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The Interview (II) (2014)
Hilarious. A classic political farce of our times. Brilliant script.
29 January 2015
OK, this can be considered sophomoric and crass humor, but the fact is The Inteview is the funniest, bravest and most entertaining comedy I've seen in ages. It's up there with the darkest satires like Fail Safe and Doctor Strangelove. It has elements of National Lampoon's classics as well. I haven't laughed so much in a movie since South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut. That probably dismisses my opinion in the minds of many but I don't care. If you like to laugh and are tired of little creeps terrorizing our planets then this is the flick for you. The North Koreans played right in to the hands of the makers of this comedy. Brilliant. Don't miss it. This is academy award material, especially best supporting actress for Diana Bang who plays Sook. James Franco and especially Seth Rogan are a great team. A true Odd Couple.

So take off the pointy hats, order a pizza and have a pitcher of Margaritas (inside joke) and just laugh your butt holes off. President Kim has one!!
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Dark Shadows (2012)
There is no where to go but up.
10 August 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I love Tim Burton. Several of his movies rank in my top 100 of all time. Sadly his adaptation of a popular television cult series, Dark Shadows, skirts the borders of Amateur land.

There are numerous touches of the Burton dark humor, and his casting is, once again, beyond criticism, but they are ALL wasted on what has to be one of the worst scripted screenplays I've sat through since Ed Wood's (ironically enough) Plan 9 from Outer Space. The difference is that old classic of bad movie-making is funny and memorable, this hollow mess is instantly forgettable.

The cast is wasted. Johnny Depp does his best, which is very good, with very little. This man is funny, one of the great comedians, and his timing of lines is perfect, yet, he cannot save this movie all by himself, from being interminable at 113 minutes, and boring beyond belief. It took me 4 days to get through it, turning it on and off, finally forcing myself to watch the incredibly lame climactic battle and limp ending. It is as if the production team simply gave up after the death of Dr Julia Hoffman (the splendidly funny Helena Bonham-Carter).

Michelle Pfeiffer makes almost no impression at all as Elizabeth Collins. This isn't her fault, she has nothing much to work with as far as character development (as in ZERO) and the fabulously beautiful Eva Green looks absurd in a very bad blonde wig. Her American accent comes and goes as well.

The CGI effects are okay, nothing special. I realize this movie is a probably intended as a send- up of the original kitschy TV show, a program I watched religiously as a kid, but I was never certain, watching Burton's effort, whether it was meant to be this stupid or not.

The most interesting performance, and one of the funniest, is by the girl who plays Caroline Collins, (sorry I've forgotten her name). She has a future in Burton movies I hope.

The whole concept should have been chucked in the shredder on Day One of the initial pitch.

Even the mighty slip and fall on their faces once in awhile. I hope it never happens again to Tim Burton. I feel his pain.
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Christopher and His Kind (2011 TV Movie)
Well done bio pic.
21 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I don't know why people dislike Matt Smith so much. I thought he was a very creditable Christopher Isherwood. And Imogen Poots is a far more rounded-out 'Sally Bowles' aka Jean Ross, than Liza Minelli was in Cabaret. Though that was a very different genre altogether and Minelli was OK as far as it went.

Christopher and His Kind is a well-produced and acted BBC period piece that evokes Berlin of the 1930s vividly. The characterizations are appealing and often quite funny and the men are beautiful, with a far amount of nudity thrown in for diversion, but nothing vulgar or prurient.

Much of the story is quite moving, the plight of the impoverished Berliners is heart-rending but not depressing. This is not a depressing tale but a cautionary one. The Nazis are well in evidence but not obnoxiously thrust into the viewers' faces as is so often the case. By now we know about the atrocities and it's good to be reminded, especially in a more subtle manner than usual.

This is a fine BBC show and I recommend it strongly.
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Thor (2011)
Kinda boring
14 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I am not a comic book fan, let alone an aficionado, so I have nothing to compare this adaptation of The Mighty Thor with, beyond all the literature and legend I am aware of from which this movie derives its characters. Derive is the operative word here in this entirely predictable, rather dull script.

There are some excellent things about Kenneth Branagh's movie Thor. The artistic vision and f/x for the 'gods' planet Asgard are evocative and beautiful, reminding me, however, of the computer game Diablo, Lord of Destruction and other computer art I've seen. Nothing wrong with that, this is just a movie for mindless entertainment and the more visual distractions the better. Especially since the script is so utterly banal and dully acted, for the most part.

It's all very professional and Hollywood, aimed at 13 year old boys. The love interest, for the 13 year old girls, in the body of Natalie Portman's Jane, is pretty much of a flop as she and Thor, Chris Hemsworth, have absolutely not a single shred of erotic chemistry between them. But then I've never understood the popularity and admiration for Natalie Portman who strikes me as a singularly mediocre talent.

Hemsworth is good, however, as Thor. He looks terrific and he's an effective actor, but lacks that last ounce of cosmic charisma that I expected to see in this role. He is completely overshadowed by Tom Hiddleston as his brother Loki. Hiddleston is also better looking in a very sensuous way and his scenes were by far the most interesting and well-acted. The other outstanding actor here, or character I should say, is that of the Gate Keeper on Asgard, played by Idris Elba. The ubiquitous and seemingly ageless Anthony Hopkins is also good as Odin, but he has too little to do, spending most of the movie in a coma. Renée Russo is wasted as Frigga, Odin's wife. None of the other gods are very interesting which was disappointing as I loved Ray Stevenson in Rome. He does not translate well to the big screen, and his character is anonymous, leaving him little to develop, and he IS a good actor, within his limits.

The music is nondescript action stuff, nothing memorable. The technical aspects are all first rate, but the entire effort is hobbled by the comic-book caliber script.

So if you are a fan of the comics you'll probably feel right at home here, but if you are more interested in the Norse legends from which these characters are mined I recommend you buy a set of Richard Wagner's Ring cycle and start listening to those. THEY are truly epic and deeply moving experiences. Thor isn't a major part in that, appearing only in Das Rheingold as Donner, the god of thunder, but Wotan (Odin) is there and those four operas are some of the towering masterpieces in human creativity. The ultimate comic book adventure.
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A memorable film from a Golden Age in Hollywood
6 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
John Schlesinger's film of Nathanial West's iconic novel Day of the Locust has been hanging in there with film buffs for so long I think it is about time it was acknowledged as the minor masterpiece that it is. Maybe not so minor in fact. When I watch it, which I've been doing since the day it was released, I find myself wishing Hitchcock or Welles had directed an adaptation of it, something that would have insured its arrival into the pantheon of masterpieces. This isn't to degrade Schlesinger's work at all but I think the Hitchock or Wellesian touch might have made it into a film as much talked about as Sunset Boulevard.

Day of the Locust is not simply another Hollywood exposé along the lines of Sunset Boulevard, A Star is Born and The Bad and the Beautiful, but it is every bit as fascinating and gut wrenching, perhaps more so, than those classics.

Nathanial West's tale is a full blown horror story. Hollywood itself is the inanimate monster that evokes the beast in the bedazzled humans that inhabit the landscape. ALL are victims of the mind numbing, soul evaporating environment.

The ironic and disheartening thing about this story is that West has used Love as the vehicle that speeds its passengers towards their melancholy doom.

The most sympathetic character is Homer Simpson, yes, Homer Simpson, played with a quiet and tortured passion by Donald Sutherland. Homer is a meek, virginal certified public account who fate has thrown in the path of Faye Greener (Karen Black) and her down-at-heel father Harry (Burgess Meredith in a terrifying performance of pathos and madness), an ex- vaudevillian who has ended up in Hollywood after arriving their years before for a small part in a B movie.

Tod (William Atherton) is a bright young man newly arrived from Yale. He is a gifted artist and spends his time recording in drawings the people and events he witnesses. He is rapidly sucked into the vortex of despair and barely escapes with his life in the end. Homer, on the other hand, is not so lucky.

The final scenes are harrowing. The most shocking effect it had on me is that I found myself rooting for the crazed Homer who does something I can't bring myself to reveal because the shock of it is worth discovering for oneself. It involves the comeuppance of a horrid child actor named Adore (its sex is ambiguous) played with infuriating moxie by the young Jackie Haley.

The cast is splendid. Geraldine Page makes an atomic blast of an appearance as the charlatan evangelist Aimee Sempel McPherson in a single scene of insane religious hysteria.

Day of the Locust is about our atavistic need for gods and the subsequent need to destroy them for not living up to our delusions of ourselves. It is a truly disturbing and fascinating film and should be seen by all lovers of great film adaptations of great books

The 1970s and early 1980s were a Golden Age in Hollywood that is just now being acknowledged as such. The Day of the Locust is one film from that era that rests comfortably near the top of the pyramid. Don't miss it.

Very highly recommended.
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The Hunger (1983)
Beautiful, elegiac vampire story
11 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I have admired Tony Scott's The Hunger since the day it was released when many others thought it a pretentious bore, not quite horror, not quite thriller and certainly not kitsch. This film came out of the golden age of London/Hollywood films that began in the 1970s and ended at the end of the 1980s. It was a long run a fine, unusual films coming from a studio system that was just coming out of the long period of 1960s technicolor, star-studded movies that were more often than not fake and boring.

The f/x of the day were nothing like the CGI overkill we have to endure now, though The Hunger would have benefited from some computer generated bodily decomposition in the final scenes. People used to the current ultra-realism, that seems to have circled back to the fakeness of the 1960s, will think The Hunger about as believable as an earlier generation found the classic sci-fi flicks from the 1950s to be. But with a little forbearance and tolerance and an open mind and open eyes the viewer will discover a very beautifully filmed, scripted and scored film about vampires which steps out of the usual blood-sucking envelope and tells a sad, tragic story of love betrayed.

The betrayer is Miriam Blaylock, played exquisitely by the unbelievably beautiful Catherine Deneuve. She was always a treat to behold in all of her films, notably Indochine, but here she surpasses herself in elegance and bewitching savoir faire. She is partnered by David Bowie, as John her 300 year old boy toy she picked up in the 18th century. John's time has run out, contrary to what Miriam tells her lovers before she changes them into 'eternal' vampires, which is a lie she tells to get the object of her desire and to keep her company on her long lonely voyage through time.

Susan Sarandon has also never been filmed to more beautiful effect, and she is a brilliant actress and puts Deneuve slightly in the shade because of the latter's more subtle acting style. Sarandon smacks the screen with those Bette Davis eyes of hers where Deneuve caresses and almost disappears before your eyes in a mist of golden beauty.

This is poetic language but The Hunger is a poetic film and, as far as artistic creations on celluloid goes, is one of the most beautiful things to behold I've ever seen.

The supporting cast is excellent, everyone acting in natural and understated manner, none of them being clichéd in any way. And there are some interesting cameos from actors who went on to bigger things, in the case of Willem Dafoe who doesn't speak a single line, and Sophie Ward, the exquisite English rose who went on to do fine work mostly in British television. You will also see Ann Magnusson who was an icon of the 1970/80s alternative theater scene.

There is not much action which eliminates this from the thriller category I think, and the horror is not so much in scary rotting corpses rising from their coffins to wreck revenge upon their duplicitous lover, Miriam, but in the terrible fate of these poor creatures who are not allowed to die but forced to lie in their coffins, slowly rotting but still living, until, that is, their maker dies.

The Hunger, for all its shocking killing, is a classic romantic tragedy, but the lovers are gorgeous bloodsucking vampires. This is a perfect film to watch at home on a rainy autumn afternoon.
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Senso (1954)
Senso is intense.
6 April 2011
Warning: Spoilers
For some reason Visconti's early film Senso (1954) eluded me until recently. I had heard of it before but it wasn't until I fell under the spell of Visconti's later masterpiece Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) that I became interested Senso.

It's an odd film but not lightweight by any means. The basic story is a tortured potboiler about a passionate, affection-starved Countess, Livia played brilliantly by Alida Valli, and her completely delusional infatuation with a first class cad, a Lieutenant in the Austiran army occupying Venice in the 19th century. This nightmare lover is convincingly done by Farley Granger early in his film career. He had a fascinating face, much more versatile than I remember from his famous Hitchcock performances where he was limited to a naughty baby- face or two. In Senso he looks truly sinister and rapacious.

Granger was fortunate in his leading lady because she wrenches a great performance from him in their intense and heart-rending scenes together. Valli was a volcanic actress in her prime. Very beautiful and clearly the fore-runner to Claudia Cardinale, only a much finer actress.

The camera work of G. R. Aldo and Robert Krasker is gloriously beautiful and natural. It is in early technicolor and not as vividly retina burning as some of the widescreen epics that were to follow.

The only major mistake in Senso is the decision to use Anton Bruckner's 7th Symphony (themes there from) as the ubiquitous melodramatic background. It's not that grand themes aren't apt for this tragic story it's just that grand high classical music (and Bruckner is THE grandest and highest of 19th century romantic composers) doesn't sound right in this film. No expense was spared the sets and costumes so skimping on the all-important, nay, vital musical side seems a little misguided to say the least. Visconti had learned his lesson in this regard by the time he made Il Gattopardo in the early 1960s. Still the same over-heated music but original, well, at least is wasn't Bruckner lifted in chunks from one of his monumental symphonies.

Senso is a winner. It seems a bit long about 90 minutes in with 30 minutes to go but it picks up as Alida Valli's character slowly shreds in the final scenes.

If you're longing to start a love affair with someone you just met I cannot recommend this film. Otherwise do not hesitate to see this.

Granger's voice is dubbed over by the usual Italian voice actor who sounds like a spokesman for detergent. The subtitles seem sensibly translated. But the script is not the main reason to watch this excellent, beautifully filmed minor masterpiece. The photography and Alida Valli's magnificent performance are reasons enough to see this important Italian film.

I deduct one star for the Bruckner and another for the homogenized Farley Granger voice- over.
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The entire series is outstanding
24 February 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The Body in the Library is one of the most satisfying of the twelve Marples starring Joan Hickson as a not-really-very-sweet little old lady who possesses "a mind more cynical... than any barrister you'll ever encounter.." as one older copper tells a young and ambitious inspector in this episode. Gwen Watford plays Miss Marple's batty chum from Saint Mary Meade (their home village). She is Dolly Bantry and is married to Moray Watson's daft and courtly Col. Arthur Bantry.

If Hickson's Marple displays momentary hints of menace it is only that. Hers is a very subtle and dry performance, crammed with sparkling humor that shoots out from her beady little blue eyes. Hickson was a formidable comedian and she is very much one in these shows, powdered over with politeness and modesty. She is never annoying, like Geraldine McEwen's Marple is from time to time with that Old Mother Hubbard portrayal of hers; not her fault really as the producers of that later series had a political agenda which ruined the stories and scripts and any chance of McEwen's being as good as Hickson.

With the cast alone you have one of the classics of British television from the mid-to-late 20th century. It isn't only that Joan Hickson is nigh perfect for the role of Miss Jane Marple, it is also that the supporting actors, direction, locations, props, everything are splendidly done. It took me awhile to accept the musical score because I had been watching the pretty awful Marple series with Geraldine McEwen and the score to those productions was very 20th century sounding, like the music of Prokofiev or Britten. In the Hickson series the music is disarmingly charming and almost sounds trite at first. Now it is one of the highlights in an already brilliant achievement. It is catchy and sticks in the mind, it is also frequently very funny. The ballet music in They Do It With Mirrors is hilarious.

Some of the highlights of the supporting cast are Jean Simmons, Renée Asherson, Joyce Carey, Claire Bloom and greatest of all joys, Joan Greenwood who plays Selina Hazy in At Bertram's Hotel. After this film Greenwood went on to play a brilliantly macabre Mrs Clenham in Little Dorrit, dying young at 65 and still much missed.

The vital secondary roles, inspectors, murderers, victims, chambermaids, cooks, butlers, young lovers and vicars are all appealingly cast by actors familiar to fans of British television. There are no misfires in the casting, which is very rare.

The directors take a lot of time surveying the English countryside and the sea. The series, in general, is extremely atmospheric and has just enough sinister shots to prevent the story from becoming merely light entertainment.

This Hickson Marple is the one to have in your collection if you need a Marple series to watch on demand, as I do. The Margaret Rutherford movies were bogus but entertaining, and Rutherford is her usual bumbling, hilarious self, but these Hickson shows are the real Marple as Mrs Christie intended her to be.

I rate this series a 9 because I still think there is room for something even greater and more like the original stories. Some of the Hickson stories are updated to the 1950s when the entire series takes place. It works fine, but still....
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A classic British comedy from the golden age.
24 February 2011
Warning: Spoilers
It is too bad that the two sequels to this little gem were ever attempted. They tarnished what is one of the funniest movies to come out of England during the hey-day of British film comedies, a circumstance that has also blunted the appeal of The Belles of St Trinian's because of the very high level of excellence of the competition. Movies like The Man in the White Suit, The Ladykillers, Passport to Pimlico, The Lavender Hill Mob, Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Importance of Being Earnest, Whisky Galore, The Happiest Days of Your LIfe and Father Brown, among others.

This sort of humor is out of vogue due to the low level of vulgarity passing as humor in the entertainment industry at present. You will probably have to (and want to) watch these movies again and again to fully grasp their dry subtlety. The Belles of St Trinian's is a great place to start if you have not seen any of the movies mentioned. It is more slapstick and camp than cleverly dry, but there is that element too.

Alastair Sim is hilarious as Miss Fritton, the headmistress of a horrifying girls school called St Trinian's. You quickly forget he is a man in drag and see him as a highly plausible, if over the top, Victorian lady who has had to turn her family home into a school in order to stay in the house.

Her staff of teachers is equally funny. There is Joyce Grenfel as the horsey games mistress (who is also an undercover policewoman for the local constabulary investigating a crime wave), Beryl Reid as the county spinster golfer, Hermione Baddeley's drunken French teacher who spends class time sipping claret and having the girls recite the locations of the best vineyards in France and what varietal is grown on them. Joan Sims isMiss June Dawn, the sex education and hygiene instructor who also does fan dances upon request, and Rose Waters, played by Betty Ann Davies resembling Morticia Addams. She teaches scriptures and needle work. The staff is rounded off by the ever-raucous Irene Handl.

The school is really a front for money laundering, bootlegging and racketeering, all managed by Miss Fritton's shady brother, also played by Alastair Sim. George Cole is the oily front man who is the go-between for St Trinian's and the local horse-betting circuit.

The schoolgirls are all marvels of degradation and craftiness. This movie, like all British comedy after the war, contain not a shred of profanity, sexual graphics or violence. It's just very funny and is recommended highly to all lovers of intelligent and farcical humor.
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Disappointing and dull
18 February 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Reilly, Ace of Spies is widely considered to be one of the great British television mini-series ever made. I can't agree with that but it has many excellence aspects that make it worth viewing, once or twice, but I can't imagine wanting to view it more than that simply because it is often tedious and slow-moving.

The first problem is with Sam Neill's two-dimensional Sidney Reilly. This character never comes alive for me. I think this production got hung up on his being the prototype for Ian Fleming's James Bond, who is a much more fleshed-out and interesting character than Neill's take on the real master spy who flourished, if you can call it that, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Reilly was in all the hot spots, Port Arthur, Moscow, St Petersburg, just when the muck was hitting the fan. So the potential for a rattling good tale is there in the original material but it doesn't have much dramatic impact here. The script is good, within the limitations of the vision of the production team. The studio-bound sets and London-bound locations, with a few shots of Malta thrown in to represent Manchuria, are well handled but as the series progresses the same buildings keep reappearing with the same boarded up windows, this after some number of years have passed in the action. Continuity and editing are not two of the strong points of this show.

The first episodes are the most successful, though even then the action moves along very slowly and becomes tedious and sigh-making. Too much of the script is spent on reading letters out loud as they are being typed, and long soulful looks from distressed women who Reilly treats like throw away dolls. He jumps in and out of beds a great deal, which is always boring. When will film makers figure that out?

Reilly's behavior confirms my suspicion that most gigolos who enjoy great sexual conquests are really the most misogynistic of men. Sam Neill captures that reptilian side of Reilly's nature but displays absolutely not a shred of a sense of humor or irony. His facial expressions barely cover the gamut from A to B and all the many blank moments of supposed meaningly looks are simply vacuums of time, as if he's trying to remember his lines without appearing to be thinking about it.

The cast is chock-a-block with famous faces but none of them really shines very brightly. The most successful is the less well-known Norman Rodway as Commander Cummings, head of the British secret service. He is the only member of the cast, that I can think of off hand, who displays any grit and passion about his character.

Kenneth Cranham is unrecognizable as Lenin, with his head shaved. His portrayal is oddly muted, as is that of David Burke's Stalin, in a ridiculous wig that looks like it's about to fall off the top of his head. It is refreshing to have these two tyrants portrayed in something other than the usual ranting maniacs, but they are simply too passive here. Stalin made Hitler look like Pollyanna when it came to genocide but in this series one doesn't really get the sense that THIS Stalin was all that blood-thirsty.

The music by Harry Rabinowitz isn't very good either. It is insipid and gutless and extremely repetitive. On top of which it is recorded in a giant bathroom acoustic rather like those technicolor extravaganzas, like Nicholas and Alexandra, of the 1960s and 1970s. The score reflects the over-all flaccidity of this series.

I'm sure the story of Sidney Reilly could be told in a much more exciting and forward moving way. Reilly, Ace of Spies seems to be one of those po-faced 'teaching' mini-series that fall fatally between the two stools of fiction and non-fiction.

If you are interested in this period of European history I recommend acquiring Fall of Eagles. It's less cinematic, which is good I think, and more along the lines of The Pallisers in style. Not the pot-boiler melodrama we have with Reilly, Ace of Spies.
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Cabaret (1972)
It's difficult to be fair.
18 January 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I was twenty when Cabaret (the film) came out and remember it as a cinematic icon of my generation. I was 21 when I played in a pit orchestra for the musical theater version. I am steeped in Cabaret, in other words.

Funny thing was I have only watched it one other time, until today, over a period of 38 years and I was only moved to rent the video just to see it again. That was in about 1989. So today, in 2011, I have watched the newly purchased DVD of what I thought would be a fascinating romp through Berlin c.1931. It wasn't. It was boring. Was I shocked!? Not really. After I'd watched the first half hour I remembered how coy I thought it was at the time it was released.

The Isherwood novel on which it is based is much racier and decadent and paints a vividly dark portrait of the newly Nazified Berlin. This homogenized, choppy, poorly scripted, poorly acted (except in one case) second rate period piece by Bob Fosse is simply eye candy nothing much more.

To Fosse's credit the choreography is splendid, the best part about this movie. The other outstanding performance is Joel Grey's nuanced and frightening Master of Ceremonies in the cabaret itself. I also enjoyed Marisa Berenson at her most beautiful, anticipating her stunning portrayal a couple of years later in Barry Lyndon. She also gins up the only true humor in the entire movie with her charming, wide-eyed daughter of the Jewish gratin in Berlin.

Some of the songs are good, especially Mein Herr, but most of them are pretty forgettable, though not as dire as those in famous tuneless shows like The Phantom of the Opera, Chicago and Wicked. Cabaret is dark, but so was Oklahoma! Thing is, Oklahoma! is a classic masterpiece of filmed musical theater, Cabaret is a travesty of an intriguing novel turned into a very shallow piece of Broadway glitz.

Liza Minelli is all fingernails, eyelashes and big, moist puppy-eyes. She is utterly tiresome as Sally Bowles, a fatal flaw in any film when the leading actress is a washout. She dances well and has a fine body, she sings okay, the queen of belting, but she can't act, beyond the eyelashes, and her chemistry with ALL the men is zilch.

Michael York is perfect, in theory, as the gay leading man, though he's not allowed to be gay here for too long before he and Minelli suddenly find themselves gazing intensely (for them) into each others' eyes and falling into bed. Ho-hum.

Was I disappointed? Yeah, I was. Isherwood's book I Am a Camera deserves a great adaptation for the big screen. I don't know if there are any American singing actresses who could bring any more depth to the role of Sally Bowles than Liza Minelli did, so it may all be a moot point. A straight dramatic film of the original material could be great in the right hands.

Sorry boys, I know some of us like to dress up like LizaMinelliSallyBowles on Halloween, or any old time, but beyond her parrot-like appearance, she flopped in her great 15 minutes of fame on the silver screen.

Still, I give Cabaret four stars for the choreography (which IS great) and a couple of the songs and Joel Grey's creepy mastery.
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The Prisoner (1967–1968)
Unique, disturbing and fun
12 November 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Patrick McGoohan's idea for a television series, The Prisoner, is still a source of fascination and admiration. This kind of guerrilla TV cannot be done now under the protective, moneyed auspices of men like Lew Grade (extinct species) who funded and promoted the series. The Prisoner lasted 5 months with 17 episodes, then it vanished for ever. I think this was for the best.

It would be pointless and unkind to analyze each episode as to what I think they mean or who is running The Village and who is spying on who. It is more fun to watch events unfold in the haphazard way The Prisoner has. There is no story arc, per se, but there is an evolution in the behavior and tactics of No. 6 (McGoohan) that glues the series together.

I hadn't seen The Prisoner in probably 40 years, since it first aired in the USA. I liked it then but somehow lost interest. The lava lamps didn't help. The era of the swinging, mod sixties is preserved like an old cameo in this show. The primary colors, the 'flip' hairdos, the tight crotchy pants and pointed breasts behind stripes on everyone's ubiquitous matelot tops, all shod in Keds tennies and Espadrilles (actually, I wish Espadrilles would come back, very comfortable); all contribute to the charm and fascination. Having just re-watched the series after all that time makes me sorry that I ignored it for so long.

There are admittedly some cheesy elements to the props and acting but those little goofs add to the vintage charm of the show. Rover, the 'scary' guardian of the Village, is similar to Gort the metallic cosmic policeman in The Day the Earth Stood Still. He's always there, attached to some sort of Great Lava Lamp under the water from whence he sallies forth to nab anyone attempting to leave The Village. Rover is nothing more than a weather balloon inflated with helium which makes it bounce and wobble like the flowing shapes in a lava lamp (again, the lava lamp). Depending on one's transgression Rover will either absorb you (pressing face against surface of balloon and viewed from the other side) or hauled off or chased back to No. 2's door for punishment.

The howler with Rover is that every time someone is absorbed it is the same face, some one from the tech crew who volunteered for the job of face-absorption when testing Rover's scare factor on screen. The factor is very low. Rover is also center stage for some very bad editing in an early episode. Nadia, an Estonian spy who has also retired and landed in The Village (so she says), is supposed to have escaped by trying to swim 30 miles, but Rover hauls her back to the beach. In the process the actress who is supposed to be playing a bronze-medalist in swimming from years ago, is seen flailing and paddling and lifting her head for air when she is supposed to be unconscious.

Fortunately these technical glitches are few and far between and become a thing of the past by the 5th or 6th episode.

Patrick McGoohan himself carries the show with ease. He was a good-looking man and a fine actor, though he hams it up from time to time with too much vehemence. There were times when I expected him to twirl his mustache (in a manner of speaking), his acting having taken a sudden Simon Legree aspect to it. There is a very camp over-the-top atmosphere about the entire thing.

No. 2 is the second most important repeating character. The actors change all the time, which makes things interesting and was a brilliant solution for preventing rote acting on the part of the leads. There are a number of famous faces playing No.2 who you will recognize from older English films and television from the 50s to the 90s. Leo McKern (Rumpole) and the very unusual looking Mary Morris being among them.

The Prisoner was McGoohan's brainchild and he was in full control of every aspect of its production. The Prisoner was a powerful influence on other screenwriters, like Douglas Adams with his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Terry Jones and Monty Python's Flying Circus, and later, Terry Gilliam with his films Brazil and Twelve Monkeys. For his part, McGoohan was clearly influenced by the pop goofiness of A Hard Day's Night and Rod Serling's disorienting and disturbing Twilight Zone.

interview with the producer Bernard Williams. He doesn't give away McGoohan's secret intentions but he speaks candidly about the creation of the show.

With the A&E complete DVD (2004)collection there is included the original version of the episode The Chimes of Westminster. A&E has not troubled itself to make this listen-able so don't waste your time. The sound is totally inaudible, though I liked the primitive grainy film. Perhaps The Prisoner might have been even more effective in black and white. And A&E has scrambled up the playing order of the earlier episodes in a manner far removed from the original broadcast order.

I made a list of the correct order and follow that when watching, though it's inconvenient to have to be switching around from one disc to another all the time. But A&E have been pretty chintzy, using 10 dvds for 17 episodes and two Features. Don't expect a solution to the series when it ends. There is one, sort of, but IS there. The sound and picture, however, for the rest of the episodes have been cleaned up and is very good for its age.
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Rumpole of the Bailey (1978–1992)
An immortal television classic character
8 November 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Rumpole of the Bailey is one of those television shows, like Upstairs/Downstairs, I Love Lucy, The Prisoner, and a few others that are so well written, performed and produced, all things considered, that they are beyond criticism after a certain point in time.

What keeps Rumpole of the Bailey afloat is Leo McKern's Rumpole. They are one. McKern would probably not have liked that but in the minds of the legions of Rumpole fans he is just that. He was also a great theatrical performer on the stage and big screen and his nuanced performance style is very appealing on the small screen.

This show is funny but often deep. Rumpole always triumphs but there is a deeper cost for him. He lives in the world of the street villains, like the blessed Timsons, and sees the small tragedies that occur when blind Justice delivers a particularly harsh blow on a misguided soul who made a mistake. There is a rogues gallery of justices before whom Rumpole must plead his case for the defense. Rumpole is like a mongoose baiting a cobra before there stern, unforgiving and often buffoonish natures.

McKern is ably supported by the wonderful crew in chambers and in the courtrooms. Peter Blythe is the bumbling, ineffective boob who is appointed head of chambers, and he plays this man with a solemn, empty-headed and stony-hearted ineptitude that invokes laughter and disgust at the same time. Blythe was a great comedian, a perfect straight man for McKern's rollicking and wily Rumpole. The two Hilda Rumpoles were played by Peggy Thorpe Bates and Marion Mathie. The former was a true dragon and as hilarious as she was alarming. Mathie is no less invincible in the last 3 seasons of the show and a fine comedienne as well.

Jonathan Coy's Henry, the chambers clerk, is a fine bit of subtle comic timing. Coy was present in the cast from Day One to the final episode 14 years later. You will also see young actors at the beginnings of great careers appearing here as guest stars or in bit parts.

If you are a collector of great British television of all genres this must be in your collection. If you are a Rumpole fan this must be in your collection. I bought the 2004 edition of A&E's set. The only special feature is a nice in depth interview with Abigail McKern, Leo McKern's daughter, who plays Liz Probert in the last 4 seasons. She does all the talking and is quite interesting as she reminisces about her father, who died in 2002.

The Introductions before each episode are inane little commentaries by the author John Mortimer. He looks to have one foot in the grave already and wheeled out to sit behind a desk and read off these useless prologues. After seeing one or two of them I began skipping the Introduction on the play list and starting each episode just as the credits end with the second cue on the disc. These discs are easy to use and the sound and picture quality are excellent.

This 2004 A&E set of Rumpole of the Bailey is self-recommending.
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Mapp & Lucia (1985–1986)
Disappointing but still amusing
31 October 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I hesitated giving this attempt at the Mapp and Lucia stories by E. F. Benson any rating higher than a 5. The series is seriously haphazard in presenting segments of the 6 novellas that make up the original books. Books are rarely recreated very well to the screen, and the better the book the worse the adaptation. One exception to that was the magnificent Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle made in 1985, the same year as this Mapp and Lucia effort.

This project had all the earmarks of a great adaptation; a fine cast, good writers, high production values and a director, Donald McWhinnie, who loves and understands the characters.

But the producers chickened out and did not film the entire Benson series of books. Riseholme hardly appears and Lucia never gets to London. Few of the many characters in the books appear in this series. The two sets of dvds all take place in Tilling after Lucia's appearance as Good Queen Bess in her last outing as doyenne of the stage in Riseholme. And I get the feeling that the only reason that pantomime is included is Geraldine McEwen, who makes a fine, comic Queen Elizabeth I, and Nigel Hawthorn, whose effeminate Sir Francis Drake was too good to NOT film. Sadly Daisy Quantock is presented as a non-entity in her brief appearance and the actress is totally wrong for the part. Lucia's husband, Peppino (Philip) Lucas has already died as he does in between the original Books two and three. Lady Ambermere and the other eccentric denizons of Riseholme, Piggy, Goosie, Mrs Antrobus et al, are not to be found here. No Indian cook or fake medium either.

These two superb comedians carry this show on their perfect backs. I can't imagine a better cast Georgie than Nigel Hawthorne and it's a great shame he couldn't have portrayed this character in a complete version of the stories. McEwen is equally successful with Lucia, capturing the subtly outrageous character of this preposterous snob.

Prunella Scales has the personality for Miss Mapp but not the physical presence of that formidable female in the books. The best of the smaller roles is that of Irene Coles played by the boyish and impudent Cecily Hobbs. She, Scales,Denis Lill (Major Benjy) and Marion Mathie (Susan Wyse) make a strong secondary comedy troupe, though Lill is far too young and sexy for Major Benjy.

Sadly, Wee Wifie, married to the padre, is completely dropped from the story leaving the character of the padre as little more than a cypher for gear-changes in the storyline. Mary MacLeod is miscast as Diva Plaistow. She is a large woman who towers over Scales' Mapp when just the opposite would have been more accurate and funny. The result is Mapp becomes far too sympathetic a character because she is so petite. Much of the character of the story is lost because of this. Scales is very funny, however, and is totally inside Mapp's head, it just doesn't work somehow. There is a great guest appearance in the last episode by the great Irene Handl who plays Duchess Poppy. She is hilarious and helps this series end on a high note. Olga Bracely is a very minor role in this show and played by the excellent actress Anna Quayle, though she is miscast as the Wagnerian opera diva.

I have owned the videos of the two seasons for years and watch them off and on, usually in the dead of winter when something frothy is called for. I always enjoy McEwen, Hawthorne, Mathie, Hobbs, Lill and Handl but always wish that more trouble had been taken by the producers to do the whole thing right. This might have been a classic of British television, as it is it is one of those sad might-have-beens.

This could have been so good with McEwen and Hawthorne leading the cast, and with a better Mapp and Plaistow.

But I give it a 7 for being better than nothing.
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Time Bandits (1981)
Time Bandits is great
28 October 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The 1980s were a golden age for film in Hollywood, Europe and Japan. I am happy to see that film buffs of a younger generation than mine are discovering those excellent creations; comedies like Tootsie, Victor/Victoria, Hope and Glory, dramas like Babette's Feast, Fanny and Alexander, My Life as a Dog, Valmont, Apartment Zero... I could go on and on.

Terry Gilliam was in his early prime at that time from Time Bandits (1981), Brazil (1985) to The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989). The 1990s gave us a Brazil-esquire Twelve Monkeys (1995) which is going to go down in history as one of the great science fiction films ever, then the disturbing, not very funny but memorable Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (2001) with the frightening, manic performances of Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro. In 2005 Gilliam made his much-maligned masterpiece Tideland, but all this is another topic.

The Time Bandits is not a children's movie. Intelligent children will enjoy it but the teletubby crowd won't. I also think that because this film didn't knock 'em dead in America (those British accents, you know) there is a faint mist of failure surrounding this film in the minds of the cinema academics.

All these mists can be dispelled by returning to this movie and watching it like a kid would, wondering what is going to happen next. So much happens in this movie as Kevin and his cohort of dwarfs jump through time warps and have hilarious and, in the case of Sean Connery's hunky Agamemnon, heart-tugging moments.

It helps if the viewer has a fairly educated grasp of history, from ancient times to 1980. If you know who Agamemnon and Clytemnestra were, for instance, the sequences that take place in Greek mythology become 100 times more interesting.

Fear not (loathe not), you don't have to be a degreed history major to enjoy Time Bandits. It is all, historical or not, fantasy, beautifully designed, filmed, scored and edited, not to mention acted. Kevin is no twee tike, he's tough as well as lovable, and his personal path in life is rather sad and an open-ended question as he has such idiotic parents. The dwarfs are a scream and are not demeaned or mocked in any way.

David Warner is wonderful as the Evil Genius with lines like "Why did God make nipples for men!" a great comedic performance. His minions are pure Monty Python and the set designer out did himself as Gilliam's set designers always do. The setting for the Evil Genius's labyrinthine castle is jaw-dropping.

And there are some classic performances on the edge of farce, which is a trait of all Gilliam's movies, with unforgettable turns from Kathryn Hellman and Peter Vaughan as the Ogres and Michael Palin and Shelley Duvall as the young silly lovers who keep recurring together throughout eternity... 'I need fruit!!' (Palin) and countless other lines that mean nothing here but if you know the movie provokes laughter.

Finally Ralph Richardson appears as God in a three-piece grey flannel suit talking about procedure and such business-like things.

Time Bandits actually has an ending which so many movies don't bother with these days. All Terry Gilliam's films are unusual, some of them (Fear and Loathing, Tidelands) are just downright bizarre and upsetting, but they are all finely crafted and don't waste an inch of celluloid on non-essentials. On top of that they entertain, and Time Bandits is Gilliams most entertaining film that will appeal to young and old who possess luminous minds and need more than Sharon Stone boob fests and Sandra Bullock boredom.

Highest Recommendation.
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One of Hammer's best
27 October 2010
Warning: Spoilers
A Hammer film is never a great film like Fanny and Alexander or Kagemusha, but they are always entertaining, full of surprises and quite often very funny, intentionally and otherwise.

Five Million Years to Earth caught my attention about 40 years ago at 2 in the morning. I was probably in an altered state at the time (college years) and in the right frame of mind to be mesmerized by this far above average chill-fest.

Young'uns brought up on Star Wars and permanently bedazzled by CGI f/x will be bored stiff by this quaint English flick. It is one of those movies, like Day of the Triffids, that tells a creepy story really well with a script far superior than the offal being barfed out by Hollywood creep-features now. And there is no nudity, vulgar language or fake blood and gore to divert attention from lousy acting (the acting in this movie is excellent, a fine cast of British actors).

Five Million Years to Earth is worth seeking out. You'll probably have to buy a cheap DVD to see it as British horror movies don't seem to venture past old Christopher Lee flicks on cable during Halloween season. TNT considers The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as classic stuff, this English hokum with the funny accents isn't even on the map to them.

But this movie is not hokum, it is truly chilling and the insect monsters are not as cheesy as some have stated on this forum. They remind me of Colin Wilson's classic psychological/sci- fi horror novel The Mind Parasites.

If you like Hammer horror don't miss Five Million Years to Earth.
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Downfall (2004)
A great anti-war film
25 October 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I can't see anything controversial about Oliver Hirschbiegel's film Der Untergang (Downfall). Perhaps some find it so because it has deeply human underpinnings on which the entire story rests. We all know Hitler was a monstrous mediocrity as a politician and some, who knew him personally, claim he was a soft-spoken, cultured and intelligent man who became something else when he became Das Führer for public events. That last group is usually dismissed as unrepentant beasts and nothing they say holds any water with the popular media.

This film does not dismiss those who had not entirely unfavorable views of Adolf Hitler. I suppose that is what has enraged some people. If you can get passed the powerful emotional knee-jerk reaction to anything related to the man you will find a deeply moving story of the frailty and imperfection of our species. Hircshbiegel does not sugar-coat Hitler's manic personality but neither does he show a Hitler who goes insane and blows his brains out in a last-ditch panic. The methodical and precise aspect of Hitler's mind is on exhibit here and that alone is frightening. At one point he holds forth about the sin of compassion, to his way of thinking. Compassion only protects the weak and, like the apes, the human being must crush the weaker if the race is to survive. This is brutal stuff and unpleasant to hear let alone contemplate.

This film sheds a new light on the last days in the bunker in Berlin before the war ended. There are many powerful scenes that stick in the mind. This story is based upon the memories of Trudl Junge, Hitler's last secretary. You could possibly call this film Hitler from a feminine point of view but that wouldn't be entirely accurate. Young German women during the Third Reich who committed themselves to The Cause of National Socialism were clear- eyed and truthful, except perhaps with themselves. The real Trudl Junge admits at the end of the film, as an old lady, that she was wrong to not have known about the murders of millions of foreigners as she calls them and that youth was no excuse for Not Finding Out.

There is nothing neo-Nazi about this film. It isn't that kind of thing. Downfall is one of the greatest anti-war movies there is. The overwhelming tragedy that is any war hits with great force here. The personal events are harrowing. In the case of Magda Goebbels unbelievably and unbearably so as she must kill her six youngest children with her own hand, using a sleeping draft and then cyanide capsules. It is a unique and unforgettable sequence of scenes. Corinna Harouch (Magda Goebbels) turns in one of those quietly volcanic performances that are rarely scene in film.

Bruno Ganz plays Hitler as a second cousin to Nosferatu, his hands constantly twitching behind his hunched-over shoulders. I am no Hitler scholar but I've read a fair amount of literature on the era and about people loosely associated with the inner sanctum and I don't recall anyone mentioning this physical twitch of his. More than one person has mentioned that near the end Hitler was zonked on drugs most of the time. He is not shown as a morphine addict in this film but as a puritanical vegan who drank nothing but bottled water. There's food for thought.

Alexandra Maria Lara plays Trudl Junge and she is a magnetic personality who quietly carries the film on her lovely shoulders. Her story is told with elegance and subtly conveys the imperceptible vortex of apocalypse without the use of a blasting militaristic score or scene after scene of carnage, though there is a fair amount of that, but it is never gratuitous.

There are moments of utter rest and calm and beauty but they are few and far between. A very wonderful scene happens when Eva Braun (Juliane Köhler) takes Trudl and Gerda, another of Hiter's secretaries, out of the bunker during a lull in the artillery bombardment of Berlin. The three young women sit quietly on stone benches amidst newly blossoming bulbs in a courtyard above the bunker. A melodious bird sings idyllically in the trees and the sky is blue and the sun is shining. Normalcy. Then the sirens begin and the cigarettes are carefully stubbed out and the women retreat back underground, for the last time in Eva Braun's case.

The film is full of wonderful scenes and episodes and I found myself forgetting it was about Hitler at all. Perhaps that too is what enrages some people. We mustn't ever forget Hitler.

Well, how can we?

The cinematography, music, costumes, claustrophobic sets and the entire cast of fine German actors, beautifully but unobtrusively directed, is a fine work of art and should be seen by all film and 20th century European history buffs.
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Find yourself a small, bizarre hotel...
24 October 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I happened upon this slice and dice horror flick while staying in a sinister David Lynch-like hotel in Milwaukee, called The Knickerbocker. Being the Halloween season, leaves falling and trees getting bare and melancholy at twilight, I found the combination of a creepy old hotel room and this cheesy flick a perfect combination.

What made it more surreal for me was the fact that I had stuffed foam earplugs into my ears to block out the noise through the paper thin walls. I watched this remake of House on Haunted Hill without having to endure the undoubtedly stupid dialogue (that was a no- brainer) or the gratuitous scare soundtrack and simply watch the cinematography and the actors faces.

I don't think there was much good acting going on, though Geoffrey Rush does well as a creepy lounge-lizard type. I caught a few lines here and there so I got the general drift of the story.

Peter Gallagher had entered the downward slop of his iffy career. He is slaughtered horribly at the end which is a fitting end for him. Taye Diggs provides some male sex appeal but has two facial expressions... bewildered and bug-eyed and sexy come-on-baby.

The bimbos, for such is what they are, are portrayed by two, count 'em, two busty blondes. One, Ali Larter, seems to have some acting ability, the other Bridgette Wilson, does not. The latter is slaughtered even more horribly than Peter Gallagher, and we don't care.

Some bit player has his face bitten off and his head emptied like a broken chocolate Easter egg, and someone named Chris Kattan spends lots of time scarfing down bottles of whisky. He dies oddly, as does the brunette bimbo played by someone named Fanke Janssen. They both get sucked up into some kind of creeping cobweb with tentacles. I think Fanke plays the Evil that inhabits the house but don't hold me to that, I don't care.

This flick has absolutely nothing akin to the much-loved Vincent Price version made in 1958 which possesses all the charm of the innocent Rank/Hammer years. This 1999 remake takes place in something that resembles Bat Man's high tech Fritz Lang Castle on top of a Transylvanian craggy peak by the North Sea, but the actors are all glib, vulgar American idiots, excepting Geoffrey Rush though he appears to be trying to be like them in this early film performance before he got famous.

The f/x are very good, in their limited way. The cinematography has catchy little weird moments when the film is sped up. The sets are OK but most of the action takes place in a great manner hall with a great big bar alternately with the maze-like basement.

The stupid characters keep returning to the same underground mad scientist laboratory where they all get knocked off one by one, except for the black guy, the smart blonde bimbo and Geoffrey Rush who's fate is dropped unceremoniously in to limbo by the script's failure to come to a proper ending. Could the dim-witted producers have truly envisioned a sequel? Who cares.

I'll never see this entertaining time-waster again unless I stumble upon it at future Halloween AMC festivals. So grab a bottle of gin, rent a room at a creepy urban hotel in a second tier American Northern industrial city on a wet, dark autumn night and have fun.
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Giant (1956)
Not So Giant but still Grand
14 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Giant has been a favorite of mine for several decades. It isn't a great masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination but it IS a good movie, fun to watch, beautifully filmed and well- cast. It's really good old-fashioned dressed-up, epic-length hokum, a genre that I enjoy once in awhile, like Ma and Pa Kettle movies, only here Ma and Pa are Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson.

Those two iconic actors are the main reason for watching Giant. They are in their early primes in 1956. I don't know which of them is the more beautiful but it's a close race. She went on to make Cleopatra 7 years later and became the Liz we all know today but in Giant she is more akin to the little girl in National Velvet. Rock Hudson was a fairly recent newcomer to the silver screen and this movie foreshadows his ultra-sexy character in Pillow Talk 3 years later. They are totally their starry selves in all their glory, and when the going gets rough, in this basically 2nd rate movie, you can simply feast your eyes on them, even as they age in the most ridiculous manner. I mean, they are only in their late 40s by the end and they are made up to look 65, even though her bust hasn't dropped to her naval and his tummy and behind are as firm and confident as they were when the show started. But they were grandparents by the end of the movie and gramma and grampa can't be sex objects now can they. But he's so sexy in those blue jeans (ahem!) that the mind can't help but wander.

There is a splendid cast of characters surrounding the two sex symbols. Old Western hands like Jane Withers and Chill Wills (Ma and Pa Kettle indeed) and a feisty and lovely Carroll Baker (can you believe she is 79 years old this year!) add interest to this large cast.

Dennis Hopper was far from his Easy Rider and Blue Velvet days and plays the milquetoast son of Rock and Liz who wants to be a doctor. Earl Holliman makes an early film appearance, the same year he appeared in the 50s Sci-Fi classic Forbidden Planet, appearing opposite to Robbie the Robot and Walter Pidgeon, a film that has much in common with Giant.

Giant was made well before the Cinerama vision and over-exaggerated Technicolor extravaganza Westerns like How the West Was Won (1962). Giant looks back to the older westerns like Johnny Guitar (1953) and even High Noon (1952). The magnificent camera work of Willam C. Mellor and Edwin DuPar manages, without Panavision and in a simple box frame, to convey the huge emptiness of West Texas and the endless skies filled with magnificent sunset-tinted clouds. Giant is an apt title for this manner of photography and is probably the greatest aspect of this movie. George Stevens was an old hand at Westerns and his direction prevents these actors from descending into clichéd impersonations of what Hollywood producers think mid-western people, 'Texians' in particular, are like.

Elizabeth Taylor does her rendition of Scarlett O'Hara; see also Raintree County (1957) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), only not spoiled. Rock and James Dean (Jet Rink) create a palpable homo-erotic aura around their scenes together. Indeed the opening scenes at Reata (Rock's ranch in Texas) reeks of a secret demi-monde in the dry wastes of cattle country. Mercedes McCambridge (Luz Benedict) plays Rock's butch sister who dies early on in the movie. But before she gets bucked (from a horse) the movie has become a steam bath of sexual tension and jealousy. This atmosphere doesn't last long as the story becomes more and more conventional with less and less dramatic substance. Doris Day and Thelma Ritter could have appeared at this point and been right at home in the script.

James Dean is disappointing, mumbling and shuffling. His Method Acting training falls short with this cow-hand, but he's fully engaged in the script and makes the most of his pathetic character within his limitations. He is best before he discovers oil on his little patch of land left to him by Luz, who it is explained probably loved Jett but I suspect she was more of a protective lesbian bête-noire to him than a potential lover. Jet's part plummets (no pun intended) in quality and acting opportunity after he becomes a middle aged billionaire with a drinking problem.

The climax of the movie is Rock Hudson getting in a fist fight in a diner because the owner disses a Mexican family and won't serve them. As Rock's son, Jordan Benedict III, has married a Mexican woman and this movie is, I was surprised to learn at the end, all about racial equality, 1956 style. This becomes the whole raîson-d'être for this story and results in the most nauseating sentimentality at the end that you can possibly imagine involving a black calf a white sheep and a brunette baby and a blonde baby in a playpen. It is early P.C. schmalz and it flops badly. The movie just stops on this note leaving the story like a floater in a large cinematic toilet boil. It is the terrible ending that knocked this movie down from an 8 to a 6 rating in my book.

But don't let the horrid ending put you off. Giant is iconic in the film universe and the production values are first class, no amount of money was stinted in its making and it pays off. It's long but it isn't boring as Rock and Liz are on screen for most of its 197 minutes.
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One of the great classics of the BBC's dramas
10 July 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This adaptation of Anthony Trollope's great story was made 27 years ago and this is late in the day to add a comment about it, but I had never seen this particular production and I am delighted with it and feel compelled to comment.

I have tried over and over again to plow through the Barchester novels, but I usually fail after about Book 4. Not because they are boring but they are deep and not easy to visualize in a 20th century, pre-occupied American mind. I lack the advantage of a great classical education which starts readers out young with the great writers. But the advantage to this is that in middle age I am discovering wonderful "new" things, like Trollope's novels, and I will get through them.

Anyway, this adaptation makes it that much easier to identify with these early 19th century people and their lifestyles. This miniseries is based upon the first two Barsetshire novels, The Warden and Barchester Towers. I believe this series is very accurate in its portrayal of the books. Inevitably bits and minor characters may be missing but this has no effect whatsoever on the impact and the spirit of the endeavor.

The story is basically about the end of God in England.

The radical/reforming/liberal/Puritan/journalists of the day are attacking the tenants of the Church of England, looking for abuse, corruption and scandal to destroy the traditional faith of the English people. We see now that they succeeded, but in this story, set in the mid19th century, the traditions are still beloved and upheld, and people like Tom Towers and Obadiah Slope are sent packing. .

The casting is perfect. Donald Pleasence is the embodiment of Septimus Harding. I could see where the BBC might have plumped for Alec Guiness but I think made a brilliant choice in Mr Pleasence who seems to have possessed an intuitive understanding of his character.

Normally I dislike Alan Rickman but he is ideal as the odious Obadiah Slope. It may have been written with him in mind. The other great performance is that of Geraldine McEwen as the monstrous Victorian gorgon, Mrs Proudie, wife and keeper of the new Bishop of Barchester, nicely played by Clive Swift, all cringing and shrinking in the face of his wife's juggernaut personality.

Susan Hampshire is stellar as the Italianized Signora Madeleine Neroni. She and her siblings, Charlotte and the reprobate Bertie bring a breath of fresh Mediterranian air, and scandal, to dull old Barchester. Hampshire's one-legged damsel holds court in her salon and becomes the Deus ex machina of the community.

Nigel Hawthorne and Angela Pleasence, (Donald Pleasence's real daughter) are the Arch Deacon and his wife, Susan who is also Mr Harding's eldest daughter.

The production values are of the highest level and the 1980s filming and sound are excellent. It is far advanced from the more primitively filmed dramas like Upstairs/Downstairs. The script is masterly.

The only minor gripe is the annoying boy choir singing the annoying 'theme' music. It's pitched too high and the poor boy sopranos sound like they're choking. It might have been a better idea to use a classic old Church of England hymn rather than have a new piece composed for the show.

This is a moving, joyous filming of one of the towering masterpieces of 19th century English literature and cannot be more highly recommended for fans of the BBC dramas.
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Squalid and depressing
8 July 2010
Warning: Spoilers
It is insanely perverse of New Line Home entertainment to tout this downbeat film as a 'warm-hearted comedy'.

I didn't know what to expect from Mike Newell. He's made films of all genres and has recently made the Hollywood set with The Prince of Persia, though it was a bit of a flop, but still...

I liked his Enchanted April a great deal and Four Weddings and a Funeral had its charms and was very mainstream. So I had hopes of liking An Awfully Big Adventure as well. I was also curious to see the only film adaptation of a Beryl Bainbridge novel. I wasn't prepared for An Awfully Big Adventure being so strange and just plain weird.

This film boasts a splendid cast of actors, many of them long past their primes but then so are most of the characters in the movie.

The technical credits, music, cinematography and script are fine, the acting, as stated, is superb, but this is one of the most depressing films I've ever seen. The story is neurotic, childish and yet strangely touching, chock-full of Catholic suffering and self-flagellation.

The characters are drawn beautifully and the overall point of the story is well-taken, the devastation of war on human psyches and all that, but the ultimate point of the story, incest, is a shocking and seemingly irrelevant side swipe that threw this viewer's mind off center.

I waited for something deep to be revealed but the film simply stops with the sudden incest angle.

It's your basic sordid tale of a troupe of has-beens on their last legs in a Liverpool theatre. The young girl, Stella, is extremely odd and doesn't seem to possess a shred of innocence that I think we were supposed to think she possessed. She's naïve to be sure and inexperienced but innocent, no. And fantasy life borders on the psychotic. I have no doubt she ended up either a nun or a whore.

Georgina Cates gives a pretty great performance though she's very difficult to understand more often than not and I have been watching British/Irish/Scotch films for years. She trips over many of her lines in a self-conscious way, part of her character perhaps.

Alan Rickman is not quite as mush-mouthed as he usually is but I still don't understand the wild passion of his deathless legions of fans. I find him very boring most of the time, but he can pull out some moments of high drama when called upon to do so.

Hugh Grant actually does the most convincing job of acting. His old pansy stage director with his nicotine-yellowed fingers made me squirm; a simply awful person.

There are two splendid performances by Nicola Pagett and Carol Drinkwater as the two fading beauties in the troupe of actors; the former a love-sick tragedienne and the latter a hopeless, sex-starved drunk. And Peter Firth returns to the big screen in a quietly humorous and yet pathetic stage manager, Bunny. In his subtle way Firth steals the show whenever he's on screen.

No, this is not a warm-hearted comedy. It is a nasty tale with a heart of latex.

Having said all that it's worth seeing as an oddity. I could not give it less than 5 stars because the over-all quality of the production and performances is so very high. It's just Beryl Bainbridge's dark, sad story that leaves a pall. Maybe, in time, I will come to view this as some kind of minor masterpiece, but I doubt it.

A very odd viewing experience. No wonder it flopped in America. This kind of socialist, down-trodden banging-on doesn't even get off the ground in a free society.
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Classic, top-drawer kitsch and even more
18 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte is one of those movies that I used to see from time to time on the late, late after midnight warp your brain early a.m. movie, back when broadcast networks were still real and showed movies chopped up into several dozen cheesy commercials. Those old blear-eyed viewings had a charm of their own that suited classic 50s and 60s trash showing the wrinkled and gelled talents of fading stars paying for their retirement.

This Bette Davis tour-de-force is one of the very best of them, a masterpiece of its genre.

I hadn't seen this movie in a very long time but found it suddenly On My Mind, so I bought a DVD of it and relived the past and probably watched it more closely than ever before because it wasn't 3 a.m. and I was sober. I'm happy to report that Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte is even better than I remembered.

Bette Davis's Charlotte is splendid, perhaps her best filmed performance ever, right up there with Margo, Jezebel and Baby Jane.

The plot is excellently played out and directed. The actors are a dream. Bette, of course, at her most subtly insane, culminating in a riveting scene on the stair case when she very effectively becomes a gibbering chimpanzee having a nervous breakdown. And her opening confrontation with Olivia de Havilland's vile Cousin Miriam, at the dinner table, must be watched carefully to catch a slew of unique Davis faces.

Agnes Moorhead is poor old Velma, the loyal old retainer who sees to Miss Charlotte. She gets most of the best lines and she delivers them in a dry drawl that is hilarious, on top of which the script is often extremely funny, but not unintentionally so, well, not always.

There are known faces in the background as well. Bruce Dern, a very young and sexy Bruce Dern plays Johnnie, Charlotte's dead lover, the guy with no right hand and no head, the cause of all the trouble. You'll also spot Gramma Walton (Ellen Corby) gossiping at the end of it all. And George Kennedy playing one of his earliest assumptions of the Stupid Lug of a Nice Guy. And there is a nice feature performance at the beginning from the ever oily Victor Buono who plays Charlotte's papa.

Finally there is the great Mary Astor in one of her last outings on the big screen. She plays Jewell Mayhew, the dead Johnnie's wife (45 years later; the film starts in a flashback to the roaring 20s). Beyond that flashback this is a very basic and logical murder mystery Hitchcock might have been proud to have made, but with Bernard Hermann's musical score instead of Music by DeVol which is what we have here.

As it is, the music is hilarious but well-crafted, potted horror stuff with lots of weird harpsichord tinklings. The sound effects add their moments of merriment as well. For instance, near the end, after Bette has gibbered off to bed and Olivia and Joseph are celebrating on the veranda, there is a particularly Looney Tunes cork popping sound that explodes off the screen and caused me to hit pause so I could laugh. And there's a particularly noisome blue jay in one scene that almost drowns out the dialogue, ditto an exceedingly violent thunder storm.

But that's what great kitsch is all about.

The gore is laughable; hands and heads chopped off and NO BLOOD, but that was the way it was in the early 60s... NO BLOOD (no sex, nothing deeply unpleasant, the ground-breaking Night of the Living Dead wasn't made until 4 years after this).

But the ice was forever after broken in regards to Bad Language as Bette spits out the word 'bitch' like no one else could and it may have been the first time that word was ever heard on the silver screen with the possible exception of White Fang or The Lady and the Tramp.

Joseph Cotten is suitably baggy faced and pasty complected as the aging old beau. He plays his drunken role very believably. Olivia de Havilland would seem like an unlikely villain but she is excellent, becoming like something out of the Snake Pit once again as the plot reaches its climax. Things go a bit over the top near the end but Bette makes you Believe.

All Bette Davis fans will have this movie already, as will many fans of classic kitsch, but for those of you on the fence, who just like Bette Davis and only know her from All About Eve and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, you may become more appreciative of that great actress's talents after seeing her poor Miss Charlotte.
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Required viewing for fans of Ludwig II and Richard Wagner
9 April 2010
Hans Jürgen Syberberg is best known for his film of Wagner's opera 'Parsifal', a film that I did not like at all. I call myself a Wagnerian and found his cinematic attempt to film that great masterpiece pretty much of a flop. I avoided Syberberg for years and years after that until Facets released his early films 'Our Hitler' and this one entitled 'Ludwig: Requiem for a Virgin King' fairly recently.

I loved this film of Luwig. It helped a great deal that I am very familiar with his life's story and the history of Germany in the 19th century. It was also extremely helpful that I am very familiar with the operas of Richard Wagner. The surreal and often absurd tone of the film falls into place in my head because I've read a lot about these things. The cumulative effect is extremely moving though a tad mawkish at the very end, in the old German manner.

For film buffs who have no experience or pre-knowledge of the people and historical events depicted here this film will be a great challenge. The best approach is simply to let the images and, especially, the text wash over you and sink in over time. It might even inspire people to read more about Ludwig and listen to Wagner's operas. I hope so.

For the casual film goer Syberberg's masterpiece is a non-starter. But for the adventurous and mentally active film buff it is highly recommended. It is required viewing for all Wagnerians and Ludwig-ites.
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The Addams Family (1964–1966)
If you need anything just scream.
2 April 2010
It's easy to look back on an idealized childhood but the fact is it was never 'what it used to be' for the most part. One of the things that WAS as good as it used to be was the wonderfully funny and intelligent television series 'The Addams Family'. You may recognize your neighbors, friends and relations in this family.

Charles Addams simply dressed ordinary people up in outlandish clothing and let their natural personalities, long hidden from the public, bloom in all their weird gloriousness. The best comedy is always based on the truth and this show hits the bull's eye over and over again.

The Addams family is a shining beacon of sophistication, good manners, humorous tolerance, hospitality and love.

Cancel the cable and buy these dvds, you'll be much happier.
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The Women (1939)
L'amour! L'amour. Toujours! L'amore.
12 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
George Cukor's queenly classic 'The Women' is famous for a couple of reasons. First, there is not a single male actor in it, they are always just around the corner or on the other end of the telephone, and secondly, it was the first major Hollywood release that SHOULD have been played by a cast of men in drag.

It's bitchy, occasionally saccharine, childish and gleefully satisfying in some of the casting. The star is Norma Shearer. I've always found her to be a bit dull but she suits this nice, too- good-to-be-true character well enough. In the end, though, when she turns bitchy like her pals, she is less convincing. Her performance is largely contrived and fake but that isn't so unusual in movies of the 1930s before Method acting released the inner neurotic and all that nonsense. 'The Women' is a typically adolescent romp so beloved of my parents' generation, the WW2 era. They wanted fantasy to take their minds off Hitler and Hirohito and Stalin, and tinsel town gave it to them in a number of classic flicks of this sort. 1939, the first year of the Second World War, was a bumper year. 'The Women' didn't stand a chance at the Oscars with 'Gone with the Wind', 'The Wizard of Oz', 'Ninotchka', and 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' on the lists. But there are some great comic performances in it. Rosalind Russell is very funny as the catty gossip monger who jumps from her best friend status to Norma Shearer to that of Joan Crawford's sleazy slut, Crystal Allen, after Crystal seduces Norma Shearer's clearly weak-minded husband and marries him.

All these women end up in Reno getting divorce-lites. Marjorie Main runs the 'dude' ranch for divorcees and she's up to her usual camp standards as she describes 'those brick-headed men.. (who) like to get right to the point.' Paulette Goddard has a nice girl fight with Rosalind Russell (who's husband Goddard has seduced), complete with hair pulling and clothing ripping. The ever-boring Joan Fontaine is the young wife who thinks her husband doesn't love her anymore (and no wonder, she's such a simpering nitwit) but suddenly discovers she pregnant, and in an especially nauseating scene calls him from Reno to tell him the news in the most sickening female baby-gushing ever to be seen in any movie. I hated her in this movie, and that's saying something. But that's what 'good' women lived for in those days, babies. The others, like Crystal Allen, live for bubble baths and orgasms.

The real star of this movie comes in about halfway through in the glorious, plump personage of Mary Boland as the Countess de Lave, who is on her fourth husband and about to make off with Buck, the dude ranch hand. Boland gives the middle and end of this movie the kick in the bustle it needs as one tires of the schtick of the other women.

I keep this movie in my collection simply for Mary Boland tossing herself distraught on to the nearest chaise-longue wailing 'La publicité!!' after a scandal in the nightclub back in New York when Buck has teamed himself up with Crystal Allen.

There are also some wonderful character actresses who get most of the good lines.

'The Women' isn't as great as people once thought, but it's still a fun, camp party flick.
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