Now Available to Own An underwritten screwball comedy of remarriage crossed with an overlong contemporary sitcom – much like the titular people-pleasing pet at the heart of its plotline – director Huck Botko's Dog runs itself ragged in the ...

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  1. Movie Review: Who Gets the Dog? (2016)
  2. Movie Review: Ithaca (2016)
  3. Warner Archive's Robert Montgomery Collection DVD Review: The Man in Possession (1931); Made on Broadway (1933)
  4. Olive Films Blu-ray Review: Roller Boogie (1979)
  5. Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Ride the Pink Horse (1947)
  6. More Recent Articles

Movie Review: Who Gets the Dog? (2016)


Now Available to Own 
 

An underwritten screwball comedy of remarriage crossed with an overlong contemporary sitcom – much like the titular people-pleasing pet at the heart of its plotline – director Huck Botko's Dog runs itself ragged in the hopes of being everything to everyone during its ninety-five minute running time.

While largely and refreshingly devoid of the kind of lowbrow, gross-out humor that we typically find in both children-centric pet movies and modern day romantic comedies, neither Botko nor his two screenwriters (Matt JL Wheeler and Rick Rapoza) were able to deliver a completely successful family friendly endeavor that could play equally well to both pup-loving kiddos and adults.

Gifted with a title that actually references its plot (for a change!), Who Gets the Dog? stars Ryan Kwanten alongside Gen X icon and executive producer Alicia Silverstone as a divorcing couple fighting over the custody of their dog, Wesley.

Bolstered by the charm and believable chemistry of its leads, the film is as affable as it is awkward. Typically in the Rom-Com genre, the hero’s “sidekick” plays a minor role. However, in Dog’s case, Kwanten’s best friend Rhett (Matty Ryan) has been given the picture's best plotline as a multitasking youth hockey coach who spends his time looking after his nephew while also helping minor league goalie Kwanten train for a shot at joining the Chicago Wolves.

And even though Kwanten’s Peter Pannish man-child bonds with Rhett’s adorable nephew, needless to say, the film would’ve been much stronger if Kwanten would’ve been the hockey coach/uncle and aspiring Wolves goalie as it would’ve given him much more to do than simply – literally and figuratively – chase after the eponymous dog.


Also overwhelming the leads, Randall Batinkoff steals scenes in an inspired turn as an overly masculine canine whisperer hoping to ply his trade with the goal of romance.

Although Kwanten delights in some inventive slapstick sequences while diving headfirst into his Shaggy-like role including a marvelously staged one at his character’s camper, other times it borders on scenery-chewing – making us painfully aware that this Dog is in desperate need of a tighter directorial leash as well as a more substantive script.

Likewise, by not giving verbally gifted Shakespeare and Austen (by way of Heckerling’s Clueless) vet Silverstone enough to do besides react to the chaos, the film drags as events come to a predictable head. And contrasted with some of the inventive flourishes that made the audience laugh earlier on, the forgettable finale feels like a a missed opportunity.

Gently roasting the dog-owner world in the hopes of strengthening its by-the-numbers storyline, although the end result is too inconsistent to keep us truly invested, there’s still plenty to like about this admittedly flawed yet undeniably pleasant PG-rated direct-to-disc confection. Aimed at humans and pets of all ages and released in time for holiday family viewing (and gift-giving), Who Gets the Dog? is sure to fetch an audience.

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Text ©2016, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.
 
    

Movie Review: Ithaca (2016)



             

Filmgoers who enjoyed their trip to Brooklyn last winter should be sure to seek out actress turned filmmaker Meg Ryan's directorial debut Ithaca this fall.

Set in the summer of '42, this lovingly crafted coming-of-age odyssey based on William Saroyan’s semi-autobiographical, semi-Homeric film treatment turned screenplay turned classic novel The Human Comedy is centered on fourteen-year-old Homer Macauley (Alex Neustaedter).


With a smile that was described by Saroyan in his novel as saying "yes to all things" (in a line Ithaca's production designer pays homage to as the title of a faux retro movie in the background of a beautifully bittersweet scene), Homer likewise soaks up everything around him.

But with his older brother (Jack Quaid) off to war and his father (Tom Hanks) recently deceased, Homer takes it upon himself to help his beloved mother (Ryan) make ends meet as the new man of the house.

Promising that he can pedal fast enough to beat Western Union, Homer convinces Tom Spangler (Hamish Linklater) to give him a job as a bike messenger for the town's local Postal Telegraph office.

 
Occasionally tasked with sobering up Sam Shepard's world-weary telegrapher William Grogan with an express delivery of a cold cup of water across the face followed by a hot cup of coffee from across the street, Homer soon discovers the reason for Grogan's stress.

Learning that a majority of the telegrams he carries come from the Secretary of War with dire news, Homer quickly becomes aware of the world in which he'd been a child while realizing just how much of an impact his job can have on someone's life.

Revealing the power of the written word both in bringing people closer together as well as tearing them apart, Homer's unease about his new familial role and messenger position is pushed aside by the series of letters he receives from his brother that we hear Quaid read over the course of the movie.

A fittingly age-old storytelling device that not only harks back to the films of the World War II era but also cleverly reinforces the film's Homeric themes, Band of Brothers scripter Erik Jendresen bridges together what could've been an overly episodic narrative by way of Quaid's moving voice-over, thus enhancing Ithaca's refreshingly understated charm.


Seemingly inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird in terms of its old-fashioned foray into adolescent centric coming-of-age storytelling, at less than ninety minutes, Ithaca nonetheless settles a bit too easily for the familiar taste of a comfort food-like recipe.

Fortunately however, by drawing heavily on her background as a versatile performer, Ryan inspires strong turns from her affable cast both newcomers and veterans alike.

From the fearless nature of Homer's four-year-old brother Ulysses (played by scene-stealer Spencer Howell) to MVP character actor Hamish Linklater as Homer's hurdle-jumping boss Spangler who's much deeper than he seems, the ensemble driven effort is bursting with three dimensional characterization.


Though its female characters feel a bit one note – most likely due to the film's limited point-of-view which focuses heavily on the evolution of our young main character on his path to adulthood – with Ryan at the helm, it does feel like a missed opportunity to delve deeper into an often overlooked perspective in order to help Ithaca push past its formulaic shortcomings.

Yet similar to her Ithaca (blink-and-you-missed-it) co-star and executive producer Tom Hanks' own '60s set directorial debut That Thing You Do, Ryan's first foray into filmmaking is steeped in period authenticity in terms of storytelling, style, and spirit.

Alternating between the sun-drenched innocence that opens the film and the uncertainty of dusk which closes it, Ithaca's largely two tone color scheme from Gosford Park cinematographer Andrew Dunn calls to mind the predominantly black-and-white lensing of early 1940s, WWII motion picture photography.


Filling Ithaca with unexpected flourishes including a surprisingly subtle yet effective score from rocker John Mellencamp, Ryan keeps viewers from focusing on her otherwise beautifully rendered Saroyan adaptation's structural predictability.

A humanistic, well-acted ode to those that say yes to all things, in this World War II battle of hearts and minds being waged by a young boy on the home front, Meg Ryan turns a timeless tale into a timelier than ever directorial debut.



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Text ©2016, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.
    

Warner Archive's Robert Montgomery Collection DVD Review: The Man in Possession (1931); Made on Broadway (1933)


  Part of the 2016 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon 
Day 22: Robert Montgomery

Two of the eight films included in Robert Montgomery’s four-disc Warner Archive Collection set – including 1931’s The Man in Possession and 1933’s Made on Broadway – offer fans of the actor an opportunity to explore his comedic side as he rose to prominence on the MGM lot and eventually branched out to darker material as both a director and star.

Essentially a drawing room farce of mistaken identities and withheld information, The Man in Possession finds Robert Montgomery at his most William Powell-like.

To the credit of screenwriters Sarah Y. Mason and P.G. Wodehouse, H.M. Harwood’s eponymous stage play is fairly easy to follow in spite of its increasingly convoluted storyline which finds ex-con turned bailiff’s assistant Montgomery asked to play the part of a fake butler (all the while requiring you to suspend your disbelief even more than usual).

Left to “take possession” of a property overnight until the bailiff returns to retrieve a debt owed by a scheming beauty played by Irene Purcell, Montgomery agrees to pose as her butler during an all-important first dinner with her future in-laws.

Stunned to discover that the surprise guests are his very own family who (with the exception of his adoring mother) are too embarrassed to identify the servant as her beau's black sheep brother, things get increasingly awkward as the night goes on and Montgomery begins falling for his brother’s girl.

As affable as the picture is, the chemistry between Montgomery and the otherwise capable Irene Purcell just doesn’t have the same electric spark that he’d exhibited with other leading ladies of the era including Myrna Loy in When Ladies Meet, Norma Shearer in Private Lives, Rosalind Russell in the underrated Fast and Loose, and Carole Lombard in Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Nonetheless, Purcell’s sexually liberated Pre-Code turn helped establish both costar Montgomery as a viable romantic lead and also pave the way for the success of other daring '30s actresses such as Jean Harlow, who stepped into the exact same role in her last screen performance via the more popular 1937 remake of Man in Possession dubbed Private Property.


Less charmingly frantic than it is merely frantic and occasionally charming, the generically titled Made on Broadway might just as well have been called "Sixty-Eight Minutes in Search of a Plot."

Although on the surface it's a comedy of remarriage that’s packed with the same battle-of-the-sexes style barbs that were commonplace in other Pre-Code era titles, unfortunately besides a terrific turn by Robert Montgomery as an ace press agent who can spin any situation – including cold blooded murder – to his clients’ advantage, there's not a whole lot holding director Harry Beaumont’s weak 1933 offering together.

Most intriguing as a darkly comedic tale of one-upmanship between Montgomery and Sally Eilers sandwiched between a stagey exposition filled beginning and a melodramatic penultimate act (with a courtroom trial no less!), the oddly structured Broadway makes its way through a myriad of other tones and genres before ending things on a predictably happy if sappy note.

Part love triangle, part mystery, and filled to the brim with characters that are only in a single scene, there's enough going on throughout that similar to The Man in Possession, Made on Broadway could definitely inspire a remake or several... depending on just how many of its many incomplete stories that future filmmakers wish to tell.


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Text ©2016, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.
    

Olive Films Blu-ray Review: Roller Boogie (1979)


Now Available to Own   


  Photo Slideshow  




Though overshadowed by the release of the far more opulent Down to Earth remake Xanadu a year later in 1980, this largely overlooked roller disco time capsule starring a fresh-faced (and refreshingly exorcism free) Linda Blair has been building up momentum as a cult favorite over the past thirty years.

An upbeat time-waster that perhaps plays best in the background of '80s night at the roller rink, in 2006 Roller Boogie was given an unconventional re-release playing in New York based American Apparel stores.

As colorful and instantly forgettable as a piece of bubblegum, Roller Boogie makes very little sense from one illogical scene to the next.


Ostensibly a wrong side of the tracks summer romance in which its two skating obsessed teens fall in love while preparing for the titular contest, the film merges multiple plot strands together in the hopes that something will stick with us for longer than the length of a skate down the boardwalk.

While a sequel tentatively planned to be set in Acapulco disintegrated at the end of the disco era, the late 1979 release of Roller Boogie proved popular with teen audiences, netting Compass International Pictures a modest success following their breakthrough smash Halloween from director John Carpenter a year earlier.

Bolstered by the four-wheeled acrobatics by legendary skater Jim Bray who turned pro after accumulating more than two hundred and fifty trophies at the age of eighteen to star in this – his only – film, while Bray's chemistry with Blair is never quite convincing as anything more than just pals, the two give it everything they've got in several jaw-dropping numbers.


Though doubled for some of the picture's toughest tricks, in a far cry from the drama that followed Jennifer Beals a few years later in her stand-in heavy Flashdance performance, Boogie's Blair did most of her own skating here.

Gamely braving hip bursitis in addition to bumps and bruises, Linda Blair makes a genuinely likeable leading lady – Boogieing her way into our hearts from start to finish, in spite of the film's terribly inconsistent screenplay.

Showing a flair for lighter material and physical humor, while Blair would eventually return to the horror genre that launched her in the following decade, looking back at Roller Boogie today, you can't help but wonder how great she would've been in a female buddy picture opposite other talented young stars of the era, had the right material been available to her at the right time.


Listed as one of the one hundred most enjoyable bad movies in The Official Razzie Movie Guide by Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson, although Roller Boogie's largely bravura roller choreography manages to distract us from the threadbare script and one-dimensional characters, ultimately it's not enough to keep our attentions from wandering throughout.

And while I normally frown at remakes, seeing this a mere week after I was sent a retro Disney Channel Original Movie set in the world of '60s surf musicals made me think that a complete rehaul and rewrite could be exactly what Roller Boogie needs to fully capitalize on the promising hybrid of a skate/dance film.

Operating on a lower budget than the over-the-top Xanadu, Roller Boogie was filmed over the course of a breakneck eight week shooting schedule, which is all the more impressive considering the complexity of a penultimate chase scene on skates.


Lensed in a dizzying dance style filled with the quick cuts that would soon become the norm with the birth of MTV, Roller Boogie is filled with largely original pop music written by Bob Esty and Michelle Aller from start to finish including Cher's catchy "Hell on Wheels" track that kicks off the movie while simultaneously setting its breezy tone.

Needlessly raising the stakes by way of an ill-advised Scooby-Dooish crime plot which tasks the kids with stopping evil mobsters from seizing control of their beloved roller rink before the big roller boogie contest, Roller Boogie takes a few too many detours on its way to the final skate.

Better served as a stylish, straightforward summer romance, the film winds up giving off the impression that we're watching four totally different movies play out at the exact same time (with each one missing a few crucial scenes). Changing tempo quickly and picking up momentum with speed, Boogie works best the faster it goes, balancing plots strands, new characters, and disco balls on the skates of its capable cast.


Better served both as a collection of scenes and when it lets the music and visuals take center stage in place of the often cringe-worthy dialogue, Boogie's editors keep things moving before it all falls apart completely.

Even if today it's the one in greater need of a remake, ultimately Roller Boogie gives us a more authentic view of the roller disco era than the grandiose '40s musical inspired Xanadu which skyrocketed it even faster to cult success.

And while it does show its age both in close up and in wide shots, thanks to the largely grain and debris free transfer to Blu-ray high-definition from Olive Films, we're reintroduced to 1979 all over again with a new Roller Boogie release that makes it shine brighter than the California sunlight.


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Text ©2016, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.
    

Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Ride the Pink Horse (1947)


Now Available to Own

   

 Photo Slideshow
  



Talk about tempting fate. Only in Film Noir would a man named Lucky travel to a New Mexico town that's so well-known for its bad luck that each year, the locals host a festival to shed the curse through the ritual of fire.

As a popular tourist destination, the event makes a terrific diversion in theory. But once you burn something, the scent lingers in the air, attaching itself from one person to another like the carousel at the center of town, which – despite the colorful distraction of a pink horse – can't hide the fact that it leads you nowhere.

Hauntingly captured by cinematographer Russell Metty eleven years before he lensed another southwestern Noir soaked stunner via Touch of Evil, this flawed yet mildly effective black-and-white B-movie is filled with shady symbolism.


Based on the Dorothy B. Hughes novel and produced by five time Alfred Hitchcock co-writer Joan Harrison (who's rumored to have also taken a pass at the screenplay), Ride the Pink Horse reflects the ideas of far too many off-screen storytellers.

A long forgotten postwar crime picture that’s been resuscitated by The Criterion Collection, although Ride’s meandering plotline often stops and starts just like a carousel, the sharp one-liners served up by Ben Hecht (Notorious) and Charles Lederer (His Girl Friday) give the film a badly needed illusion of speed. Sadly, the feeling is short lived.


Taking what should’ve been a naturally thrilling confrontation between hero and villain in the form of a foot chase and dragging it out to a near crawl, Horse is strained even more by its characters' wildly inconsistent personalities that seem to change at – if not the drop of a hat – than with a sudden shift of that unlucky wind.

Still less daring yet more palatable than actor turned director Robert Montgomery’s first film that was released earlier that same year, Ride the Pink Horse’s emphasis on ensemble, ambience, and mood illustrates the filmmaker's love for the medium and its ability to introduce us to people whom we wouldn't normally encounter in our day-to-day life.


And unlike the objective point-of-view approach he employed throughout his boldly experimental adaptation of Raymond Chandler's Lady in the Lake that forced us to look at the world through the eyes of Phillip Marlowe, Montgomery favors a more straightforward style for his follow-up Noir which better serves the material.

As a man fascinated by character driven conflict, it's no wonder that Robert Montgomery gravitated to Noir early on in his filmmaking career since the genre frequently asks us to take a closer look at someone we might have misjudged earlier.

Unfortunately, this film takes it a bit too far as most of the people who fill the screen (including Montgomery's ironically named unlucky WWII vet) seldom reveal the same side of their personality twice.


Offering viewers the opportunity to play Marlowe to greater effect in this film than in the gimmicky Lake, one way Criterion could've bolstered the lukewarm title is by including the much maligned Lady in the Lake on a bonus disc in order to better appreciate Montgomery's genre transition and enjoy the Ride.

Nonetheless although it’s sure to be of interest from a historical and cultural perspective as the first film to result in an Academy Award nomination for a Latino actor (via scene stealer Thomas Gomez), in the end and in spite of Criterion’s technically stellar Blu-ray high definition transfer, the oft-forgotten film remains just as forgettable today.   

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Text ©2016, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.
    

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