Opening in Las Vegas, July 29, 2016

Standard

It’s been a bad summer for sequels, so we’ll see how Jason Bourne (59) does. Most seem to call it unnecessary. I saw the first three, which had a complete character and story arc, now they’re just piling on. Brian Tallerico: “When it’s over, even viewers more eager to forgive this failed creative reunion will wonder what it is that they just watched, and what purpose it serves other than financial. And why no one figured out a new, engaging way to tell a story that’s already been told.”

Maybe someday they can put together a triple-feature of Very Bad Things, Bad Teacher, and Bad Moms (60). It’s always risky to put “Bad” in your title, as critics can be lazy. It’s from the guys who gave us The Hangover. Jordan Hoffman: “There aren’t too many weird or original moments in Bad Moms…but Lucas and Moore, who wrote the script for The Hangover, know how to clear the stage for talented performers that can spin gold from next to nothing.”

Nerve (58) is a film about an online version of Truth or Dare that seems timely given the Pokemon Go craze, but the dangers are greater than getting hit by a car or falling in an open manhole. Jordan Hoffman: “It’s rare when you can pinpoint the exact moment a movie goes off the rails, but when Nerve downshifts from far-fetched parable into idiotic action, the film at least has the decency to speed itself along to get to the ending.”

I’ll be seeing, later today, Woody Allen’s 47th feature film, Cafe Society (64). After a trio of less-than-stellar offerings, Allen has pleased most with this film, although his days of greatness seem to be far behind him. It should please fans of Hollywood in the ’30s. Todd McCarthy: “Wispy and familiar in its themes and humorous strokes, Café Society benefits from an exceptionally adept cast led by Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart and Steve Carell, as well as from a luminous glow that emphasizes both the old Hollywood nostalgia and the story’s basis in dreams and artifice.”

Finally there’s Captain Fantastic (72), the best-reviewed film of the week, featuring Viggo Mortensen as a dad attempting to raise his kids off the grid. Stephanie Zacharek: “So where’s the line between rigid parental standards and possible abuse? Captain Fantastic crab-walks tentatively toward that question, and even though its conclusion feels rushed, the movie still works as a portrait of an unorthodox family that’s well adjusted in its own odd way.”

AGEBOC 2016 (Week Thirteen) July 29th-31st

Standard

SCORES:
James – 43
Jackrabbit Slim – 37
Joe – 36
Juan – 33
Marco – 21
Rob – 19

WEEKEND OF JULY 29th, 2016.

QUESTION #1
What will Jason Bourne gross this weekend? Closest guess earns 4 points. Second closest earns 2 points. Within 250k earns 2 extra points.

QUESTION #2:
What will Bad Moms gross this weekend? Closest guess earns 4 points. Second closest earns 2 points. Within 250k earns 2 extra points.

QUESTION #3:
What will Nerve gross this weekend? Closest guess earns 4 points. Second closest earns 2 points. Within 250k earns 2 extra points.

Answers are due on Thursday by 8:00 pm EST (or so). Good luck!

Opening in Las Vegas, July 22, 2016

Standard

I actually started the day in Gettysburg, PA and am now in Herkimer, NY, but this is what’s opening this weekend in Vegas:

The big opening is the latest Star Trek Beyond (70). I’ve liked the new iteration of the series, this one is directed by Justin Lin. Most of the critics have talked about how the film plays it safe, and does not go boldly anywhere. John Hazelton: “The third installment of the re-booted Star Trek franchise gets safely through its voyage, offering a strong returning cast and a familiar, if slightly tweaked mix of effects-heavy space action, cheeky humour and philosophical musing.”

Another movie based on a TV series is Absolutely Fabulous (58). The show has had a sporadic history, but it is surely best known as a 90s relic. I’ve never seen the show, but the trailer looks kind of funny. I’ll never see it, though, for bizarre psychological reasons. Manohla Dargis: “Serviceably, at times awkwardly, directed by Mandie Fletcher, the movie skews softer than the series at its barbed best, partly because the celebrity culture that once provided such rich material has become just another ratings opportunity for the Kardashians.”

Another film series seems doomed, this time it’s Ice Age Collision Course (33). I don’t think I’ve seen one of these films, unless it was on TV when my nephews were young. I’m not about to start now. Marc Savlov: “Collision Course is overstuffed with meandering, unnecessary micro-storylines, far too many new characters, and an obvious lack of focus, none of which should impact the movie’s target demographic, kids under 10.”

What looks like another disposable horror film is Lights Out (57), starring B-list names like Teresa Palmer and Maria Bello. Andrew Barker: “Very obviously a first feature, Lights Out is full of camp (most of it clearly intentional, some perhaps not), and its underlying mythology is confused and often ridiculous. But there’s an invigorating leanness — and a giddy, almost innocent energy — to the filmmaking.”

Review: Our Kind of Traitor

Standard

The trickiest tightrope walked in Our Kind of Traitor is getting the audience to buy that a civilian with absolutely no espionage experience would be up to his neck helping the British MI6 smuggle a Russian mobster into political asylum. Everytime the brain wants to reject this ludicrous notion, the intelligent script (by Hossein Amini) manages to wriggle off the hook. This makes for a generally good spy flick, with some good thrills and a pair of great performances.

The film was directed by more assurance by Susannah White than would be expected, given her only other major feature is Nanny McPhee Returns. But the film has the sleek, sexy look of a spy film, with lots of soft focus and numerous exotic locations–Marrakesh, Paris, Bern, and London. I haven’t read the source novel, but I’m guessing fans of the genre will enjoy the film.

The amateur in this case is Ewan MacGregor as professor of poetry. He is in Morocco on a holiday with his wife, Naomie Harris. They’re trying to kick-start their marriage–there’s a line dropped in about an affair with a student–but it’s not working. She leaves him alone in a restaurant to take a business call when he is befriended by an ursine Russian (Stellan Skarsgard), who takes him out for a night on the town, and then invites him for tennis the next day.

To cut to the chase–Skarsgard is a money launderer for the Russian mob, and has proof that British MPs have taken bribes to open a bank in London to dry clean billions of Russian rubles. Skarsgard knows he’s a marked man and wants his family taken to safety, so picks out MacGregor to smuggle a thumb-drive with sensitive information on it back to England.

That’s when an intelligence officer (Damian Lewis) gets interested. He’s got a grudge against one of the MPs (Jeremy Northam) and proceeds with the case even though he doesn’t get authorization from the home office (this is where MacGregor’s involvement becomes more feasible. also that he’s the only person Skarsgard trusts). So it’s a race as to whether the small group of British can get the Russians to safety before everybody gets killed.

What makes Our Kind of Traitor interesting is not MacGregor or Harris’s marital woes, or almost anything about them. It’s the pathos that Skarsgard brings and the intense focus Lewis does. Both of these men turn in award-worthy performances. I especially liked Lewis, who appears to be a proper English gentlemen but is brimming with anger.

Our Kind of Traitor is not a great film by any means but it makes for a decent evening’s entertainment. It’s not as complicated as some LeCarre works, it moves briskly, and there’s genuine emotion involved.

AGEBOC 2016 (Week Twelve) July 22nd-24th

Standard

SCORES:
James – 39
Joe – 34
Juan – 33
Jackrabbit Slim – 25
Marco – 21
Rob – 19

WEEKEND OF JULY 22nd, 2016.

QUESTION #1
What will Star Trek Beyond gross this weekend? Closest guess earns 4 points. Second closest earns 2 points. Within 250k earns 2 extra points.

QUESTION #2:
What will Ice Age: Collision Course gross this weekend? Closest guess earns 4 points. Second closest earns 2 points. Within 250k earns 2 extra points.

QUESTION #3:
What will Lights Out gross this weekend? Closest guess earns 4 points. Second closest earns 2 points. Within 250k earns 2 extra points.

Answers are due on Thursday, July 21st by 8:00 pm EST or so. Good luck!

Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

Standard

I’m happy to report that the reboot/remake of Ghostbusters, titled simply Ghostbusters, did not ruin my childhood (although I saw the first film when I was 23), and I laughed often. I knew I was in for a good time when the pre-credit opening, set in a creepy old mansion in New York, is noted for having luxuries like a “face bidet” and an “anti-Irish fence.”

But, overthinking person that I am, I was plagued by several questions. I know that this project resulted in the demise of a possible Ghostbusters III, both by the actual death of Harold Ramis and the foot-dragging of Bill Murray. So they decided to just start over, and in a bold move, director Paul Feig, who made the all-female comedy Bridesmaids, also cast this Ghostbusters with all-female leds.

The film also makes the choice not to acknowledge that there were Ghostbusters in the past, so this is a tabula rasa. The former cast-members (except for Rick Moranis) make cameo appearances as other characters (even Ramis is honored).

So why, since this is all new, is the film so similar to the first one? It’s set in New York City, it has the Ghostbusters wearing grey uniforms and carrying machines that capture ghosts, they drive around in a odd vehicle (this time it’s a hearse, not an ambulance) and the plot concerns higher-than-normal paranormal activity (there’s even a ghost of a someone who died on the electric chair). It’s as if Feig decided to be different, but not too different, and essentially remade the first film with an all-female cast.

I will give the cast credit–none of them are echoes of the original ghostbusters. There’s no obvious Venkman or Stantz stand-in. Instead we get something a little blander. Kristen Wiig is a physics professor looking for tenure but has a book about ghosts she co-authored with Melissa McCarthy, who is still in the ghost-hunting profession. Wiig loses tenure after beeing seen in a video where she yells, “Ghosts are real!” McCarthy’s sidekick is an engineer, Kate McKinnon, who is the only character of any major interest, and she’s impossible to describe. Each line reading is an adventure, and she’s so committed to her oddball character that she runs rings around the others.

As for Leslie Jones, I’m sorry that the only black ghostbuster, as with the first film, is the only non-scientist. She’s an MTA worker who is also an expert on New York City history (why not have made her a historian or a tour guide?) She has a lot of great lines, though, usually in the “sassy black woman” category, such as “If looking good is a crime, I’m guilty as charged!”

The plot is almost irrelevant. A nerdy guy who hates people wants to unleash all the ghosts and rule them all, but this seems like an afterthought. I also wasn’t a big fan of Chris Hemsworth’s dumb receptionist character, though he was game.

I liked Ghostbusters okay, and we’re set up for a sequel if you stay past the credits and remember who Zuul is. But I kind of wished they had gone in a completely different direction. Set it in L.A., London, Las Vegas. Drop all the scientific crap. Make it more like the old Abbott and Costello or Bob Hope haunted house movies. Anything, but this. But for what is, it’s okay and worth seeing.

Opening in Las Vegas, July 15, 2016

Standard

The field has pretty much been abandoned for the reboot of Ghostbusters (60), getting decent reviews but the most disliked trailer in the history of YouTube, and a reminder that misogyny still is rampant. I’m fine with an all-female comedy, but wonder at why they had to remake this property, and even give it the exact same title. Not even a Ghosbusters 2016? Bill Goodykoontz: “The new Ghostbusters is a pretty funny movie, a goofy take on the goofy original that has some good laughs and a dopey story.”

The Infliltrator  (66), which opened Wednesday, is about an undercover agent who goes deep into a Mexican drug cartel. Seems like a rental to me. Will Ashton: “The Infiltrator is ultimately a solid, if not exceptional, Scorsese takeoff, one that has just enough spunk and wit to make up for its often-apparent shortcomings.”

Outlaws and Angels (41), from director JT Mollner, is a horror movie set in the Old West. Daniel M. Gold: “The sensibility is more grindhouse gore than spaghetti western, perhaps hoping to mine the same vein as Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight,” but lacking Mr. Tarantino’s lively dialogue and wicked sense of humor.”

Finally, there’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople (80), New Zealand’s highest grossing film ever, with Sam Neill in a sentimental family film. Joe Morgenstern: “Has its share of misfired jokes and pseudo-mythic sequences that semi-fizzle. All in all, though, it’s majestical nonsense that is anything but nonsensical.”

The Deer Hunter

Standard

With the death of Michael Cimino last week I thought I’d revisit his greatest (only) triumph, The Deer Hunter, which I hadn’t seen since its first release. Time has not been great to this film, which I still find to be over-rated and over-rewarded.

The story of three Russian-Americans from the a steel-mining town in Pennsylvania who go off to fight in Vietnam, The Deer Hunter mixes an odd kind of sensationalism (the Russian roulette sequences) with a fake sense of community. I have no idea what a company town in Pennsylvania was like in the early ’70s, but I’ll bet it doesn’t feel like this. Most of the scenes in the early part of the film felt like a beer commercial.

The three main characters are Mike (Robert De Niro), a sphinx-like man who is buttoned so tight it’s amazing he has friends; Christopher Walken as Nick, a kind of popular guy, and Stan (John Savage), who is getting married. There are a few other guys who are friends, notably John Cazale, who still has Fredo Corleone in his system (a scene in which De Niro won’t lend him his boots seems very Godfather-ish). The lone female character with anything to do is Meryl Streep as Nick’s girlfriend, but she starts to feel warm towards Mike, though he does nothing to indicate why that should be.

The first act ends abruptly, with the guys finding themselves together in a North Vietnamese prison camp, where they are forced to play Russian roulette. This scene is the best in the film, full of gut-wrenching suspense, but it is extremely controversial because it is made out of whole cloth–there is no recorded instance of Viet Cong employing this method of torture. I wonder how Americans would feel if the North Vietnamese, or the Japanese or Germans, for that matter, made a film about Americans making their prisoners play the game.

Interestingly, Russian roulette was the core of the script. It was originally a film about guys in Vegas playing it, and it was transplanted into a movie about Vietnam. The Deer Hunter was one of the first films to deal with Vietnam, although it is completely apolitical–it might as well have been World War II or Korea, as there is no mention of anyone opposing the war or what it stands for.

The third act follows De Niro home, where he fumbles into a relationship with Streep, finds Savage in a VA hospital, missing both legs, and then goes back to find Walken in Saigon, where he is addicted to Russian roulette. Here’s a problem–Russian roulette is not a game of skill–it is completely luck. It is impossible to think Walken could have survived more than a few games of playing it, certainly not long enough to earn a nickname–“The American.”

Finally the film ends after a funeral, with the assembled singing “God Bless America.” What are we to make of this? Is this completely ironic, a passive/aggressive way for Cimino to be political, or is it sincere? Again, it feels like a commercial, like “baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet.”

I haven’t mentioned the deer hunting scenes. De Niro is almost mystical about it, not the kind of guy who hunts as a communal experience just to drink beer. He takes it super seriously, and talks about how the deer must be killed with one shot. That “one shot” is repeated later, in one of the many obvious points of the film. Others include the spilled wine on Savage’s bride’s dress (meaning bad luck) and the choir music used for De Niro walking through the forest. We know the forest is like a cathedral for him, we don’t need the redundancy.

The Deer Hunter has fine qualities, such as Vilmos Zsigmond’s photography and Walken and Streep’s performances (Walken won an Oscar and it was the first of umpteen nominations for Streep), but mostly I found it to be a faux epic. Cimino studied Scorsese and Coppola and this is what he came up, but he lacked their authenticity. I never saw Heaven’s Gate but if it is the disaster many say it is then I wouldn’t be surprised after seeing The Deer Hunter.

AGEBOC 2016 (Week Eleven) July 15th-17th

Standard

SCORES:
Joe – 34
James – 33
Juan – 27
Jackrabbit Slim – 25
Marco – 21
Rob – 19

WEEKEND OF JULY 15th, 2016.

QUESTION #1
What will Ghostbusters gross this weekend? Closest guess earns 4 points. Second closest earns 2 points. Within 250k earns 2 extra points.

QUESTION #2:
What will The Infiltrator gross this weekend? Closest guess earns 4 points. Second closest earns 2 points. Within 250k earns 2 extra points.

Answers are due on Thursday, July 14th by 8:00 pm EST or so. Good luck!

Opening in Las Vegas, July 8, 2016

Standard

Another lackluster weekend. This summer is heading toward being the worst in my memory. Is there any film out there that could save this summer? Suicide Squad?

The best-reviewed and likely box office champ this weeekend is The Secret Life of Pets (61), an animated film getting decent reviews, but the animation looks a little crude for a feature film. I’d see it if I had kids, but I don’t, so I’ll pass. A. O. Scott: “The Secret Life of Pets is adequate animated entertainment, amusing while it lasts but not especially memorable except as a catalog of compromises and missed opportunities.”

In the movies for bros department, we have Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, (50) another film wasting the talent of Anna Kendrick. Except for Me and Orson Welles, has Zac Efron ever made a good movie? Todd McCarthy: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates rates medium on the grossness scale (an all-body, pre-marital naked-Indian-guru-administered massage for the bride with a happy ending, anyone?), and pretty high in crude talk. But it’s kind of a dud when it comes to endurance and imaginative moves.”

The one movie I might see if boredom sets in is Our Kind of Traitor (57), an adaptation of a John LeCarre novel, starring Ewan McGregor. In summer I gravitate toward films that provide at least a spark of intelligence. Dan Jolin: “A lesser entry in the LeCarré Cinematic Universe, though Damian Lewis and Stellan Skarsgård rescue it from complete blandness.”

AGEBOC 2016 (Week Ten) July 8th-10th

Standard

SCORES:
Joe – 34
James – 31
Jackrabbit Slim – 25
Juan – 23
Rob – 17
Marco – 17

WEEKEND OF JULY 8th, 2016.

QUESTION #1
What will The Secret Life of Pets gross this weekend? Closest guess earns 4 points. Second closest earns 2 points. Within 250k earns 2 extra points.

QUESTION #2:
What will Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates gross this weekend? Closest guess earns 4 points. Second closest earns 2 points. Within 250k earns 2 extra points.

Answers are due on Thursday, July 7th by 8:00 pm EST or so. Good luck!

Review: The Legend of Tarzan

Standard

There’s been a lot of debate if the character of Tarzan is just too antiquated for these times. Edgar Rice Burroughs was no enlightened thinker–the overall tone of his books were racist, and early Tarzan films didn’t exactly portray the African natives in a positive light. Basically, what we had was a European taking his natural spot as King of the Jungle because he was naturally superior to the darker race.

So David Yates and his team have tried again, with The Legend of Tarzan, perfectly aware of what they were dealing with, and the result is a bending over backwards to make the whole thing PC. The natives have actual characters, not just a mass of “ooga booga” savages, and the villains in the pieces are colonialists. And while Jane spends most of the film as a damsel in distress, she can more than hold her own.

So if this is Tarzan for the modern age, I was kind of disappointed. The film looks great, but was so wrapped in apologia that I was longing for some simple adventure, without the looking at the audience and saying, “We’re not racists.”

In this Tarzan, our man (Alexader Skarsgard) has hung up his loincloth and is living the life of English gentry as the Earl of Greystoke. In the Belgian Congo, King Leopold’s right hand man (Christoph Waltz) is looking for some legendary diamonds. He strikes a deal with a chief (Djimoun Hounsou)–he gets the diamonds, if Waltz can deliver Tarzan to him. So Waltz contrives for a phony diplomatic mission, in which Skarsgard is to come. But the plot thickens when Jane (Margot Robbie) insists on coming along, as does an American diplomat, Samuel L. Jackson.

In this film, Tarzan turns out to be a combination of Spider-Man and Dr. Dolittle, as he has a special bond with animals, especially the gorillas he grew up with. In Tarzan movies, we accept that a person can leap off a cliff and grab a vine that will hold his weight, or that a man could fight a gorilla and not be completely ripped from limb to limb. Everyone involved sells the whole concept, even Jackson, who brings some anachronistic contemporary qualities to his character (who was a real person,) But I felt drained by the PC nature of the film–the underlying cause is against slavery, certainly a noble one, but to me Tarzan films demand a certain silliness, a certain Saturday-afternoon serial quality.

Skarsgard and Robbie, both sleek as panthers, make an attractive pairing, and Waltz can do these Euro-villain parts in his sleep (he is the heir to Alan Rickman in this regard). In fact, most of the suspense of the film is wondering what animal will kill him, which I won’t spoil here. We also get the answer to the question why natives never rode zebras.

As summer blockbusters go, The Legend of Tarzan is tolerable if not scintillating. It’s not as profound and moving as Greystoke, the last serious attempt at the character was. If the film can make it’s money back there could be promise in a sequel, as the ending suggests that you can take the boy out of the jungle, but you can’t take the jungle out of the boy.

Opening in Las Vegas, July 1, 2016

Standard

Another weekend of films getting mediocre reviews. I haven’t seen a movie for three weeks now, and I’m not sure I’m going to this week.

The best reviewed film of the week is Steven Spielberg’s The BFG (66), which does not stand for “Big Fucking Giant,” although I prefer to think it does. Written by the late Melissa Mathison, it seems like a good film for kids, but not for me. Anne Hornaday: “Roald Dahl’s beloved ad­ven­ture tale about a brave little girl who befriends the titular Big Friendly Giant, finds Steven Spielberg in his natural element of childlike enchantment, yet also strangely out of step, his trusted sense of narrative propulsion and pacing occasionally failing him in a saggy, draggy second act.”

When I first heard about The Legend of Tarzan (43), I thought, again? But it has been over thirty years since Greystoke, the best Tarzan film I’ve seen. Alexander Skarsgard and Margot Robbie make an attractive Tarzan and Jane, but there are some questioning whether this character should be put in mothballs. I just may see it if I’m really bored. Steve Persall: “Filmmakers simply can’t make Tarzan like they used to. If someone tries, like director David Yates did with The Legend of Tarzan, he’s just another superhero, swinging on vines rather than spider webs. Natives can’t be restless. Lions won’t be wrestled…Tarzan fans leave feeling Cheetah’d.”

I saw the first Purge, not the second, so it’s doubtbul I see The Purge: Election Year (56). I’m tired of super-violent films that tell us that violence is wrong, when they are reaching out to people who wear red “Make America Great” baseball caps. Bilge Ebiri: “If The Purge: Election Year is ultimately still engaging, it’s largely because of the irresistibility of the basic concept itself. But this new movie also makes a pretty good case for why the series should end here: Things have not only come to their logical conclusion, but you get the curious sense that the filmmakers have run out of ideas.”

In a year of strange concepts for films (see The Lobster) comes Swiss Army Man (61), which combines Cast Away with Weekend at Bernie’s. It seems interesting, but I’m not sure I want to spend a couple of hours watching someone lugging around a flatulent corpse. Jordan Hoffman: “It’s coarse and it’s stupid, but it is, thanks mostly the two good performances and some stylish use of music and editing, a little bit moving.”

 

Review: California Suite (1978)

Standard

californiasuiteposterThe screenwriting career of playwright Neil Simon fascinates me not because of the quality of his work but the critical & popular context they exist in during his heyday and today.

From roughly 1967 to 1983, a film written by Neil Simon was one of the safest guarantees of a hit in mainstream Hollywood; a very rare case of the screenwriter being the main selling point. Simon’s peerless ability for comic one-liners and amusing, relatable characters not only made him popular but critically respected. He got 4 seperate Oscar nominations for his screenplays but multiple actors won Oscars in his films.

And yet today, Simon’s film work has severely diminished in reputation. For example in 1977 Simon’s ‘The Goodbye Girl’ was competing as a Best Picture Oscar nominee against someone not entirely dissimilar in style – Woody Allen for ‘Annie Hall’. And yet while Annie Hall is considered a modern classic whose reputation has grown over the years, The Goodbye Girl is largely forgotten.

Perhaps what seemed amusing and biting in Simon’s work back in the day is now perceived as safe and brittle; certainly few would disagree that he an excessive tendency to rely on one-liners instead of genuine dialogue.

The best way to assess Simon’s work is of course to look back in his films and one such example is the 1978 film ‘California Suite’, directed by Herbert Ross.
Visitors From New York – About a divorced couple meeting up for the first time in years due to a runaway daughter, this all the hallmarks of Simon at his worst; endless one-liners instead of actual dialogue and based on the simplistic contrast between uptight New York lifestyle and the relaxed California lifestyle. But it works, thanks largely to the excellent performances of Jane Fonda and Alan Alda who make it much more substantial than it should be.

Visitors From London – About a married couple visiting for the Oscars ceremony, this is the best of the segments, mainly because (by Simon’s standards) it’s deftly characterised as it’s only at the end we understand what makes the marriage tick. As the wife, Maggie Smith got the Oscar in real life (she doesn’t in the film) but Michael Caine – atypically playing a softly-spoken upper-class type – gives the more impressive performance.

Visitors From Philadelphia – A comic tale about a husband trying to cover up a one-night stand from his wife, the pairing of Walter Matthau and Simon worked wonders in many films. But not here. The slapstick is weakly written and staged by director Herbert Ross and Matthau tries to make up for this with some desperate overacting where he sometimes sounds like Pee-Wee Herman. Elaine May is always a pleasure on-screen but even she can’t save this.

Visitors From Chicago – This story about two married couples and friends bicker relentlessly, leading not to only verbal fights but various physical disasters, is a total misfire. Even at only 25 minutes or so it is over-stretched. The main problem is that there is no context about the constant resentment and niggling between the two husbands; if they can’t stand each other why are they on holiday together? Director Ross’ lack of skill with staging physical humour doesn’t help. Even at the time of release this was seen as the clear weakest segment and the appearance of the now-pariah Bill Cosby in one of the main roles makes it even more uncomfortable to watch.

Overall, California Suite is a good example of Simon’s strengths and weaknesses. At his best, he’s a sharp and funny writer who can create memorable characterisations of a particular milieu. But he also had significant limitations and these are probably why his film work have not lasted the test of time that a contemporary like Woody Allen’s has.