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When Time Ran Out... (1980)
The title says it all about this film's cast & crew...
Maybe it's simple enough to blame the new decade on this failed attempt to create what should have been a decent disaster film, but we all know that is not the case.
Given the creative production team and combined casts of such disaster greats as "The Poseidon Adventure" and "The Towering Inferno," one would expect "When Time Ran Out" to be an entertaining, successful follow-up, but it is neither. It lacks the adventure of the prior, the suspense of the latter, and the emotional involvement of both. It does, however, follow almost every disaster genre convention, including the inclusion of an animal in peril--a rooster, in this case. One convention it lacks is the inclusion of a "hit" song sung somewhere in the film.
The film impotently attempts to invoke a sense of history and emotional attachment to its haphazard melange of characters that "naturally" come together as the film progresses. Of course most serve as mere disaster fodder while others borrow too heavily from pre-existing roles in both prior Irwin Allen films. Their acting pendulum swings in extremes from melodramatic to stale and one-dimensional. Strangely enough, the age range for the cast seems to make the same swings.
The only interesting and unique yet relatively unexplored and unresolved aspect to the plot and its characters' development is the inclusion of two different romantic triangles. Beyond these, I found it refreshing that the "greedy developer" role was split into two characters, and William Holden's part (Shelby Gilmore, the investor) actually deviated from tradition.
Ironically, the disaster--a volcano--is less menacing and ultimately less fatal than most the of the film's cast. This is actually humorous because they treat their situation as dire when, in actuality, it is absurd. Most of the actions (and reactions) related to the impending disaster are totally unfounded, contrived, and almost self-serving.
Unfortunately, this film does nothing in moderation, which is probably its strongest fault. As mentioned earlier, it spends an inordinate amount of time (poorly) developing useless characters. It also feels the need to linger on pointless scene segments (e.g., the rooster chase, a helicopter crash, etc.), intending to heighten their intrigue when all it really does is bore the audience. I will not say chopping it down considerably could have saved this film, but at least the audience would not have to suffer as long.
I think the thing that angered me the most was the climactic letdown of the volcano's final strike. After being built-up, explained, and conveniently ignored, it took all of about 2 minutes to actually have its "revenge" against those who defied it, and even that did not play like it had been explained. In a word it was quick.
This film probably signaled the end of the traditional disaster as the industry moved into the 80's. My advice: let time run out on this one; do not ruin whatever image you have of these otherwise great stars and production personnel.
The Wiz (1978)
The art of adaptation...
Normally, I feel that it is a travesty to remake an older, classic film (sequels excepted). Profits aside, what is the motive? What is there to add? "The Wiz," however, is one of the few exceptions to my belief. Whereas "The Wizard of Oz" is more of a child's film, the intended audience for "The Wiz" is a few steps above that. Like its predecessor, "The Wiz" is both visually stunning and musically engaging. It compliments the seriousness of its themes and situations--both of which it has in more abundance than its predecessor--with a copious amount of humor. Seldom have I witnessed a more creative work of adaptation than that which is presented by "The Wiz," which is, of course, adapted from L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." A few others that spring to mind are "Logan's Run" and "The War of the Worlds." I mention these not because they were simply a good translation of book to film, but because they maintained the book's overall story (plot, theme, characters, etc.) while retailoring the environment and/or situation. "The Wiz" focuses on the "black situation." It redresses all of the elements from its source material to meet the needs of its revamped, modern, social subject matter. From the Scarecrow, who represents a pitiable, underachieving product of his environment; to the poppies, which represent drug addiction; to the denizens of Oz, who are ready to follow the latest trend just to be "in;" the story presents its audience with a generalized glimpse at the breakdown of "black" culture and society. Though "The Wiz" does not convey the same childlike wonder, magic, and fantasy that both the original film and the novel do, it translates those elements into more of an industrialized, mechanical, inner city playground. Unfortunately, albeit appropriately, the Oz we witness is through an older Dorothy's eyes. Interestingly, due to her advanced age, the circumstances that befall her must be harsher in order to invoke the necessary change of heart. Unlike the setting in "The Wizard of Oz," which exists in our dreams, "somewhere over the rainbow," the setting in "The Wiz" occupies our nightmares. The contrast between Judy Garland's Oz and her native Kansas is many times greater than that between Diana Ross' Oz and her native New York. The incentive to return home is greater for Diana--even though the colorful lure of a fantasy land is not present--since her Oz may be merely a preview of things to come (back home), if she does not start to make a difference. One of the few things for which I did not care was all-too-recognizable, yet modified New York as Oz. Though the entire film's art direction was brilliant, I found New York to be too distracting and too contemporary to be an adequate Oz. Another subject of distaste for me was the "end of slavery" segment after Evillene's liquidation. The song and dance were nice and full of energy, but the symbolism was too literal and seemed out of place with regards to the rest of the film. I could have also enjoyed a bit more denouement and perhaps even an epilogue about Dorothy's reunion with her family. Three interesting notes: 1) The landscape of Oz in "The Wiz" actually does change after Dorothy intervenes to make a difference; this does not happen in "The Wizard of Oz." 2) While Judy's visit to Oz seems to be concussion-induced, Diana actually appears to visit that fabled land, which is closer to the book. 3) "The Wiz" contains all four witches presented in the book; "The Wizard of Oz" only contains three. Though it seems rather dated today, "The Wiz" is still a fun movie to view, and it contains a number of known (Motown) celebrities.
My Dinner with Andre (1981)
Regardless of what one may say about "My Dinner with Andre's" dialogue, message, and overarching content, the fact remains that it should not have been a film.
I will admit to a personal bias when it comes to philosophy--for the most part I find it boring and a waste of time. Similarly, I think this movie is a waste of film stock. It would have played much better in written form, as a radio broadcast, or even as an extended one act play. Unlike children, the film should be heard and not seen. One gains nothing from watching this film. If you do not believe me, turn down the volume and sit through it again.
As an art form, film carries certain responsibilities and devices that make it unique. The director employed virtually none of them, which is not too surprising considering that Andre Gregory asked him to direct it; it was not Malle's conception. Therefore, it is not a French film. Can you imagine actually working on this film as either its director or editor? I can not think any task more boring.
If Andre was adamant that his life philosophy be brought to film, I would have expanded the visual landscape beyond the four different shots currently employed. I would have also populated the environment with more "characters," who could have interrupted the conversation from time to time, as well as provided some visual allegory for Andre's varying views. To make matters even more interesting, I might have even employed (dream-like) flashbacks to help flavor and represent Andre's background and highbrow dialogue.
As an art form, film should strive to represent its creator's beliefs, ideas, and message so that they can be interpreted individually by those who view it. As a commercial medium, varied demographics within a given target audience should be able to associate with, understand, and enjoy a film's content. Aurally, "My Dinner with Andre" satisfies only the art; visually, it satisfies neither.
My suggestion: Skip the film and buy the screenplay.
The War (1994)
The war without & the war within...
It has been said that Vietnam is America's most unpopular war, but in light of both popular opinion and critical oversight, the namesake film may just inch Vietnam out of that role.
The title not only refers to the Vietnam War, which has an appropriate albeit very limited place in the film, but it also refers to the literal war that the children continuously wage with one another and the figurative war that rages within each of them...for identity and purpose.
Personally, I don't feel that "The War" deserves the press it received (or the lack thereof). It is a beautifully crafted film from its intricate, multi-layered story to its moving, realistic performances to its homestyle, nostalgic cinematography.
"The War" combines some of the best elements of "Forrest Gump" and "Fried Green Tomatoes." It captures the nostalgia of its timeframe, the innocence and naivete of youth, the situational humor of the moment, the consequences one's decisions and actions bring, and the tragedy of life. It even contains a couple of "musical" period moments.
Its structure harkens very closely to that of "To Kill a Mockingbird" (my favorite film). Both de-emphasize the star talent (Gregory Peck/Kevin Costner), who still performs remarkably and effectively in a supporting role. Both also utilize a (female) narrator who "bookends" the story in a quasi-flashback style, as well as plays a pivotal (if not the starring) role in the story. Each narrator tells the story of her brother and her father: their growth and what has been learned from and about them.
"Sometimes all it takes is a split second to do something you regret the whole rest of your life." What a great and appropriate theme for a film that few went to see. No wonder so many problems still exist in the world.
Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
To badly go where so many have gone before...
Like practically every odd-numbered "Star Trek" film (and all the 'Generation' films), "Star Trek: Insurrection" suffers from many weak elements.
The same team that brought us three decent TV series based on the "Star Trek" lineage have thus far failed to translate that magic to the big screen. All of them "keep missing the target" of being a film instead of an extended television story. This is especially true with ST9 (Insurrection), which feels the least cinematic, both visually and story-wise.
As part of a greater franchise, this film should have dealt with issues common to at least one of the already established threads, not a totally isolated incident with no bearing on the rest of the series. Also, there are plenty of established alien races who have never been fully developed (e.g., the Romulans) without creating a totally new race whom we will never see again.
This film once again contains a flaw that all the ST films share: the Enterprise is the only ship in the entire fleet that can save the day, and it just happens to be there when needed to do so. It makes one wonder how capable the other ships and their crews are, as well as what they're doing during all of the Enterprise's stories.
Speaking of the ship, the Enterprise is no longer a character in the movies, just as the current TV shows' vessels are not. The Enterprise in the original series and through the first four movies served as an additional character with its own personality and presence. Now, it is merely a means of conveyance that can be battered, bruised, used, and abused at its masters' wills. There's no respect for the name (exemplified by Picard's line in ST8, "There are plenty more letters in the alphabet"), the technology, or the history anymore.
To appropriately craft an installment to a franchise as successful and popular as ST, one must look to the internal history of the series. Which films were the most popular and why?
Like any of the ST films with highly conceptual sci-fi devices as the story's focus (1,5,7,9), this film fails to engage the audience and keep them interested in its characters' actions. In fact about halfway through the film, the pace actually slows and concludes with a very lackluster finale. The strongest ST films have been those that deal with character- and/or situation-specific plots (2,3,4,6,8).
Also, it's important to get away from allowing those skilled in the craft of television production to also create the films, regardless of how talented they are. With the exception of ST7 (Generations), all of the 'Generation' films have felt like extended television episodes: claustrophobic and non-epic.
Regarding the special effects, I am saddened to see the complete abandonment of models, miniatures, and explosives to fully rendered computer graphics. Don't get me wrong. I'm a big proponent of CGI, as a tool, but even I don't think it looks as good or realistic as models do. Unfortunately, both ST and "Star Wars" have made these transitions.
Though Goldsmith's internal score provides an adequate and melodic background, it still fails to become a presence unto itself like Horner's score did in ST2 (The Wrath of Khan) and ST3 (The Search for Spock). Personally, I am tired of hearing the same score for the films' main themes, as well as the Klingon music every time Worf performs some feat.
Speaking of Worf, his inclusion in this film, which was conveniently unexplained, made even less sense (and had even less impact) than his inclusion in the last one. If their only reason for including him is because he used to be part of that crew, then they need to cut the umbilical cord. They don't spend enough time as it is giving the other characters (e.g., Crusher, Troi) unique, personal roles.
Until the "creative" team responsible for the ST franchise starts thinking about the films the same way they do about the series--not as isolated episodes but as a continuing saga--the audience will have to weather weakening plots whose success hinges on grandstanding and forced comedy. Regarding the latter, this films harkens very closely to ST5 (The Final Frontier) in both its out-of-place, almost slapstick humor and "cutie-pie" mentality. I could have done without the singing and dance segments.
Wake up, Rick Berman. It's high time for some outside "blood" because your creative "inbreeding" has already begun to take its toll.
A film that should never have seen the LIGHT of DAY
It was bound to happen; it always does: the (re)birth of a genre by one remarkable film. Unfortunately, "Daylight" is not that film. It falls into the category of "let's think of every conceivable situation that can join the bandwagon and ride the coat tails of a successful film."
"Daylight" is one of those films that makes me wish that Stallone had remained a screenwriter. It also reaffirms why I seldom watch films in which he stars. That being said, I really have no performances of his to compare this one to, but I can say that he was slightly more believable than the dog. The dog, however, had a better delivery, was more likable, and had less screen time. Plus, you expect to see a dog in a disaster film.
I will admit that Stallone was not (entirely) responsible for this film's poor execution, which is the action you'll wish had been performed on the film prior to its release. He is just about the only main 'name' in the film, so he is an easy target. "Daylight" is a clear case of bad direction and equally bad writing.
Compare the direction between the live action and special effects sequences. I'm not one who goes for films that are simple excuses for special effects, which this one is not, but in "Daylight's" case, I could learn to deal with it. These sequences involved me more than any of the trite, convenient, and almost pathetic narrative/dramatic moments. Plus, they (the special effects sequences) were more believable.
I don't want to give away specifics, but all the deaths in this film are ill-timed, ill-placed, and very ill-conceived. They serve no purpose--not that death ever really does--and they're not emotionally stirring (except for the laughter and/or confusion that's destined to follow). So, as Forrest Gump so aptly put it, "that's all I have to say about that."
In a quasi-documentary about the film's creation, director Rob Cohen compares the whole world to his film tunnel (except that the world is bigger), saying that the survival of the human race will have to come from the community. He also claims to have made "Daylight" as a tribute to all rescue personnel, a theme handled much better by "The Towering Inferno." Neither message comes across in the film.
My suggestion: skip "Daylight" and watch "The Poseidon Adventure" instead. You'll get basically the same story (and dialogue) wrapped in a better plot with better actors...but without a dog.
Logan's Run (1976)
A science fiction film that gives the genre a run for its money
Beyond the entrapment of lavish special effects (for which "Logan's Run" won an Oscar anyway), few science fiction films actually present a good story, much less one that makes you think and/or presents new ideas. "Logan's Run" is one of those few.
Before "Stars Wars" enraptured audiences with its stunning special effects and created a precedent for a string of similarly effects-laden knock-offs and genre wanna-be's (mirroring what "The War of the Worlds" had done for audiences in the 50's), true science fiction films such as "Logan's Run" were giving us stories simply complimented by special effects, not about them. I say "true" because "Star Wars" is of the fantasy genre; it is not a science fiction story, though it does share some common elements.
"Logan's Run" presents us with a vivid, somewhat horrifying vision of a possible future. It doesn't take place "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." It happens on earth in a believable time frame. It doesn't ask us to greatly suspend disbelief by accepting alien races and magic powers. Instead, it presents us with a chilling fast forward of our own technology, attitudes, and policies. Concerning the latter, the film includes an almost creepy euthanasia undertone to it.
Though, in all honesty, I care more about and become more closely associated with the characters in "Star Wars," the disassociation I feel for LR's characters somewhat aids the lack of individuality that the story tries to convey. The actors, however, give great performances.
Beautiful cinematography and settings greatly compliment the film's mood and timeframe, from the sterile domed city to the decimated Washington D.C., which still provides one of (if not) the best visuals of a post-apocalyptic world that I've ever seen. It's right there with "The Planet of the Apes'" Statue of Liberty.
Another thing that SW does well is disassociate itself from the decade in which it was created. You have to overlook this aspect in LR because like so many films of the 70's, it carries its decade's time stamp.
Though minor, another thing I, in particular, enjoy about LR are the weapons. Unlike every other weapon in and out of science fiction history, LR's "blasters" do not actually shoot anything. There is simply an explosion at their designated target. It may be campy (or corny), but it's definitely different and a fine example of real, working props.
Another interesting note: the film varies greatly from the original novel, but most people agree that the film is much better. I tend to agree with them.
For me, in terms of science fiction, "Logan's Run" takes its place among such decade-defining films as "The War of the Worlds" (50's) and "The Planet of the Apes" (60's) and among such thought-provoking science fiction as "Soylent Green" and "Gattaca."
Ask yourself this: what or where is "sanctuary?" Isn't that what we're all looking for? Answer both, and you'll have the film's theme.
Hawk the Slayer (1980)
The Abyssmal Abbess: Is she really worth saving?
Where else are you going to find a medieval fantasy with musical interludes that sound as if disco had been invented in the middle ages? (It's very reminiscent of "Jeff Waynes' Musical Version of The War of the Worlds").
Like many B(ad)-films, "Hawk the Slayer" contains several elements that warrant a cult classic, in my humble opinion. To my knowledge, however, it has never achieved said status, and many people don't even know it exists, which is one 'cult criteria' in itself.
In its favor, HTS has a very straightforward story/plot (rescue the Abbess) that it unfolds in an unflinching, smooth manor. It's protagonist (Hawk), antagonist (Voltan), and their conflict are clearly defined. Its themes/subplots (triumph of good over evil; companionship over adversity) are classic, valid, and successfully executed.
Even the lack of a hefty budget (it was a TV movie) aids the film's style (setting, costumes, etc.) in that it helps the audience suspend belief regarding the time period, the location, and the fictional qualities utilized. Unfortunately, the music, the performances, and some of the props dispel that illusion.
One major annoyance for me was the lack of backstory. Granted, everything strictly related to the film's plot is presented (mostly in flashback), but many references to events that happened off-screen in the past (before or after the flashbacks?) are never dealt with. It feels very much like you're watching part two of a triology that has no part one or three.
Though the story has its quirky moments (most of which appear to be budget-based), I credit HTS with a number of inventive ideas and interesting action scenarios (not counting the slow motion, poorly choreographed final sword fight). Plus, it's one of the few (if not the only) fantasy films that actually utilizes a team comprised of various medieval classes of heroes.
If for no other reason, see this film for the clip-loading, rapid fire crossbow and the super fast, super accurate elf. I guarantee, however, that you'll be asking yourself, "Why didn't anyone challenge Voltan to a sword fight earlier?"
A film guaranteed to give you the 'heebee-BeeGees'
"When I'm Sixty-four," I think I'll still get a kick out of this movie "Because" it's a simple, innocent excuse to have fun...with music, no less.
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" is the last of the Beatles' films (unless you count "The Rutles"), yet ironically, they do not appear in it. I'm not current (or passive, for that matter) on my Beatles history, but I believe their renowned group strife and in-fighting didn't allow them to "Come Together" to make this final installment themselves. That, however, may have worked for (or greatly hindered) the film.
In many ways the film was about the 'passing of the torch' from the old to the (then) new, or in some people's opinions, from the passe to the blaisse. It also dealt with corruption--both the inner and outer varieties. Beyond normal film conventions, it accomplished both due to its self-reflective parody of Los Angeles, corporations (specifically record companies), the influence of rock and roll, and the previous Beatle films.
Though they should have been "Fixing a Hole" in the plot, I always found it very amusing the lackluster, haphazzard way in which the myriad of non-relational songs were strung together to form a "cohesive" story. If you watch it just from this viewpoint, you'll enjoy it much more.
Another plus (or two) in the film's favor is the number of (still) recognizable (1970's) names/stars that appear (not even counting the "album cover" finish). Also, an interesting gimmick for any film: no one actually speaks except Mr. Kite, the narrator (George Burns). The only time you hear others is when they're singing.
"I Want You" to understand that I'm not the biggest fan of the Beatles (themselves) or their films, but their music keeps "Getting Better" everytime I listen to it, even in this movie when they're not the ones performing it. Interestingly, I saw this movie before I ever heard the Beatles perform these songs, and I still associate them (the songs) with their respective singers, especially Aerosmith's "Come Together."
To "Get Back" to the film itself, the opening (through the first song) is my favorite part, though the whole movie is relatively enjoyable. For the greatest viewing enjoyment, however, watch it with the biggest Beatles fan you know, followed by "The Rutles."
Dante's Peak (1997)
Why we all lav-a good volcano flic (or Toast of the town)
There's no surprise when Hollywood releases a string of genre-similar films that vie for audiences' collective attention and dollar, but it is uncommon for two films in the same year to not only share the same genre but also the same exact threat/conflict.
This is the case of 1997's "Volcano" and "Dantes' Peak." Tragically (no pun intended), due to DP's earlier release, it failed to garnish either critical attention or popular attendance. Like so many non-summer blockbusters, however, it also proved to be the better film.
The first thing you think when attending a film about a volcano: lava. Given this, it was figuratively a breath of fresh air to watch DP throw an entire aresenal of obstacles, one of which was lava, in the path of the protagonists and other characters in order to prevent the accomplishment of their goal: to flee the town. Unlike "Volacno," they were not trying to stop a disater over which they have no control, nor were they trying to save their town. And believe me, the fictional town of Dante's Peak is much more worthy of salvation than the actual city of L.A.
DP provided its audiences with better performances, characters with whom you could actually associate, deaths that moved you, better special effects and musical score, and a much more believable, on-topic plot. Concerning the latter, "Volcano" tried to interweave a self-reflective commentary on L.A. itself, which confused the purpose and altered not only the course of the lava (symbolic?), but also the course of the plot and the theme.
If you want to watch a film about L.A. (really, how many of us can relate?), then "Volcano" is the film for you, but if you are looking for a good disaster film, then my money is on "Dante's Peak."
And the winner is...
Often, when two films on the same subject vie for critical acclaim and/or box office success, one is invariably an attempt to steal the other's thunder, and its production values display this. "Godspell" does not follow these criteria, even though it lost out to the overshadowing "Jesus Christ Superstar."
Both films are based on prior, successful theatrical works, and both films were released in 1973. Though "Godspell" does not have the name nor the song recognition that JCS does, its cinematography is as visually stunning, but not in the epic sense. Whereas JCS' setting is in Israel, which helps establish its validity and message and contrasts its other symbolic props and costumes, "Godspell's" setting is NYC, which provides a colorful, albeit somewhat distracting, backdrop to the film's highly symbolic and flamboyant style.
"Godspell" is, in essence, an extended vaudeville performance that summarizes the life and death of Christ according to the Book of Matthew. Unlike JCS' passion play performances, which are very moving and emotional, the characters and performances in "Godspell" are very colorful, humorous, and humanizing. Unlike the consistent operatic format of JCS, "Godspell's" music offers more variety (but fewer songs), as well as more choregraphed "dance" numbers.
Overall, "Godspell" does not try to "one up" or even compete with JCS. It unfolds its moral-laden, accurate story with the same amount of zest but in a different style.