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The worst MIDSOMER so far?
This episode is nearly a total failure. The murderer is obvious the moment we see him; he has otherwise no place in the story whatsoever. His motivations are ridiculous-- unconvincing and almost silly. When the two women closest to the main female character have been murdered, wouldn't the police have at least offered her some protection? But noooo.".. Not only are there no clues planted fairly to allow a sharp- eyed viewer at least the possibility of deducing whodunit, but NOBODY solves the mystery. The killer is caught because of an improbably civic-minded peeping Tom. Barnaby and Jones might as well have stayed home. These problems are not the fault of the cast, but of the writers and the producers.
River of No Return (1954)
Not so much a review as a question
So who sings the song behind the titles? No one is credited on screen. The producer paid Tennessee Ernie Ford to record the song, and he did include it on some of his albums. But to me, the singer seems to be Robert Mitchum himself. I'm very familiar with Ernie Ford--a big favorite of mine, in fact--and the voice simply does not sound like Ford's. But it does sound like Mitchum, who took stabs at singing several times in his life, recorded at least two full albums (one all calypso!) Did he make a side deal with Ernie Ford and the orchestra, and record the song for this movie? The producer still claims it was Ford, but it sure doesn't SOUND like him.
40 Guns to Apache Pass (1966)
Bland, uncaring Western with one great performance
Audie Murphy plays a tough, by-the-book Cavalry officer in Apache territory who's hard on his men. He's sent to pick up 40 automatic rifles and bring them back to the fort, but he runs into difficulties (of course). This is one of those very routine minor movies that Murphy kept turning up in after the end of his Universal contract. The "fort" is a one-rail corral; the soldiers are colorless, minor character actors--with one exception (see below). Distances shrink and enlarge at the whim of the plot (sometimes the action takes place a couple of days from the fort, then it's an hour's ride). The locations are overly familiar--a couple of day's shooting in Red Rock Canyon, a couple of days probably in the Owens Valley, and a couple more in rolling California hills. But--and it's a big one--Bodine, the antagonist, is played by the reliable Kenneth Tobey. As always, he gives it his all--turning this minor role into a distinct, peculiarly likable heavy. He's wry, vindictive, amusing, and--unusually for a Western where most of the good guys are former Confederates (unless the name "Quantrill" is evoked)--he fought for the South, but he's a bad guy.
The Day Lincoln Was Shot (1998)
One of the best Lincoln movies, one of the best Lincolns
I bought this from Warner Archive without remembering that it ever existed. I was somewhat surprised that I hadn't previously thought of Henriksen as a potential Lincoln, but he really does look more like the President than any other actor I've seen in the role, including Royal Dano. The makeup is excellent, but Henriksen's face is already 2/3 of the way there. He's a greatly underrated actor; he approaches all his roles with dedication, focus and intelligent; the same is true here. In the header I said he's one of the best Lincolns; actually, he may be >the< best, rivaled only by Henry Fonda and Raymond Massey. But everything about this understated, well-researched movie is outstanding; I was surprised and pleased by how good it is.
This should be out on DVD
The producers of this show originally wanted Andy Griffith, but instead made the very interesting choice of Jimmy Stewart. )We all know what Griffith did end up doing.) Stewart is one of the greatest movie stars ever; very few on his level ever ended up the star of a TV series, much less two. I'm not asking for the Stewart sitcom; I am asking for HAWKINS. The interplay between him and resolutely colorful Strother Martin was funny, the mysteries were satisfying, Stewart was just fine. Mystery series do well on DVD; Stewart movies do well on DVD. This would seem an obvious choice--but to whom do we complain? Does MGM (and probably therefor Warners) own the video rights, or does CBS?
Half good, half rotten
The first half of this movie is well-researched and well-written, with the most realistic depiction of Doc Holliday ever filmed. And some of the performances, particularly those of Val Kilmer and Powers Boothe, are outstanding. But after the Gunfight at the OK Corral, the movie goes off a dramatic cliff. Earp's vengeance ride lasted only three weeks, and only a few people were killed; in this movie, it implies Wyatt's vengeance stretched on for months. The movie becomes ludicrously overstated with scenes as hammy as in any 1930s's B Western, such as Wyatt staggering through a lighting-laced thunderstorm, his brother's blood on his hands, moaning "Morgan!" Or his silly, uncharacteristic question to Doc late in the film about what makes a man like Johnny Ringo do the bad things he does. A great opportunity for a movie that could have been both historically accurate and entertaining as a film was badly blown, beginning well but destroying itself the longer it goes on.
Good script, wretched direction
It's easy to tell this latter-day batch of Poirot adventures are not being made by the production company that turned out the hour-long episodes and the first group of feature-length TV movies with David Suchet. Not only are Hastings, Japp and Miss Lemon gone (along with the fine actors who played them), but so is Poirot's Arte Moderne apartment building--and any reasonable sense of time and place. These were virtues; they are sorely missed.
"Mystery of the Blue Train" has a pretty good Poirot plot with some colorful supporting players and a few effective performances, but it is so badly directed--no, ATROCIOUSLY directed--as to be a headache-inducing pain to watch. There are no establishing shots of buildings, no wide shots of ballrooms and the like, and there are dozens upon dozens of off-center closeups. Furthermore, many of the closeups are hand-held, an extremely poor choice of technique for a story set in the 1930s. The director also resorts to the very tired effects of an extraordinarily unimaginative mind: virtually every set, including some exteriors, is drenched in thick, almost impenetrable smoke. This is usually "explained" by having one or more of the characters puffing away on cigarettes--so obtrusively (including many crushed out under foot) that you begin to assume that cigarette smoking has something important to do with the plot. Especially early in the film, the director grotesquely overuses shots in or of mirrors--again so frequently that it seems that it must have an important plot explanation. In the last half, set on the Riviera, there are fewer mirror shots, but now she chooses to have blurry objects in the foreground in many, many shots. At other times, we glimpse characters in the middle distance, almost hidden by objects in the near foreground. Finally, most of this stuff--hard to see, hard to follow--is reduced further in simple watchability by being edited like a rock video. I wouldn't blame anyone who, first coming to a Suchet Poirot story with this one, swearing off ever watching another.
But ultimately, Poirot and Agatha Christie win out. Even though the gathering-of-the-suspects scene is again jaggedly edited, full of thick, opaque smoke and hampered by an overuse of extreme closeups, the story wins out over the director--who I hope never, EVER again is invited to direct an Hercule Poirot mystery.
Remarkable movie about a warm-hearted man
For a number of reasons, there are flocks of parrots in several cities around the USA; these are not native birds, but imports from the tropics. Sometimes people complain about their raucous, noisy behavior, but usually onlookers are charmed by the colorful, intelligent birds.
Even San Francisco has a few of these flocks, one centering on Telegraph Hill. Mark Bittner, a jobless but not irresponsible man living for several years on the Hill became curious about the parrots--mostly cherry-topped conures--and eventually befriended them, spending much of his time feeding the chipper, clever birds.
This movie is really about the man, not the birds, and shows how and why he became so attached to them. Bittner is an intelligent, thoughtful man, and sometimes engages in persuasive self-examination. He talks about particular birds, describing their distinctive traits, and the director uses footage that depicts these traits, winning and otherwise.
It's an oddly fascinating movie, respectful and warm toward the birds and their caretaker--and gradually turns into something even more extraordinary: a love letter to an unusual man. This is very highly recommended.
The Hollow (2004)
Hollow is the right word
This dreary, dull and badly-acted trifle trashes Washington Irving and his classic story. To begin with, the entire premise is that the original story is a HORROR story. It's nothing of the sort; it's a pleasant, funny "folk tale" that has a brief scary section.
The movie goes wrong so many ways it's a waste of time to list them all. But a short list would include that it's not remotely scary. It bears little resemblance to Washington Irving, though his name (and gravestone) are mentioned a lot. It takes forever to get going, and when it does, too much happens off screen. This is supposed to be New York in the fall, but all the trees are completely green, and most are evergreens, not the deciduous trees common around the real Sleepy Hollow. The lead actors are all very bad except for Stacy Keach and Judge Reinhold; it's interesting now to see Reinhold, who used to play geeky youths, is now playing the father of a geeky youth. But this geeky youth is drop-dead handsome, resembling Tom Welling. (Gee, do you think that was an accident?)
Finally, the headless horseman has a head.
Village of the Damned (1995)
Not merely bad, but terrible
John Carpenter has made more bad movies than he's made good, but this would be a leading candidate for his very worst. Despite excellent photography and use of color on misty California coastal locations, despite a very good performance by Christopher Reeve, this reeks.
The script by David Himmelstein (etc.) repeats some of the main story points of the first film; every change from the original is not just a mistake, but a catastrophe, other than the shift to an American locale. First, we never know the origin of the children; a whispering shadow passes over Reeve at the beginning of the film, but that is, shall we say, less than illuminating regarding the origin of the children.
In the original, the children develop in the womb much faster than normal, and continue this accelerated aging after birth. No mention is made of this in Carpenter's version. In the original, it's clearly and explicitly demonstrated that the children have a shared mind--here we're simply told they do--there's very little evidence for this and some AGAINST this idea, as with David, the "good" kid among the Midwich children. (Speaking of children, although we're shown that the town has lots of regular kids, once the "dayout" children are born, we never see a single normal child again.)
Kirstie Alley is awful, but it's not entirely her fault; her part is all over the place, at first a scheming villain who later becomes semi-sympathetic. Just what she's doing in the story is never made clear. Nor is much of anything else. Thee were lots more women who could become pregnant in the opening scene than who eventually give birth. Bringing in a government representative serves the dopey function of suggesting a conspiracy without actually having to depict it. Killing Reeve's wife early on reduces his connection with the children, but there he is, still in the story.
This is a misbegotten mess.