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Nothing good ever happens to Mary.
Can we all agree that Mary Ingalls Kendall is one of series television's most unlucky characters? When young she's constantly the goody-two-shoes overshadowed by her more interesting little sister; as she grows up, she goes blind, miscarries a baby, is robbed of an infant by her brother's carelessness, loses her husband to the sighted world, and eventually just disappears. Yeah, don't stand next to this woman in a thunderstorm.
This is the "robbed of an infant by her brother's carelessness" episode. Albert's smoking in the basement and mindlessly leaves his pipe to smolder and catch fire, burning down the blind school. With all those blind kids, a sighted adult woman and Mary's baby are the two who die. Mary goes nutso and then goes catatonic (which gives her father the opportunity to do a Scientology-like slam against psychiatry). Poor girl never wins.
This would be a very intense story--hard to watch, actually--if Melissa Sue Anderson could act her way out of a paper bag. God, she's awful. Her utter lack of talent isn't so big a deal usually, since the show's focus is generally on either Michael Landon or Melissa Gilbert. Those few "Mary episodes" are uniformly lousy, not because the character is the repository for all kinds of misery but because Anderson is such a dreadful actress. Too bad about it this time; "May We Make Them Proud" could've/should've been a fantastic episode.
For the Moment (1993)
For the Moment is a two-hour trailer for a good movie. It's all lead-in; it never peaks, just slowly wanders along. There's tons of character background and lovely scenery--some good acting, too--but it never all comes together with any excitement whatsoever...and suddenly it's over without ever having gone beyond what should be the intro.
Think: An expensively-made Hallmark Hall of Fame production. Plenty of longing looks between the two lovebirds, much dialogue that fills time but doesn't advance the story, some 90s political correctness to do with blacks and gays that never could have existed in 1942 rural Canada, guilt for everybody--and you know who the victims are going to be from the first time you see them.
On the upside, Russell Crowe is beautiful.
Lies My Father Told Me (1975)
One Awful Performance
Great sets and costumes from the '20s, wonderful tender story about a young Jewish boy in Canada and his old-world Grandpa and more modern parents, and some really good acting--except from the one actor who needed to deliver an awesome performance. Jeff Lynas, the kid playing the central character, David, is so bad he brings down the whole production. He can't seem to offer any emotion at all when he speaks; he's monotonally reading his lines as he delivers them. Just hellaciously, frighteningly bad acting. I gave this a 6 because everything else was so good, particularly the sets and Len Birman's performance as David's pie-in-the-sky up-to-date father, but it'd take an act of God for me to sit through anything else Lynas is in.
The Feast of All Saints (2001)
A Great Book Chopped to a Bloody Death
There's so little here of the fantastic Anne Rice book that what IS here makes no sense. Some of the characters--intense and surprising characters--don't make it to the screen at all, and those who do are watered down to the point that there's no reason for their existence.
Where's the relationship between Christophe and Marcel? Where's the continued affair between Marcel and Juliet? Why does Dolly Rose appear at all, since her story's never explained? Where's the rape and redemption of Marie, whose greatest attribute (and downfall) is that she can pass for white--and her marriage to Richard? Why does the film end with Marcel's beating at the hands of his father? We learn nothing of Aglae beyond that she's a bitch who hates her husband; why no backstory explaining this hatred?
As for the performances, there's not a one that's better than mediocre, though that's likely due to the lousy script. Best of the lot is that of the actor playing Richard--but Richard's not on screen enough to salvage the film. Worst is Jasmine Guy as Dolly Rose, though again, it comes down to the actress having nothing to do with what little she's given to work with.
All in all, this is just terrible. I thought it'd be impossible for any Anne Rice book-turned film to be worse than EXIT TO EDEN, but FEAST OF ALL SAINTS makes that mess look like a critical hit. How is it that Rice is such a slut she'll allow her best works to become such junk on the screen?
Drowning on Dry Land (1999)
Too much Hershey, not enough Andrews
BEACHES was the last thing Barbara Hershey did with any value whatsoever. Not since her Seagull days has she been much. Usually she only drags down the scenes in which she appears; her co-stars generally escape relatively unscathed, unless they're in the scene with her. In DROWNING ON DRY LAND,however, Hershey manages to sabotage her male co-star, Naveen Andrews. Even an actor with the potential already evident in this '99 film is helpless when acting with a wooden leading lady. The scenes in which Andrews is alone are excellent; those with Hershey are painful.
If you want to see what Andrews was before "Lost," check this out. Just be ready for the mind-death that is Barbara Hershey's acting.
A Woman's Guide to Adultery (1993)
Only Good Thing About This Movie....
...is Sean Bean. How did an actor of his caliber allow himself to get trapped in this mess? My God, this is bad! The writing is something out of an afternoon soapie (though even those shows have enough pride not to hand out this many clichés, usually). Most of the acting--except Bean, whose professionalism apparently extends even to trash like this--is almost comically lousy. The only name I recognize (other than Sean Bean) is Amanda Donahoe, whose performance is so cheap it makes her crappy work on "LA Law" look like an Academy Award winner. None of the other actors deliver anything more than dull-eyed recitations of their bad lines, which makes me wonder: Are these actors all this bad, really, or are they this bad only because the script sucks so completely? All I can say here is that if you're a Sean Bean completist, as I am, you'll want to watch this--and then check it off your list. Be shocked that he ever agreed to be connected to such dreck. If you're not a Bean freak--avoid, avoid, avoid, because minus Bean, this has absolutely NOTHING to recommend it.
Sharpe's Rifles (1993)
Early story of Sharpe becoming an officer and a gentleman
Though it's nothing like what Bernard Cornwell wrote, in terms of Sharpe's backstory, "Sharpe's Rifles" is an excellent explanation of how a common soldier becomes an officer and learns to deal with his men. It also explains how Sharpe got the Chosen Men and gradually made friends with Harper, who was set on fragging him early on. Teresa's on board too, and the beginning of the romance that would end several episodes later with her murder is tender and nicely played.
The story itself is rather weak: raising the 1000-year-old true flag of Spain to rouse the populace against the Bonaparte regime. That ostensible plot is completely overwhelmed by Sharpe and his new command, but it doesn't matter. It's not the real point of this show; what's important is the forming of the Chosen Men with Sharpe in charge.
It's not the strongest "Sharpe" around, but it's very interesting if you like knowing the history of the characters you're watching. I enjoyed it.
Racing Stripes (2005)
Decent stuff--if you're the target audience
If you're a six-year-old girl, Racing Stripes is made for you, and you'll love it. It has all the ingredients necessary to thrill you and your little girlfriends: Big, beautiful horses, a gutsy young girl, a loving dad, talking farm animals and an underdog--errr, underhorse--who wins both the race and the heart of the lovely Arabian girl horse. Yeah, if you're a six-year-old girl, Racing Stripes is great entertainment.
Only thing is, to go see it you've got to subject an adult to this torture. The adult who drives you to the theater will be glaze-eyed by the time plucky Stripes crosses the finish line. Is there anyone over the age of ten who didn't know exactly how this movie would go from the moment little Stripes first decided he liked to run? Racing Stripes is so predictable--from the well-known voice actors to the tough-kid top competition and his arrogant sneaky father and the pretty Arabian love interest--that adults will groan as one cliché follows the last and prepares for the next.
So Racing Stripes isn't a bad movie, by any means; you just have to be the target audience to enjoy it. If you're not, it's 94 minutes of checking your watch and knowing that's 94 you'll never get back again.
Sharpe's Justice (1997)
Not as bad as all that
The War's over, and Sharpe's back in Yorkshire where he started from. Right off, that tells you "Sharpe's Justice" isn't about fighting and glory; it's about how a career soldier settles back into normal life--in this case, as the officer in charge of the local yeomanry. That, in and of itself, weakens the whole premise of Sharpe as a character and as a show.
It's hokey here and there. The whole "long lost brother" bit is silly as hell, and the only surprises here with it are that they used it at all--and that it takes Sharpe so long to figure it out. Also weak beyond belief are Mrs. Sharpe and her paramour, Lord Rossindale, who both came right out of Central Casting and aren't acted well enough to bring anything but the cardboard cutouts. Finally, while "Sharpe" episodes aren't known for subtlety, "Justice" goes way overboard with the black-and-white, good-and-bad. There's no middle ground here: Either a character is Good or he/she is Evil.
Still and all, there's good here too. Sean Bean created Richard Sharpe, and he's got the character down pat. Everything is right about his performance. Minus the constant battles of the earlier episodes, his character is developed and exposed in a way we've never seen before. Also excellent is the eternal sidekick, Sgt. Harper. There's more camaraderie between the two than ever before, and it's quite nice. Even Daniel (the singer) gets good screen time and decent attention paid to him for the first time in the series; his momentary disloyalty and later apology show us how worthwhile his character might've been over three seasons if he'd ever gotten the chance.
It all--episode and series--ends with Sharpe off to Normandy and Lucille, Harper off to Ireland (where's Ramona?) and Daniel staying with the locals in Yorkshire because he's got no place else to go. As they split up for the last time, it's a sad thing, knowing there'll be no more "Sharpe"s, and though you wish this last one had been better, it's a solid enough way to say goodbye.
Horrendous...That's all, just horrendous
Margaret Mitchell spins in her grave every time somebody watches this mess! Fine costuming and sets can't even begin to overwhelm lackluster performances by Joanne Whalley (as the title character) and the ever-bland Timothy Dalton (as Rhett). Even worse than the acting--and perhaps partially explaining it--is the script, which is astoundingly cliched and predictable. Add to that hellishly bad script a score that'll have you cringing, and you've got a disaster I wouldn't wish on any viewer. SCARLETT is just amazingly lousy, and I can't imagine how it ever got made, much less made it to video.
L'homme blessé (1983)
One excellent performance can't save a lousy film.
Jean-Hugh Anglade is excellent as the teenaged boy who wants to be a whore to please the man he loves, but the rest of this film is so bad--acting, writing, cinematography, and everything else--that Anglade's performance is wasted. Sad to see so fine an actor in such a garbage flick.