent.  He’s also seeing just how hopeless the situation is in their town — that working in the mines is no place for his son.  He goes to Mrs. Wilkinson to find out about getting Billy into the Royal Ballet School.  And finds out it will take about two thousand Pounds.

Not having the money, knowing no one in town who works (or did work) has the money, the next day he goes to the place where the scab workers are picked up.  Even though he’s a hard and tough man, the play of emotions on his face as the bus approaches the mine show just how awful he feels — he’s caught between his principles, his eldest son (who’s led the miners out on strike), and his youngest son, and he has no place to turn.  Tony, though, sees him on the bus and climbs the fence to get in.  He confronts his father, and Jackie breaks down, saying he’s doing it for Billy.  Tony swears they will get the money another way, and helps his father away from the mine.

Jackie pawns his wife’s jewelry, and he and Billy go to the audition at the Royal Ballet School in London.  Billy and Jackie both feel completely out of place, with their harsh Northern accents and working-class values.  At first, Billy is terrified by the audition, he answers questions in mono-syllables, and is nervous and frightened when asked to dance.  When he finally does his own dance to music, he does quite well, but he’s afraid that he didn’t do the right thing, that it wasn’t a classical performance.  In the locker room later, another boy tries to comfort him (unfortunately reminding him of  Michael’s advances — whereas he accepted it from his friend, from a stranger – he freaks).  Billy freaks out and hits the boy.  This does not go over well.

The panel of judges bring Billy and his father in — and both can’t answer any questions, they are both petrified.  Until one woman asks Billy what it feels like when he’s dancing — and his eloquent answer floors the room.  Later, he gets a letter…  he’s in.  But, on the same day, the miner strike ends, and the union’s caved.  Jackie and Tony go back to work, but Billy will have a chance at a better life.  Years later, Jackie and Tony return to London to see Billy’s first performance in Swan Lake.  At the theatre they run into Michael – who’s all dolled up.

Billy Elliot is a quiet movie, that often moves one to tears.  The performances are excellent, especially young Billy and young Michael, both of whom are struggling with questions of identity in a town where entire families have done the exact same thing for generations.  Jackie’s biggest fear about his son doing ballet isn’t, specifically, that there’s anything wrong with ballet — it’s that his son’s gay or will be thought of  as gay.  One doesn’t want to think about what Michael’s going through (and the film doesn’t show it — a missed opportunity, there).  The backdrop of the mining strike adds to the feeling of desperation that surrounds everyone in the movie — even Mrs. Wilkinson, who’s long since lost her interest in teaching ballet, until she spots Billy.  Definitely a film that awakens empathy to it’s characters.

By the way – lots of  harsh language in this one, typical of British or Irish films depicting the lower classes.  After awhile, you become immune to it.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  3.5
Next Film:  Blazing Saddles

Bewitched

  • Title:  Bewitched
  • Director:  Nora Ephron
  • Date:  2005
  • Studio:  Columbia
  • Genre:  Romantic Comedy
  • Cast:  Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Michael Caine, Shirley MacLaine, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I’m about to be killed by a fictional character!” — Jack  Wyatt

“I can’t be normal because I’m a witch; I can’t be a witch because I really want to be normal.”  — Isabel Bigalow

Since I reviewed this movie when I saw it in 2005 at the theater and when I finally picked up and watched the DVD in March 2010, I figured I would save a little work. Below is my original review. New comments at bottom.

Bewitched was a surprisingly fun, cute movie. Unlike many movie remakes of television shows which are often very poorly done, Bewitched travels quite happily down a slightly different path. In the film, Will Farrell plays Jack, a down on his luck actor, unable to get starring film roles after his last film tanked at the box office. Nicole Kidman plays Isabel, a witch, who like Samantha in the original television program wants to give up witchcraft and lead a normal life. And like any romantic comedy, Jack meets Isabel, the audience knows they are meant for each other, and after a few trials and tribulations, Jack and Isabel do get together, cut to end credits.

However, what makes Bewitched, incredibly fun to watch is the “B” plot, the making of a new –remake — television show called, Bewitched. Farrell’s character, Jack, meets Isabel (Kidman) in a bookshop. He offers her the part of Samantha on his new show. However, once casting her, he realises she is up-staging him right and left, and decides to make Bewitched his show. He overacts, steals scenes, has the shows writers cut Isabel’s lines, insists on delivering all the punch lines, and in short makes every mistake both a bad actor and a remake (television or film) could possibly make. When the focus group blue cards come back, Isabel is tremendously popular (99 points) but Jack isn’t (32 points; the dog did better). Farrell throws a tantrum.

Isabel, meanwhile, is having problems of  her own. She figures out how poorly Jack’s been treating her and decides to quit, but before she can do that, her Aunt Clara experimentally places a hex on Jack turning him into the perfect, and horribly fake, movie-like romantic man hopelessly in love with Isabel. Isabel, to her credit, sees this as a fake, and un-does the hex, starting over again. She then blows up at Jack, calling him out on the carpet for being selfish and self-centered (she’s right).

Jack, seeing the error of his ways, more or less tells Isabel she’s right, and the two begin working on their new television show as partners instead of as competitors. The resulting montage sequence of the creation of a new hit TV show is well done. But Isabel’s and Jack’s problems aren’t quite over — Isabel still has to tell Farrell she’s a witch, a real witch. The next sequence in the film, consists of Isabel revealing the truth to Jack. A truth that he at first does not believe, and once she proves it to him, causes him to reject her — in true romantic movie fashion. It takes Uncle Arthur, a character that Jack (a fan of the original program), imagines — to get Jack to realise the error of his ways, and that he really loves Isabel, which brings the two together.

The entire film, however, full of television in-jokes, manages to parody television, without, necessarily, parodying the show the film is based on. The film breaks the reality/screen wall over and over again, to full audience acceptance, in truly excellent style. For example, in one sequence where Jack courts Isabel, the two chase each other around various sets and partial set-pieces in the television studio where both work — in a sequence extremely reminiscent of Gene Kelly’s courtship of Debbie Reynolds in Singin’ in the Rain.  (A film referenced earlier in the movie when Isabel, runs into the rain, joyfully, after arguing with her father about whether or not she can give up being a witch). In another sequence, Jack and Isabel chat on what appears to be a romantic balcony, until two stage hands move the background away while they talk. Those sequences, and the parodies of television and film conventions are what make the film Bewitched truly magical.

Update:  Yes, Bewitched is still a very fun romantic comedy with a twist. It’s enjoyable to watch, even when one knows where it is going (which let’s face it – is the case for all romantic comedies). The playing with the “Fourth Wall” still works, even when it’s no longer a surprise. Steve Carell plays “Uncle Arthur”, as a really, really good impersonation of Paul Lynde (even to the point of being a little swish) – but because his character is one that Will Farrell dreams-up, the dead-on impersonation works. Shirley MacLaine is Endora – in the new TV series remake of Bewitched, playing the part in flamboyant style and with the best wardrobe in the film (except for possibly Isabel’s). She also gets her own subplot, in that the actress, Iris, falls for Isabel’s father, Nigel, played by Michael Caine. In fact, that older romance – between Caine and MacLaine – who have fantastic on-screen chemistry, adds to the feel and enjoyment factor of the film. Will Farrell is a bit over-the-top at times, but in a sense, he’s meant to be playing an over-the-top actor/drama queen (drama king?) and it works.

Oh, and by the way, – the soundtrack / music is terrific in this movie.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Billy Elliot

Beverly Hills Cop

  • Title:  Beverly Hills Cop
  • Director:  Martin Brest
  • Date:  1984
  • Studio:  Paramount Pictures
  • Genre:  Comedy, Action
  • Cast:  Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, Ronny Cox, Jonathan Banks, Paul Reiser
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

Beverly Hills Cop is a very funny, action-packed cop movie with great music. Eddie Murphy is an unconventional Detroit Cop, and in the opening sequence he gets in trouble when his approach loses a bust and destroys several police cars (not to mention a cab, a double-trailer semi, etc).  After a dressing down from his boss, he heads to his apartment and finds an old friend waiting.  The friend shows him some German bearer bonds, and plainly has something to tell him, but the two go out on the town instead and have a great time.  Upon returning to the apartment, Alex Foley (Eddie Murphy) is knocked out and his friend killed.  All of which is really on prelude, as Foley heads to Beverly Hills to find his friend’s killer.

But what keeps this from being a conventional fish-out-of-water story is the humor – Eddie Murphy is funny, and this film showcases his talent well.  He also pulls off the more dramatic scenes, making it believable that he’s a cop who lost a good friend.

Judge Reinhold is excellent as the younger cop, whom Murphy sways to his unconventional, not exactly by-the-book method of doing police work.  And there are plenty of fun cameos.

The opening montage of working Detroit is extremely well shot; as is a parallel sequence of Beverly Hills when Foley arrives.  The poverty and working-man’s world of Detroit is balanced against the rich play ground of Beverly Hills.

There is a lot of bad language in the movie, which is probably the reason for the “R” rating, but over all it’s just fun.

Recommendation:  An enjoyable film to see.
Rating:  3.8
Next Film:  Bewitched