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Max Rose (2013)
*** (out of 4)
Max Rose (Jerry Lewis) is a former jazz pianist who at the age of eight-one must deal with the death of his wife. Her death takes an even worse turn for Max who discovers that she might have had an affair on him years earlier when he was away from home.
MAX ROSE is a film that barely got a theatrical release, which really is a shame. The film made the rounds for a while and people were screaming in hopes that Lewis would get one final Oscar-nomination but that wasn't to be. The film hardly got noticed by anyone and the critics who did see it pretty much ripped it apart. The reviews were quite bad and I must admit that I went into the film with low expectations and was pleasantly shocked at how entertaining it was. Yes, there are certainly flaws in the picture but it was meant to give Lewis a find curtain call and in my opinion it did so perfectly.
The story itself is fairly simple and on a stylish level there's nothing extraordinary here. If you're expecting some sort of grade A picture then this isn't that. In fact, I guess one could argue that this is almost on a Lifetime type of level but what makes the film so entertaining is the fact that the cast is so excellent but more on that in a bit. I thought writer-director Daniel Noah did a nice job with the material as it really did a good job at looking at someone at the end of their life who is now having to make dramatic changes while also wondering if his entire life was a lie.
I thought the story was good enough to keep you glued to what was going on and the film was actually pretty darn depressing at times. What made all of this possible was the wonderful cast and the performances that they brought. Kerry Bishe deserves a lot of credit as she plays the granddaughter and delivers a very good performance. You've got Kevin Pollack playing the son who battles with his father. You've get great performances from the likes of Fred Willard, Claire Bloom and Lee Weaver. Then there's Dean Stockwell who shows up late and really delivers a powerful performance.
Finally, there's Jerry Lewis. I've always thought he was a highly underrated dramatic actor and that his greatest performance was THE KING OF COMEDY. He's excellent here and even though he doesn't have much dialogue he does a lot of physical acting with his eyes and just his body movements. I thought his performance was extremely good and it showed what he was capable of doing. As I said, the film is flawed and has its issues. It clocks in at just 83-minutes with the credits but what makes this so special is the fact that it gave Lewis a final lead role and one he did wonders with.
Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis (2011)
**** (out of 4)
This excellent film works as a tribute to Jerry Lewis as we get an all-star group of actors talking about their love for the actor. It also works as a documentary because Lewis himself is interviewed and discusses the various stages of his life including his early days on the stage, the Martin & Lewis years, his solo Paramount films and of course his later career back up on the stage.
If you're a fan of Lewis then you're certainly going to love this documentary. There are clips from the majority of his movies shown and there's some terrific footage of Lewis, the director, working on various films including THE NUTTY PROFESSOR and THE LADIES MAN. There's also some great footage of him on the stage with Martin. Throughout all of this we get some concert footage from a current stage appearance where he does his act and carries on with some fans who got the chance to ask him questions.
Eddie Murphy, Chevy Chase, Quentin Tarantino, Woody Harrelson, Richard Lewis, John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Jerry Seinfeld, Carl Reiner, Carol Burnett, Alec Baldwin, Richard Belzer and Billy Crystal are just some of the famous people who pay respect to Lewis. They talk about some of their favorite scenes, the creative genius that Lewis was and they share how his work has influenced their own.
His dramatic work is pretty much overlooked with the exception of THE KING OF COMEDY. There's no talk of the film's he directed with other people acting and there's no mention of THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED. It's too bad some of that stuff wasn't covered but that still doesn't take away from the various subjects that are covered in this nearly two- hour documentary.
Scared Stiff (1953)
** (out of 4)
Nightclub singer Larry Todd (Dean Martin) and busboy Myron Mertz (Jerry Lewis) find themselves being hunted down by a gangster after they witnessed a murder. With the help of Mary (Lizaebth Scott) the two are able to get on board a cruise ship where they land in Cuba and before long they're in a haunted house.
Every comedy duo, at some point in their career, had to face horror elements. Laurel and Hardy. Abbott and Costello. Dean and Martin got their chance here in this remake of the 1940 Bob Hope film THE GHOST BREAKERS. For my money this isn't a very good movie and I thought it fell well short of that 1940 movie on a variety of levels but the biggest is the fact that there's really no story here.
We're basically introduced to the two men, we see them get in trouble with the gangsters, there's a romance between Martin and Scott and then we get to the horror elements. The problem is that the lack of story means that the 107-minute running time really drags to the point where I was bored out of my mind. Even worse is the fact that the story was so weak that it wouldn't have supported a sixty-minute movie from Monogram let alone something this long. For the life of me I couldn't understand why we were a hour into the picture and there still wasn't really anything going on.
As far as Martin and Lewis go, both are in fine shape playing the type of characters they were well familiar with. Lewis is that obnoxious clown who can't get out of trouble and often finds himself turning one bad situation into something worst. Martin gets to sing a couple numbers and do his romance thing and for the most part he's one of the highlights of the film. As for Scott, I personally found her to be a bit too bland in the part and there just wasn't any spark between her and Martin. There's a great cameo at the end but I won't spoil it for people.
SCARED STIFF is a pretty bland movie that has a few funny moments but certainly not enough to keep the running time from dragging on and on.
Little Miss Everybody (1929)
** 1/2 (out of 4)
Zelda Santley is the title character in this early Vitaphone short that has her singing and doing impressions. If you're looking for anything great then you're not going to find it here but everything I love about these old shorts can be found right here. Santley is backed by Victor Pelle and the two of them would never appear in another film. I'm going to guess that they were a touring act on the vaudeville circuit and they got the opportunity to appear in this film and do their act. Who knows whatever happened to them or where their careers took them but we do know that this was their only appearance on film and that reason alone makes this rather interesting to watch because this type of thing will never happen again. These Vitaphone shorts can contain a lot of nice entertainment for film buffs.
Molly Picon: The Celebrated Character Comedienne (1929)
** 1/2 (out of 4)
This early Vitaphone short gives you a chance to see Molly Picon doing a couple different songs with two different settings and two different backdrops. For the most part this here was a mildly entertaining short but at the same time there really wasn't anything here that jumped off the screen. The "performance" by Picon was decent enough as she would sing as well as "perform" the dialogue to the camera. A lot of these early Vitaphone shorts feature people who have long since been forgotten and a lot of times the only films they made were these shorts. That wasn't the case with Picon who had a long successful career so it's nice getting to see her towards the start of it, although she had been performing most of her life.
Rhythms in Blue (1929)
*** (out of 4)
Nice and rather catchy Vitaphone short has Bobbe Arnst and Peggy Ellis doing an act where they sing their hearts out to the tunes of There Was Never Else to Do, Doll Dance and The Album of My Dreams. If you're looking for some sort of ground-breaking film then this here obviously isn't that but at the same time if you enjoy watching these old shorts then there's some entertainment to be had here. Of the two ladies I'd say that Ellis was the better since she did a nice job on the piano and I felt she had a little better of a voice. I'd also argue that the fun of watching a film like this is the fact that the two ladies really didn't do any other short like this. They both appeared in bit roles in feature films but this here is the only real way to see their act.
Horace Heidt and His Californians (1929)
** 1/2 (out of 4)
There are two titles listed under this but the one I'm watching had the 902 number at the start of it, which is the easiest way to tell it apart. The title tells you exactly who you are watching as we get a couple musical numbers as well as a couple dance numbers. If you're a fan of these old Vitaphone shorts then you should enjoy this as there's quite a bit of fun material here. The highlight is probably a sequence where four guys play two pianos and they don't miss a beat. The dance numbers are mildly entertaining as well. The most impressive thing about this short is the fact that it manages to make you feel the rush and speed of everything going on.
One Dark Night (1982)
** (out of 4)
Julie (Meg Tilly) isn't the most popular girl at her college but she's willing to do everything to join The Sisters and their gang. What Julie doesn't know is that the leader basically wants her to audition so that they can get revenge on the girl for dating her boyfriend. That night Julie finds herself locked in a mausoleum when the girls decide to try and scare her. The only problem is that a recently deceased psychic decides to bring the dead back to life.
Tom McLoughlin's ONE DARK NIGHT is a film that I respected a lot more than I actually liked. You have to give the director and co-writer a lot of credit because a non R-rated horror film in 1982 is something very rare. It's obviously that the director was working on a limited budget and I'm going to guess that instead of trying to add a lot of gore effects he instead wanted to create something scary. This is one of those films that nothing happens for the first portion as the atmosphere grows and the director wants to eventually have all the scares at once.
This is a rather interesting movie because for the first hour there's really not too much that happens. We basically get to know all of the characters as we learn about them, learn about their relations and we very slowly get to the point where the three females are inside the mausoleum and the fun begins. The final thirty-minutes is when various things start to happen including the dead returning to life. If you're looking for any sort of gore then you can forget it as there's really not a drop until the very end. In fact, the violence is extremely low as is the body count.
That explains the PG-rating to the picture and it's interesting that McLoughlin would go this direction. I personally respect him trying to build up scares more than anything else but the problem is that the first hour drags pretty badly. When the film finally starts to pick up it's a tad bit too late but there's no question that there's some fun to be had during the finale. Tilly turns in a good and believable performance and we get some fun supporting performances from Melissa Newman, Elizabeth Daily and Robin Evans. Adam West also appears in a few scenes.
ONE DARK NIGHT isn't a masterpiece or even a good movie but it's an interesting horror film for the era.
The Two College Nuts (1929)
** 1/2 (out of 4)
Billy Edison and Charlie Gregory, appearing as Edison and Gregory, are the stars of this Vitaphone short that has the two men creating some music. This isn't your typical music as they use a variety of remodeled musical instruments as well as things like a rubber glove, air hose and tire to come up with their unique sounds. I enjoy watching these Vitaphone shorts because often times the acts, straight from vaudeville, never appeared in any other movies so these films are the only way to see them. That's the case here as the team of Edison and Gregory were only to appear in one movie and this is it. For the most part I wasn't bowled over by the act but it was certainly interesting enough to spend the seven-minutes on. Neither man was overly photogenic but their strange act of creating music was mildly entertaining.
The Big Paraders (1929)
*** (out of 4)
"The Big Paraders," I'm guessing, get their name from the fact that the performers are quite heavy. The six-person act features one woman at the piano and then five different dancers who perform musical numbers, dances and various other acts. This short clocks in at just eight-minutes but it's certainly a lot of fun. I'm once again guessing that this act made their name on vaudeville by performing while being extremely heavy. This made their act all the more impressive because they certainly knew how to move whether it being keeping in step with each other or dancing around the stage. I was really impressed with their skill and there's no question that their act was a very entertaining one and one that would keep a smile on your face. The reason I love Vitaphone shorts can be found right here: This is the only film available of this team.
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