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Newhart: Vermont Today (1984)
"How do you know it's the World's Smallest Horse?" "Well, look at it!"
A classic piece of television, spoofing television itself. Dick hosts Vermont Today thinking he's going to be the next Mike Wallace or Dick Cavett, and learns the truth, as valid today as it was 40 years ago, about local American TV. The "World's Smallest Horse" is a Bob Newhart classic, up there with the Driving Instructor and the Grace L Ferguson Airline. I'm sure the third horse is a cameo by Mr. Ed isn't it?
Chasing Classic Cars (2008)
Symbolic of the Trashed Economy
As each episode begins, we see a fast-moving montage of beautiful classic cars, body shop mechanics cutting and buffing metal, and the auctioneer banging his gavel, while Wayne Carini's voice-over explains that his job is to find the specific classic cars that are wanted by wealthy clients, restore and bring them up to showroom condition and then sell them on for a massive profit. We then see a half hour show in which none of that takes place.
The credit crunch appears to have turned this show's premise on its head. Now the client comes to Wayne,not to find and buy a classic car he or she covets, but to sell one they already own, presumably because they're feeling the pinch. The restoration part of the show - if any - does not take up very much of the running time. Often the whole of the second half of the show is spent at the auction. Carini is shown trying to sell gorgeous cars that have an impeccable pedigree and gleam like they just rolled out of the factory yesterday. But they invariably fail to make the hoped-for reserve price, and don't sell.
The show represents a fitting epitaph to the boom years of excess. For unemployed Britons reading this, job opportunities beckon in America: every one of the auctioneers are posh-accented Englishmen.
Cougar Town (2009)
Friends grown up
So it's like five years on. Monica (Courtney Cox) moved to Florida, got married and then divorced from Joey (Brian van Holt), from whom she obtained a kid who could easily have been played by Joey's nephew from "Joey". Now she's found Chandler again (Josh Hopkins), maturer and sans one-liners after a breakup. Ross (Ian Gomez) lost his angst along with his hair, dropped Rachel and got married to Jordan from Scrubs. I don't say that because she's played by Christa Miller, I mean she's the exact. same. character. Phoebe (Busy Phillips) is as blonde and ditzy as ever, though she's transferred from being the eldest of the six to the youngest.
And, though swapping Florida sunshine for New York shady skyscrapers, everything is the same as before - 3 gals and 3 guys in various relationship combos are in and out of each others' houses and undergo various (now early middle-aged) life lessons. Oh, and forget about the title, the writers and cast have tried to. It should be "Friends II", with only one of the original actors, but frankly no worse for it.
Nighty Night (2004)
(The following review was originally published 20 Jan 2004 as the first review of this title to appear here. Deleted after a user request, it has been edited and re-submitted.)
"Nighty Night" details the life and loves of the most self-absorbed woman on earth, Jill Farrell, played by series creator Julia Davis. In the first scene she sits in the hospital with her husband Terry (the surprisingly normal Kevin Eldon) and they have just been told the test results. She bewails her fate, crying "Why does everything have to happen to *me*!" Her husband turns to her, comfortingly, and says, "Look love, it'll be OK. It's really not that bad. It is ME who's got the cancer!" In the second scene she is at a computer dating service. Not content with whoever they may come up with for Jill to go out with between hospital visits, she also sets her sights on neighbour Don, (Angus Deayton), a doctor whose wife, Cathy (Rebecca Front), is a victim of Multiple Sclerosis.
Davis has specialised in playing these kinds of women in recent years, most notably in Rob Brydon's "Human Remains" and Chris Morris's "Jam". Jill is all entirely her own work and she has really plumbed the depths of the human psyche to create a woman who cares for nothing and nobody but herself, to a psychotic degree. Instead of "Nighty Night" perhaps the programme should have been called "Nicely Nice", because it is people's niceness, or at least their desire that things remain nice, that allows Jill to get away with the most appalling insensitivity and self-regard.
The characterisation of Jill is perfectly done, as are the characterisations of the other people, from poor confused Terry (not realising that he isn't getting any visitors because Jill told everyone he'd already died), Don who is caring for Cathy, but obviously doesn't really "care" for her any more. Particularly brilliant is Rebecca Front's performance as Cathy, caught between dissatisfaction with her straying husband, outrage at Jill's antics but paralysed - not just physically - by her inability to make a fuss. These are fantastically well observed. Other characters, such as Stefan, Jill's putative blind date, and Linda the asthmatic girl in Jill's beauty salon who loves to massage feet, are more exaggerated but well performed.
This is not laugh-a-minute hysterical comedy by any means, but continues the uncomfortable black comedy trend hinted at by Steve Coogan's characters, and more wilfully pursued by Chris Morris and Rob Brydon (with all of whom Julia Davis has previously acted.)
How bad could a major city in England be, anyway...?
Unfortunately, presumably due to some kind of scheduling conflict, the camera crew for this travelogue of England's second city could not arrange to be present on the day Mr Savalas was actually in Birmingham (as he constantly states he was). It could be argued that filming the commotion and traffic snarl-ups inevitably caused by the presence amongst the Brummie population of the dome-pated Italian-suited TV and movie star, would have gotten in the way of the main purpose of showing Birmingham in its best light. On the other hand it might have been better to have risked the wholesale jamming up of the city centre, since showing Birmingham in its best, or even a good light, appears to have been simply not possible.
Following a rustic introduction demonstrating a surprising amount - even to British viewers - of picturesque olde worlde village life to be found in the West Midlands, we soon enter the concrete jungle of what Telly calls "My kinda town". A vista of tower blocks, embodying the Brutalist pinnacle of Britain's most notorious period of ugly architecture, is a view that "took my breath away" - a reaction that seems surprising, coming as it does from a native of New York City. Scene after scene of metropolitan squalor passes before the camera. No doubt with an eye on cinema-goers from the nearby area, most cars that can be seen in the first half are from British Leyland, the local manufacturer. (Later on sanity prevails and marginally more palatable Fords begin to dominate). One seemingly ubiquitous car is the legendary Austin Allegro, commonly held to be the worst car in British automotive history. At this time, Leyland cars practically came out of the factory with a layer of underfloor rust built in. The vehicles criss-crossing the flyovers and motorways consequently fail to impart anything other than a sense of failure and economic decay. A quick tour of the variety of old-style cottage industries still clinging on, begins promisingly enough, but as the factories shown are increasingly dilapidated, signs hanging off and paint flaking, even Telly is forced to concede that this subsection of British small industry is all soon to be swept away. No mention of the Thatcherite destruction of manufacturing, three million unemployed and an entire generation of British workers that would end up on the scrapheap, but one mustn't expect too much.
The production's attempts to showcase Birmingham's better points are scarcely able to take a step forward without following it with two steps back. Shots of a disco nightclub containing what passed in those days for stylish young people, (as might have been seen in a cinema commercial for the local Indian restaurant) is followed by an outdoors Over-40s dance competition which is better imagined than described. On occasion, the hopelessness of the task is acknowledged by touches of sly humour pointing up the sheer banality of the images being displayed. To be fair to Birmingham, documentary short producer Harold Baim had come to film in the heart of England in 1981, the very nadir of Britain's post-war decline. And the interest is constantly piqued by the utter contrast between the parochial mediocrity on the screen and the smooth-as-chocolate tones of the baldheaded sex god.
In the end, this film is a curio of British cinema history, a joke made up by a Pythonesque satirist done completely for real and with the straightest of faces.
The Village (2004)
A comment on many bad reviews.
This is not about how good or bad the movie is. This is about reviewer after reviewer effectively blaming M. Night Shyamalan for not providing the "scariest movie evah" promised by the advertising campaign.
People, do try to wise up. Films get made first, and then they get promoted, invariably by entirely different people. MNS made the film he wanted to make. It had elements of suspense and horror, and mystery, and historical drama. Some of those elements were excessively played up in the advertising campaign, but that advertising campaign did not even exist until the whole movie was already in the can.
I'm not going to pass judgment here on how well MNS achieved what he set out to do, but it's patently obvious, if you sit and watch the movie with an open mind, that The Village is not a horror movie, it is a love story. Just because a movie isn't quite what you were led to believe it to have been, does not make it "the worst movie ever made". Comments like that are unjustly denigratory to a studiedly unemotional yet seething with undercurrents performance by Joaquin Phoenix, and the absolutely revelatory acting of Bryce Dallas Howard, who made Ivy Walker an unforgettably luminescent character.
Commander in Chief (2005)
Proof that a Republican can never occupy a Hollywood White House.
Here in Britain, abc1, the satellite television offshoot of Disney's ABC network, has been strongly pushing their new US drama success Commander in Chief for over a month. Though intrigued by a new show set in the White House, I couldn't help feeling that the trailers gave the impression that Geena Davis's principal source of conflict was that the Washington establishment was entirely made up of antediluvian chauvinist pigs. In the actual show, fortunately, it seems that the writers have actually worked a little harder than that, and provided sound-ish political reasons for the Vice President to step down just at the point where she might be called upon to step up, and not just the fact that she's a woman.
The style of this drama can perhaps be deduced from the rather implausible political situation depicted. Mackenzie Allen is an Independent (because there have been too many Democrat Presidents in the Hollywood White House, but heaven forbid we ever show a Republican to be heroic, or even a normal human being), but from references by Democrats to her being in a position to "help the Party" seems to indicate that she was a former Democrat, who had rejected party politics and then accepted the role of Veep to a Republican president. In the real world, the problem with allowing Allen to become the Chief Executive would not be that she would be unwilling to further the late President's radical conservative agenda, but that as an evident turncoat she'd be politically dead to both sides, a total pariah. Unlike The West Wing (comparisons are inevitable, I'm afraid) this kind of realpolitik simply doesn't come into the equation in Commander In Chief. But that is no bad thing, I hasten to point out. There is certainly no need for every show set in the White House to wallow in the dregs of real-world American politics at the expense of good character-driven drama. It is no secret that The West Wing has more or less lost its way in its final two seasons, with excessive dwelling on the appalling process of the typical US political campaign, a process likely to leave everybody looking less than a fully rounded moral human being.
Commander in Chief looks at things as more black and white and slightly larger than life, and certainly nobody could be larger than life than Donald Sutherland's Nathan Templeton, chief Nemesis to President Allen, the Republican Speaker of the House and former heir apparent. Sutherland plays one of those villains that almost makes you feel any time without him on screen is time wasted, but this feeling is certainly alleviated by Geena Davis herself as the eponymous C-in-C. One or other of these two is on screen nearly all the time, along with sterling support from the Matrix's Harry Lennix as Chief of Staff Jim Gardner, and Ever Carradine as the interesting new Press Secretary Kelly Ludlow, shown nervously finding her feet in front of the White House Press Corps wolf pack. Exec Producer Davis and creator Rod Lurie have done a great job of writing and casting the political characters, though less good a job with the First Family, who are the absolutely standard "perfect and beautiful family plays second fiddle to main character's career". Kyle Secor's characterisation of husband Rob Calloway (inevitably Ms. Allen kept her surname) fatally undermines his character's position of having been his wife's Chief of Staff when she was Vice President. So far Secor is playing the part as a total Washington naïf, as if he'd been told Rob was an advertising executive with an "interesting" wife, like Darrin Stephens from Bewitched.
It is perhaps a little early in the series run to criticise the plotting for being maybe a little bit too glib and easy. The first episode storyline concerned the rescue of a Nigerian adulteress condemned to stoning under Sharia law, to which the new President's reaction was to prepare military forces for a rescue mission. So far so impossible, but plausibly entertaining and heroic. But then she was shown bringing the Nigerian ambassador right into the Situation Room, and getting the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to tell him every detail of their plan to invade their country and kidnap one of their citizens. The next thing we saw was the terrified girl (plus baby - right there in the cell with her) being dragged along the prison corridor - presumably to her precipitate execution - as the third act cliffhanger. As it transpired, of course, the Nigerian soldiers were simply handing the girl off to the Marines who had flown in to get her, but that didn't really excuse the script from having set up the impossible situation of any American leader breaking every security protocol there is, instantly demonstrating why such a thing would never happen, and then have the situation resolve inexplicably "happily" with the girl looking down at her forever-lost native land from an American helicopter.
It isn't all glib flagwaving, however. In fact, the pilot episode managed to be very bitingly witty about Hillary Clinton via the tart comments of the PA to the new First, uh, Spouse. On the other hand, it strikes me that concentrating on the youthful indiscretions of the First Family (teenage twins of each sex and a ten-year-old girl) almost made it seem natural that these would only be additional travails of a woman President, which of course is not the case. Scenes of conflict and resolution with the family including an all-too-brief argument with the passed-over for promotion husband, can draw unfortunate parallels with The Geena Davis Show, her recent short-lived sitcom. However, though she is once again playing a high-powered career woman - about as high powered as it is possible to get! - Davis thus far seems to have mercifully reined in the "kook", and is capable of bringing genuine power to the rôle.
Village of the Damned, Ship of Fools, call it what you will it was pretty funny.
For some reason no channel shows these Comedy Central Roasts - or any Roasts, for that matter - in the United Kingdom, which is a little surprising because all-out p*ss-taking as a form of expressing love and friendship is far more a British attribute than an American one, one would have thought. Except for one thing: in England we would happily take the mickey out of someone in public for faults of character, mannerisms, and the odd misjudgement, but in the American version there really are no holds barred. The most egregious public faux pas, the idiotic past relationships or marriages, the crimes committed - *nothing* is held to be out of bounds for the proper Roast. However, I can see that the Comedy Central Roasts generally concentrate on comedians, and after all, how much mischief can a comedian really get up to?
This one is different.
The Comedy Central Roast of Pamela Anderson is the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a room full of people who have between them plumbed the depths of human behaviour in terms of drink, drugs and, most spectacularly, sex, and rip the sh*t out of each other for it. When you consider that this Roast is about Pamela Anderson, her ex-husband is Tommy Lee and her closest friend is Courtney Love, the sheer quantity of character flaws and devastating incidents that are up for grabs for all present to take fullest advantage of is almost beyond conception - from the quantity of flesh remaining in Pamela Anderson's silicon, to the amazement of Courtney Love's debut as a stand-up comedienne - not that she's funny, but that she's standing up. And the Big Three aren't the only ones to get the treatment. Eighty-two year old Bea Arthur got up on stage at one point and read a portion of Pamela's novel that involved, well, an act not legal in all 50 states, let's say, and for the remainder of the evening she had to sit and endure jokes about her having a penis.
Talk of the male organ does bring me to the down sides of the show - there were far too many references to Tommy Lee's apparently inordinately impressive equipment, and there certainly was a tendency on the part of all the Roasters to talk more about Lee and Love than about Anderson herself, certainly as the evening went on. And the other downside was that Pamela didn't do that great a job with her Riposte, which had some good lines that unfortunately died on the stage - although the audience and the participants were being so raucous that they simply may not have heard them properly.
Overall, a reasonably hilarious showcase of really, really offensive comedy. Watch it if you can, as long as you have a broad mind.
Sports Night (1998)
When I rewind the tape, I always have to wind a little bit more.
Finally, FINALLY, we, that is to say me and the other two people in the United Kingdom who are even aware of the newly launched abc1 satellite/cable channel, get to see Sports Night, the half hour comedy-drama that was too good to stay on the air on which the estimable Aaron Sorkin cut his writer-creator teeth before giving us the West Wing. The first time I saw The West Wing, I sat there afterwards with my mouth agape, and I said to myself, "My God, the sky is falling. The Americans now make better television than we do." I'm taping each episode of Sports Night so that I can wallow anew in wonderful, new (to me) outpourings of brilliance from the Sorkin typewriter. But if I pause or rewind the tape, because I have one of those antiquated video machines where the sound does not come straight back when you press Play, I'm always having to rewind just a little bit more. Because invariably I can see that in that brief silent period - not more than a second or two at most - the actor's lips are going like an express train, and, what is more to the point, I know that unlike just about any other programme I can think of, every syllable will be worth hearing.
I'm so glad to finally be able to see this virtually unknown gem. Sorkin has left The West Wing and no doubt has followed the siren's call to the silver screen, but that is a waste. Aaron Sorkin is a man who has developed the art of Television to far greater heights than anyone could have imagined; it is his natural home and I hope we will see a great deal more of his work on the medium he made his own.
Boston Legal (2004)
Nothing like *my* real life.
One commentator has claimed that Boston Legal is "just like real life". What piffle. This show is nothing more nor less than the ultimate men's fantasy. And I'm a man - I should know! Boston Legal is set in a world where you not only make sexually suggestive remarks whenever you open your mouth, you actually get away with it. In this world, none of your female co-workers score less than 9.5, and you've slept with all of them in any case! One twist is that this sexual predator supreme is split into two characters - Alan Shore and Denny Crane. Crane has his strange quirks, like saying his own name constantly as a mantra, but essentially they are the same man at different stages of life. In the early episodes it even sounded a little like Spader was unconsciously doing an impersonation of Shatner.
William Shatner's participation in this show could easily be dismissed as self parody. But in fact Denny Crane is the best character he has played in decades. Denny Crane is almost the ultimate example of the "has-been" - always remembering past triumphs whether legal or sexual - and Shatner always imbues these lines with a fully realised sense of his own varied experiences. James Spader successfully adapts his standard sexually dysfunctional persona to the character of Alan Shore, although one can't help feeling that the man all the women find so irresistible is really the slimmer and more vulnerable Spader from his younger days. That's what sells it - that it's Spader we're seeing casting his spell, rather than that the Alan Shore we see is that attractive either physically or mentally.
As usual with David Kelley, the combination of extremely pulchritudinous people making incredibly smart conversation makes for unmissable television. But lets not hear any more about this being like "real life".
BBC enters Irwin Allen territory.
I had assumed this was the showing of a Transatlantic import, but I started having my suspicions when British people started showing up in fairly major roles, and indeed it seems the BBC has decided to make a Hollywood-style blockbuster - even setting it in the home of all such stories, the United States.
This production struck a false note immediately by opening with what I had assumed was merely its marketing strapline: "This is a true story. It just hasn't happened yet...." This is how far the currency of drama documentaries, of "True Stories" has been debased. Supervolcano is evidently not a true story in the traditional sense that the plot is based on past events, but neither is it a true story in the sense of representing real people. It predicates certain future events based upon current scientific knowledge. That makes it (in its purest sense) science fiction.
The programme's spurious ambitions for veracity were further undermined by the first scene of the main story which showed the Yellowstone USGS Volcano Watch office's demonstration of their new volcano simulation computer - a holographic display in 3 dimensions, no less. A note to producers - if you want to impress the viewers with your reverence for scientific fact and the imminence of a potential real-world situation, it's probably best not to show technology which hasn't been invented yet! Having started badly, the programme then went downhill. One early plot point was the introduction of a panic-inducing Jeremiah with a book to plug. He is shown as the kind of guy who cherry-picks little bits of actual science and statistics to build a false picture of imminent danger in contrast to the scientifically valid and more responsible approach of the US Geological Survey. But since, of course, it turns out that the book-plugger is right, people are going to be left with the idea that the USGS and other scientific bodies are behaving with *irresponsibility*. In a mad moment of purest Hollywood, the doom merchant is revealed to be the lead USGS scientist's brother-in-law!
That is not to say that the programme didn't go on to demonstrate some good sense and good science. The best scene in the first episode was the one in which Lieberman, the USGS head honcho, explains to the Director of FEMA the full implications of Yellowstone park actually going all the way to Supervolcano status; the destruction of large segments of the United States, the wiping out of the vast croplands in the Midwest and the dangers of even 1cm of volcanic ash falling on New York - emphasised with a magnified view of a piece of said ash, very nasty indeed. (Breathe it in and it forms a cement in your lungs.) On the other hand, this scene seemed highly implausible - as if the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency would not have been fully briefed on the potential of the Yellowstone volcano on her first day on the job. The impression is also given that the USGS and the American federal government are completely unprepared for any such eventuality, as if they are just now learning about it, when in fact just the fact of this miniseries having been made indicates that knowledge of the powderkeg situation under Yellowstone must have been understood for quite a while. At the same time, the holocaust that would result is so total that it is somewhat difficult to comprehend what the USGS or indeed the Government is supposed to do about the disaster. It is, after all, going to happen one day. It's not like the guy was telling the FEMA director the potential effects of a nuclear power plant going skywards, to which the debate is about the politics of closing the plant down. It's a volcano, and with our current state of technology there really isn't anything to be done about it except get out of the way.
I guess this is my biggest bugbear about the programme - that the USGS and FEMA are depicted as shambling amateurs. This kind of attitude fuels the fire of what Isaac Asimov called "the armies of the night, the purveyors of nitwittery" - the pseudoscientific doom-mongers who pour scorn on the efforts of genuine science while hypocritically using out-of-context parts of the very science they denigrate spuriously to bolster their wild claims.
The first episode finished with the explosion we'd been waiting for, and the second episode presumably deals with the aftermath - shown in the opening flash-forward scene to have lasted at least five years. The fact that a two-hour programme only uses an hour to detail the world-altering fallout of this massive event only showcases the BBC's inability to really put the amount of money required by the subject matter into the production.
The first episode of this mini was shown on BBC1 last night, I have not yet seen the second part.
"Lad" culture transplanted to 1780s Venice.
If I were a budding TV writer, I'd change my name to Davies. First there was Andrew who produced a fascinating and quirky little series called A Very Peculiar Practice, and the next thing you know he is writing every single adaptation we see, not infrequently for both rival terrestrial UK channels at the same time. Now it appears to be the turn of Russell T., who parlayed his gay sex shockfest Queer As Folk into Bob and Rose, Doctor Who and now this irreverent and somewhat over the top examination of the life of the infamous lover, Giacomo Casanova.
It's funny, it's irreverent, it's very fast moving and it keeps you watching. Completely eschewing period-ese language, David Tennant portrays Casanova as a cheeky on-the-up spiv who in the 21st Century might well have put himself forward as a contestant for Big Brother. He is instantly likable. Laura Fraser is very strong as the "lost love" interest, Henriette.
Disappointingly the programme seems to regard Casanova's lovemaking prowess as a minor detail, relegating it in the opening episode to a montage of fully-clothed sex scenes that are little more than snapshots. This sense of holding back was compounded when Casanova ripped his new wife and former fake-Castrato-in-travéstie singer Bellino's dress open so that it gaped for the assembled crowd - but not for the camera! This apparent prudishness seems to go against the spirit of the remainder of the enterprise. Perhaps after the Jerry Springer débacle, the BBC is taking no chances.
Peter O'Toole, as the older Casanova explaining his life story to a girl of formerly high family who has fallen on hard times and is acting as his maidservant, performs his part with all the best elements of his enormous experience, both as an actor, and of his own scarcely stain-free life story. He is so remarkably vigorous, agile and attractive (at 73!), he reminds you why he nearly turned down his Life Achievement Oscar in the hopes, still, of one day "getting a real one".
A worthwhile little production for the fledgling BBC Three, much better than the scanty Alan Clark Diaries.
Spectacular own goal by BBC Four
Normally you would have to have done some background reading or already be well versed in the life and works of Tynan before you'd recognise this "dramatisation" as crass nonsense. Fortunately this was not the case here, since it was immediately followed by John Lahr's excellent documentary profile of the famous critic, thereby almost instantly exposing the play's clay feet.
It was evident from the documentary that the drama had more or less settled on the *least* interesting part of Tynan's life, when his days as a critic were effectively over. By concentrating on the more "notorious" period of his life, the first f-word on TV in 1965, his praise for pornography, the production of his infamous "Oh! Calcutta!" erotic revue and the emphysema which killed him, there was very little exploration of Tynan's position as Critic Emeritus which was the reason he was even tolerated by the likes of Olivier and Lyttleton (respectively director and chairman of the National Theatre in the 1960s when the film is set).
From Lahr we learned that Olivier had never forgiven Tynan for giving his wife Vivien Leigh a bad review, and had only employed him at the National in order to have him (as President Johnson might have said) "on the inside, pissing out". But the drama gave the distinct impression that Olivier was Tynan's closest and most loyal friend, which was certainly not the case. The most important contribution made by Lahr's film, however, was by the many instances of the real Kenneth Tynan on film which indicated that he did not, by and large, talk like Jeremy Clarkson on Mogadon, as Brydon had him doing. Brydon was so completely miscast, I actually thought that perhaps I had misunderstood and that the BBC had produced a *parody* of Kenneth Tynan, of the kind Rob Brydon might well have produced himself. With his jet-black hair (Tynan was relatively fair-haired) and his total inability to express through his emotions the diamond-sharp wit, intelligence and charm of the real man, this was definitely a case of "stick to the day job, Rob!" So far from the usual feat of expanding and embodying a historical figure and giving him some semblance of life, so that we the viewers can have an inkling of what it was like to actually know the man, Brydon left Tynan even more or a cipher than before.
The only really authentic part of the drama was Julian Sands's very close resemblance to the Laurence Olivier of the late 1960s - he really did look more like a chartered accountant than our greatest theatrical knight at that time - although the unmistakable mannerisms of Olivier's speech were only achieved patchily.
Road to Perdition (2002)
A brilliant film, almost but not quite wrecked by miscasting Tom Hanks.
Everything about this movie is superb - the script, the cinematography, the music and the performances. An intelligently told tale of redemption and retribution, with the one false note of the excessively "heavenly" Perdition which is the end point of the journey. Unfortunately, the casting of the lead role with Tom Hanks was a major miscalculation that may have caused this film to be less well received than perhaps it ought to be.
The basic story is absolutely perfect for creating perpetual dramatic conflict. The ruthless killer, chief hit-man for the Irish mafia no less, suddenly in a position where he has to constantly do what he would otherwise never do - show his love for his family. If you are immediately convinced of the ruthlessness, the cold heartlessness of the man in the performance of his job, he can scarcely do anything in the course of this story which won't surprise the audience and reveal a layer of character. And this is the rub.
Tom Hanks already *is* the loving, giving family man, so the only surprise is that he is cast as a dour mob assassin; after that his actions don't surprise at all, since we know Tom Hanks will have a deep-seated love for his son and to do anything and everything to save him. When Hanks arrives at his house and goes upstairs to find his murdered wife and younger son, his heartwrung cry of anguish is nothing less than we would expect from the actor who has never been afraid to show his emotions. But this destroys the character of Michael Sullivan as he is described by the other characters. The only time that Sullivan actually kills someone in a totally ruthless manner, the film chickens out! Maybe it was at Hanks' insistence so as not to look bad for his core audience. But if there was ever a character point which needed spelling out in cold blood, it was when he did indeed "shoot the messenger", having just left his son outside in the car. Instead of which, Mendes had the camera pull in on Hanks's face, censoring the murder he is committing. It should have been shown in the same way as Connor Rooney's (Craig) murder of Finn (Ciaran Hinds): no hesitation and the full uncensored bloody consequences.
The end result is that the portion of the film in which Michael Sullivan is getting to know his son Mike Jr. has no impact. Michael Sullivan teaching his kid to drive is Tom Hanks teaching a kid to drive, only without Hanks's customary humour; we're certainly not learning anything new.
However, everything else about the film is so good (Newman, of course, money in the bank, and the two Brits - the already established Jude Law and the if-I'm-not-mistaken-soon-to-be-big-in-Hollywood Daniel Craig are both utterly superb; Conrad Hall's valedictory work as dp, here reunited with Paul Newman after shooting him in Butch Cassidy and Cool Hand Luke thirty and more years ago; Thomas Newman's plangent score) that it would be a shame not to see it at least once.
Let the steel drums carry you away.....
As a sort of fan of the original, this was one of the few movies that nowadays I have bothered to go to see in the cinema. Having seen it once I wasn't overly impressed by the movie as a whole, but primarily by Steven Soderbergh's extraordinary photography of Natascha McElhone's lambent beauty.
Since the film has made its way to satellite and cable, however, I discover that I cannot resist putting it on and watching it again, and allowing myself to be subsumed by the utterly tragic mood. The main contributor to this is Cliff Martinez's phenomenal score in which the constant thrumming of steel drums over an ethereal orchestra carries you through long exploratory shots of the luminous sea of Solaris, or eloquent silences between characters.
Clooney and McElhone are very affecting as the, almost literally, "star-crossed lovers". Unfortunately I find the two Davi(e)ses somewhat detracting from the whole, with Jeremy's "Snow" a slacker whom it is difficult to believe would qualify to fly in space, and Viola's "Gordon" seems to be out of a rather more conventional "space alien" movie - in fact her performance more than a little resembles Yaphet Kotto's in the movie 'Alien'! Ulrich Tukur as Gibarian, however, is a wonderfully understated reminder of the original material's European origins.
The one failing of this movie compared to its predecessor is Soderberg's inability to portray Solaris as a character in its own right, something Tarkowsky seemingly managed with ease.
Please note this is not science fiction.
A comment on "Marooned", the movie that was made about a moon mission disaster which was released after the Apollo 11 landing but prior to the Apollo 13 real-life disaster, mentioned that the movie is not available on DVD and rarely, if ever, appears on television. I believe that the same is true of this movie (at least regards TV screenings) and it's for the same reason. "Marooned" and "Countdown" are movies that are so much of their period that they scarcely make any sense at all to 21st Century minds. Of course, we all know about the Cold War, and most cold war movies involve international espionage which is timeless.
Countdown is a movie about the Space Race which dominated the daily agenda at least as much as conventional Cold War conflicts like the Korean and Vietnam wars. The plot concerns a situation in which the Soviets succeeded in their aim to send a manned rocket to the Moon before the Americans were ready to fly Apollo. However, contact with the cosmonauts has been lost, and there is still a chance for NASA to fulfill Kennedy's challenge of "sending a man to the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth" - as well as the kudos gained from discovering and being the ones to tell the Soviets what happened to their men.
An interesting sideline on this is that the actually successful method of moon exploration used, ie send three men to lunar orbit and then two can travel to the surface in a smaller ship, is certainly not the only solution, and this movie explores a different one forced by necessity. Since Apollo is not ready and there is no lunar lander capable of taking off from the moon, why not send a less complex ship with only one man, and let him stay on the moon, kept alive by an environment habitat sent on ahead by unmanned rocket and by provision of supplies by further unmanned ships? Such a scenario had already been envisioned by science fiction authors like Arthur C. Clarke as being the most efficient way to explore our satellite. Certainly nobody had previously imagined that we would send men to the Moon for a matter of a few days in a ship which could not carry more than a few hundred pounds of samples back to Earth. By exploring this other methodology this movie succeeds in highlighting the true nature of our Lunar adventure. The point was not to expand the human frontier or to increase the sum of scientific knowledge - the point was to get a man on the moon and safely back before the Russians did.
Screen Two: Virtuoso (1989)
The British "Shine"
More or less contemporaneous with Australian David Helfgott was Britain's John Ogdon, the greatest concert pianist of his generation in this country, and also a man who developed mental problems. In this case it was paranoid schizophrenia, and this film sensitively but unsparingly portrays his descent into virtual madness and the effect on his family and friends.
This TV production marks Alfred Molina's first significant leading role, and he acquits himself very well as Ogdon, despite the (fortunately ignored) disqualification of being approximately a foot taller than the man he was portraying. However, Molina's next collaboration with the writer William Humble, a biography of comic genius Tony Hancock, although well played, was too critical an examination of the man and was repudiated by many people close to Hancock, including his writers Galton and Simpson. Apparently this program fared better, and was supported by Ogdon and his family.
Sadly Ogdon died the following year at the age of just 52.
A more adult Harry Potter movie.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban went on general release in the UK yesterday and I caught a late-night showing.
This movie is a phenomenal addition to the series, very much darker both figuratively and literally, the child actors are really developing nicely (Grint, for example, is far better than he was in Chamber of Secrets) and director Cuaron put in lots of little visual touches that wouldn't have occurred to Chris Columbus in a million years.
One strange thing is that the entire geography of Hogwarts has entirely changed. Both Hagrid's cottage and the Whomping Willow are in totally different places from the previous movie. However, this is not to denigrate the art direction which seems to be better than ever. One major addition to the general set is the workings of the giant Hogwarts Clock, used as a backdrop or for fly-through again and again, to great effect. Also notable is the bridge from the castle to Hagrid's cottage, a fine example of distressed woodwork.
Atmospherically the movie is almost totally different from its predecessors. The colours are muted and the sky is always overcast, actually sometimes to a fault - the emotional involvement one should have felt when Harry was first riding Buckbeak was muted by the gunmetal tones of the landscape he was flying over. Beautiful indeed, but not in a "children's fantasy film" way. This is a quibble. Really the style absolutely suited the much darker ways of the plot. The Quidditch match, which takes place, as in the book, in a driving rainstorm, is an absolute tour-de-force of terror without the gimmicky camera-work prevalent in the first two films. The Dementors, in particular, are extremely well handled and are the backbone, to me, to what I found the most terrifying sequences in the whole Harry Potter saga so far. However, there are also fun parts - particularly the Knight Bus, beautifully translated from the description of Harry's nightmare journey in the book, and a brilliant piece of design in the bus itself.
The book is followed almost too faithfully, resulting in little for the much-anticipated Gary Oldman to do as the mad, bad and dangerous to know Sirius Black. But David Thewlis very effectively fills in the void as Lupin. Michael Gambon has stepped so seamlessly into Richard Harris's shoes as Dumbledore that I never remotely thought of comparing their performances. Gambon is no less Dumbledore than Harris was ... in fact he might be a little better.
One does hope, however, that when the DVD comes out, they make an "Extended Edition" rather than put the deleted scenes in a separate section as they have hitherto. In the released film it is all too evident, on occasion, where cuts have been made.
Donnie Darko (2001)
I don't agree with this movie's message.
I have seen many recommendations for this movie, one from a close friend who's opinion I value, so when I saw it cheap on sale as a DVD, I bought it, thinking it was about time I gave it a go. Well, the upshot is I don't like it. That's not to say that I think it was a bad movie; certainly it was well written and competently acted and, give a sigh of relief, does not fall into the Hollywood mainstream.
So why didn't I like it? First of all, I think it's something to do with the style which writer/director Richard Kelly decided to do it. FRANK, the mysterious figure of Darko's apparent hallucinations, is dressed in a rabbit suit. This leads one to think of another famous movie with a six foot rabbit, Harvey. Certainly from reading the synopses of this movie - something like "The world is coming to an end and only Donnie Darko knows anything about it" - one might have thought that Donnie Darko falls into the same category as Harvey and other movies in which the protagonist sees things that other people can't and consequently appears to everybody else to be a madman. (Blithe Spirit (1946) is another example.) However, there is a crucial difference between Harvey and Donnie Darko. Harvey works because the audience *believes the protagonist*. However mad or drunk James Stewart acts, the audience knows that Harvey is real and that Stewart's behaviour is consistent. What we see in Donnie Darko, however, is a character set up as emotionally disturbed. He sees a mysterious character, who tells him to do things - bad things, illegal things - and Darko does them. He's responding to the "voices in his head", and the fact that we, the audience, also see Frank, does not alter the fact that we see Darko from our point of view as normal people do. The consequences of these actions reveal some evil in one case and lead to tragedy in another. At the end, however, we see Kelly resorting to what we Star Trek fans refer to as "the rewind button", and consequently we can interpret (here comes the SPOILER) the entire movie as being a paranoid delusion of Darko's. Apparently the tragic outcome no longer occurs, but then neither does the revelation of genuine evil in a character thought of by the locals as good.
What all this amounts to is that the message of this movie appears to me to be "Paranoid schizophrenics really *are* better off dead!" which I'm sure Kelly didn't intend. But because of the style where what was in Darko's head was never seen outside his head, it is the unavoidable conclusion.
As a general work of moviemaking, there are a number of flaws. Although Darko and his fellow students are described by Barrymore's teacher character as apathetic and emotionally detached, I feel the script takes emotional detachment far too much to its heart. The revelation of evil I spoke of is the discovery that Swayze's inspirational speaker is in fact a child porn merchant. But we don't remotely see what this involved (apart from a few lines about a "dungeon" in his house) and after the revelation we never even meet the character again. Then again, Kitty's defense of him occurs in one scene but has no further consequences. Kitty's character is inconsistent - she is a religiously-inclined woman who wants an innocent Graham Greene short story banned, yet she also apparently choreographed a troupe of 13-year old girls to dance in the sexiest manner possible. Is there a connection with this, her devotion to Swayze's character, and his predilections? It simply isn't explored. The character of Donnie's love interest, Gretchen Ross, isn't formed fully enough for us to be able to either empathise with her or with Donnie's fascination for her. After he asks her to "go with him" and she says yes, she doesn't appear again until after Donnie's talk with Mrs Thurman (a long-awaited reappearance from Katharine Ross, incidentally) in which he confesses his fear of dying alone. This is a fundamental structural flaw - it's almost like Kelly forgot about her in the intervening scenes.
I'm afraid that whatever concepts Kelly has of time travel indicate a woeful ignorance of the extensive literature on time travel, both by scientists and in the realm of serious science fiction, causing everything to be said by all the characters on this subject to be vapid pseudo-intellectual rubbish which didn't make the first step towards explaining the ultimate working out of the movie's plot.
Supposed stylistic elements like the use of fast cutting, hand held cameras, mixed slow and fast motion, had no contribution to make to our understanding of the story or the characters, particularly Darko, and came across as a rookie director putting those things in to attract attention to himself.
It's compelling, but maybe not the way it was intended.
Hidden inside this purported battle between surviving top Nazi Hermann Goering and American prosecutor Judge Robert Jackson is, I think, the adaptation the writer probably wanted to do - the story of psychologist E.M. Gilbert and his backstage verbal tusslings with men who either refused to acknowledge any guilt (Goering, Streicher) or conversely were overflowing with it (Frank, Speer).
When you see Alec Baldwin appear a second time in the credits, as Executive Producer, you feel that Nuremberg was probably conceived as a vanity project for him. Fortunately it is quite easy to let the early scenes of the Court's setup just wash over you, and of course Jill Hennessey is always easy on the eyes. Much of the first half of the first episode is more or less soap opera. Jackson has to persuade Judge Biddle to go to Nuremberg, then to relinquish the Presidency of the court to the British. The bantering relationship with his secretary (Hennessey) serves as a prelude to their becoming lovers during their time in Germany.
At this point Hermann Goering appears (the great Brian Cox on top form), totally dominating the trial, totally dominating this mini-series, and your attention is grasped and held. Cox almost wipes Baldwin off the screen. Unfortunately it's very hard not to gain a great deal of sympathy for Goering, particularly when he is with his family, or in the heart-to-heart chats with his G.I. prison guard, Tex. We see Goering as he undoubtedly saw himself, but in reality he wasn't like that at all. The Nuremberg trial and the general travails of imprisonment were an excellent opportunity for him to smarten himself up: prior to his arrest he had become a dissolute and overweight drug addict. Unfortunately no sign of this weakness of character was carried over into the script, leaving an impression of Goering as a noble, principled man - irrespective of whether you agreed with his principles.
Also very watchable was Matt Craven in the role of Gilbert the aforementioned psychologist, and Christopher Plummer as British prosecutor David Maxwell-Fyfe (although the real Maxwell-Fyfe was the younger prosecutor, not an elder mentor as depicted here). Particularly gratifying is the scene in which Maxwell-Fyfe tells Jackson that "your documentary approach is legally impeccable - but as drama it's absolutely stultifying" - which might stand as an apt description of Baldwin's part in this series.
A last little curiosity, and not to make any personal remarks about Herbert Knaup, but I did find it strange that they cast Knaup, a slightly odd-looking actor, to play Albert Speer, by fairly common consent the handsomest and most photogenic of all the Nazi leaders, particularly as Speer was portrayed here in a sympathetic light. Other than Knaup, many of the actors were very close in looks to their real-life counterparts, most notably Roc LaFortune as Rudolf Hess, almost a living double.
The Italian Job (1969)
Notes on the DVD.
Excellent documentary material which, however, is sadly lacking any comment from any of the actors apart from Frank Jarvis (Roger) and Derek Ware (Rozzer - and in fact he was the stunt coordinator in addition). The deleted "Blue Danube" scene is a delight to watch, although I agree with the general consensus of the makers that it would have been out of place in the actual released movie.
The commentary is done by Michael Deeley, the producer, and the author of "The Making of The Italian Job" book, Matthew Field. Field, rather sadly, comes across I'm afraid as the worst kind of anorak or Italian Job fanboy. He spends at least half the movie telling Deeley stuff about the movie which Deeley himself has evidently forgotten. At one point he raises a bizarre theory that the production designer Disley Jones was responsible for introducing an orange motif, since the Lambourghini seen during the opening titles, the titles themselves and the bulldozer used by the mafia to destroy Charlie Croker's car are all orange. Then Deeley points out as gently as he can that Jones would not have been responsible for the colour of the credits, and the bulldozer is orange because it would have come in that colour regardless. Later on Field makes a kind of Freudian slip, when he refers to something in filming and uses the phrase, "...and then we...." as if he'd been present on set, when in fact it was made twelve years before he was born!
Deeley himself makes a charming comment about another movie he produced, without naming it: "I liked the contrast in another movie I made, which started off in the foundries of Pittsburgh, and the opening scene was a long wedding scene, and then we suddenly cut to Vietnam...." Nicely subtle!
The end of the documentary pays a brief tribute to the talent of director Peter Collinson, who tragically died of cancer when he was in his forties. Strangely enough, his widow repeatedly said that he died when he was "not quite 41", whereas the IMDb records his age at death as 44 (April 1936 - December 1980).
I'd like to briefly talk about some of the comments made here - I find it deeply sad that anybody could remotely consider the remake superior, and criticising this classic original because elements of it were "impossible" or "implausible" can only have been made by people who have never seen a caper movie before. "I was halfway through the movie before I realized that it was supposed to be a comedy, not a genuine caper flick." Erm, *all* genuine caper flicks are comedies, or should be (ever hear of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World?), and this one is no less a caper flick than any other that has been made. "I'm still not sure exactly what kind of person Mr. Bridger is supposed to be -- a prisoner who has free run of the prison and is treated like royalty by everyone, including the guards?" Hello, again, *it's* *a* *comedy*. And a prisoner who sees prison as no reason to curtail his activities and has the staff in his pocket is a very old conceit and has been used in films that these guys would praise, like Goodfellas for instance. To say nothing of people who say its a terrible movie because the heisters are shambling incompetents! Actually, this is a joke very much understood and enjoyed by the British and other Europeans which the Americans seem simply not to comprehend - which may explain why The Italian Job (and other similar movies actually made in Hollywood, like The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight and the original Ocean's 11) failed in the States.
Gregmoroberts, your heart is in the right place, but you posted your comment about the remake on the wrong movie!
All the President's Men (1976)
What reporters really do.
Every now and again I see a great American movie from 20 years ago, 30 years ago, and nearly every time I say, "They'd never make it like that nowadays." Here we have yet another classic from the era when believe it or not the studio's first question wasn't "How does this appeal to the 16-34 demographic?" Nowadays movies go out of their way solely to entertain, and generally in the most mindless way possible. This movie was from an era when they often wanted to make movies "to *inform* and entertain." And in this case, their idea of entertainment was not to add needless action or sex sequences, but simply to put Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Hal Holbrook and as distinguished a set of character actors you could get playing the Washington Post staff, on the screen and just let them get on with it.
By just showing exactly what it is investigative journalists do - ie make phone call after phone call, write down what they hear and then join the dots, made this movie very fascinating and informative, even if the viewer was not able to keep up with exactly who had done what and who was being accused of committing what crime.
Robin and Marian (1976)
That rare thing - a movie for those in their "late youth".
I was about to say that you'd never in a million years get a Hollywood Studio today to make a movie about Robin Hood, Little John and Maid Marian in late middle age, twenty years after their youthful adventures, but then I thought, "Oh, no, you'd still sell it - it's got Sean Connery attached!" Not far short of thirty years on, he has scarcely changed in the interim and could easily take the same part at the age of 73. There'd be no place for the excellent Nicol Williamson, the reassuring Denholm Elliott or the phenomenal Robert Shaw in such a script, of course.
That said, I first fell in love with this movie when I was quite young (I'm still only 38 at the time of writing), and was amazed some years later when it was re-shown on television to see it summarised in the Radio Times as apparently a weak effort. I couldn't disagree more with that assessment; the wonderful, wonderful script by James Goldman, perfectly balancing a late blooming love story with shades of regret, humour and action, is brought to life by this cast-iron cast.
Upon re-viewing, I realise I had neglected Robert Shaw as the Sheriff of Nottingham. My favourite kind of villain is the one who regards his adversary as kind of an old friend, and Shaw pulls this off really well. In the scene when he first meets Robin after the latter's return from the wars, he makes it clear that he has to take Marian, but he says, "God go with you." Nowadays, it's almost shocking to see Robin almost casually killing the guards who have been sent to attack him, but then Shaw's Sheriff views the dead bodies and gives them their due as soldiers: "Take up their limbs and bury them." Shaw does most of his acting with his eyes, and you can see the whole life of regret, valueless death and his own lost advancement, in them.
The love story is beautifully handled, but it has to be said that the chief and most memorable relationship in the movie is that between Robin and Little John.
The opening of the movie is something else that would never survive a modern cut: an entire sequence set at the time of the crusades with an incredible cameo by Richard Harris as his namesake, the Lionheart, along with other British stalwarts like Esmond Knight, Bill Maynard and Peter Butterworth. These characters are all amazingly well fleshed out, considering they take no part in the main body of the story. This is one of the few portrayals, if not the only one, of Richard the Lionheart which clings closer to what was probably his true character - far from the heroic king, kept hostage and kept from his beloved England by the war with the Muslims, the real Richard never spent much time in England even after his return from the Crusades, preferring to prosecute a war of conquest in France (he probably only spoke French). This Richard is not driven by religious righteousness, but by the greed which was the real motivation for the wars of the day.
The main portion of the film, however, is set in a recreation of twelfth century England, in its heartland - a land of decay and poverty being overtaxed by grasping landlords - a perfect backdrop for a story of regret and opportunities missed.
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Hasn't stood up to the test of time.
I bought Diamonds are Forever on DVD. There's a load of wicked extras including a retrospective "Making Of" documentary, a documentary about the father of the whole series of films, Cubby Broccoli and a feature-length commentary. However, having drunk all this stuff in, I couldn't help noticing that it just doesn't hold together as a coherent story. Everything that happens in the film is hokey, from Blofeld's "doubles", to Bambi and Thumper. On the commentary Guy Hamilton proudly mentions how long and hard he and writer Tom Mankiewicz worked on the "snakepit moment" which in this movie was Bond being put into a coffin and sent for cremation. He went on and on about how you have to confound the audience's expectations, but what they came up with was utterly inadequate as a cliffhanging escape! This particular Bond must rack up the greatest number of "Aha, you are now in my power, so I'll just send you somewhere else in the hands of a henchman or two and let them kill you" moments in the entire series.
Best part is the fight between Bond and Franks, both 6'2" and confined to a tiny elevator.
Bruce Almighty (2003)
The guts of this movie were ripped out - see how in the "Deleted Scenes"
Obviously we've seen this kind of movie before - the hook here is Jim Carrey and how his manic persona handles the responsibility of infinite power. Unfortunately the one bit of true Carrey-fication is the one you've all seen in the trailers where he mimes "I've Got The Power" and sets off the fire hydrant.
This film resolutely steers away from exploring even the tiniest potential in the ordinary Joe who is given the powers of God. I was shocked when I realised that the entire movie was going to more or less be about Bruce and his relationship with girlfriend Grace (Jennifer Aniston).
The structure and story arc made no sense; the first thing Bruce does with his Godlike powers is engineer a night of superb lovemaking, but there was no hint that this was a problem between him and Grace. When Grace and her sister start talking about how "tonight's the night" that Bruce will propose, you wonder if Bruce is actually in the same movie, since a reluctance or otherwise to commit to Grace was completely absent from his characterisation. When their date turns out to be the most romantic dinner in the world, you the viewer know that it is in the way of these things that he isn't going to propose, but you are left mystified as to why, and when it transpires that it is all just to announce that he got the Anchor job you are left feeling that Carrey has suddenly turned Bruce into a completely different character. Later on in the movie Grace rounds on him and sarcastically yells that what she wants is a "Boat, and sacks of cash". This is puzzling because he had not manifested any particular materialistic tendencies around Grace - we didn't even know if she had seen the flash new sports car he was driving. And why was the only apparent consequence to answering everybody's prayers in the affirmative being everybody winning the lottery, ending up with $17 each? Surely a high school kid would have written a few more scenarios into a script about an omnipotent guy?
However upon viewing the Extras on the DVD, we discover that a lot of this important stuff was contained within scenes which were deleted before release. The restaurant scene actually ended with Grace berating Bruce and pointing out that she had been waiting for a proposal; subsequently there was a scene in which he took her to a mansion he had created for them, in the car he was now showing off - setting up Grace's sarcasm later on. It has to be said that the mansion scene in particular was poorly thought through and unconvincing - he just got a promotion at work and now he can afford a multimillionaire mansion? And she "buys" it? On the other hand, there should have been *something* in its place. All those prayer consequences had been shot, but were cut "for pacing" (although it may have been to eliminate a plot hole - God shows him the bad consequence of one decision which is actually down to God's foreknowledge of what would have happened if Bruce Almighty hadn't intervened; but if Bruce has *all* God's powers, then presumably he would already know this?) The director's commentary on the deleted scenes reveals director Tom Shadyac to be two things: talentless and spineless. If he wasn't cutting essential plot scenes for pacing, he was doing so because "Jim was coming across too dark, and preview audiences didn't like it", or "We were worried that people might get offended." For heaven's sake, Tom, any director worth his salt would at least *pretend* that these changes were forced on him by the studio, instead of on his own initiative having gone out of his way to make his own movie suckier. One consequence of this cutting was to dramatically weaken Grace as a character, leaving Jennifer Aniston completely wasted.
Morgan Freeman as usual is just money in the bank. There is nobody you'd rather have play God, but it is a shame to see it happen in this movie.
Carrey does his manic facial act with no context other than that it's Jim Carrey so you expect it of him. In the outtakes his crazy mugging has the whole crew in stitches, and you can't help feel that they must be laughing because he's the star. That consummate professional Jennifer Aniston scarcely cracks a smile during these events, I notice, particularly when Carrey practically molests her while making his silly face. And Carrey can't do schmaltzy redemption, upon which at least a third of the movie relies, to save his life.
One final point - every visual aspect of this film screams Los Angeles and Southern California, even to a Brit like myself. There is not the slightest feeling that this movie is supposed to take place in northern New York State.