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The Bletchley Circle (2012)
Atmospheric, detailed and fairly gripping drama. I should add that I've only seen the first season so far. I enjoy the look of the show, the historical settings, and the impressive production values.
The leads also impress with their acting chops and the 1950s milieu is richly evoked for the most part, with only occasional anachronisms.
Meanwhile: Horrible, awful males everywhere--each one worse than the one before--and our four modest superwomen must contend with them! I won't belabour the plot details (ably done by others here) but part of the 'perfect pitch' is the "Grrl-power" theme which is masterfully suited to our times and very much on-target when it comes to the pursuit of ratings. Well done!
One small addendum
May I add to the other excellent reviews here, this one slight observation: What a world it was when Hitchcock, during his droll introduction, could dissuade "...those who suspect they've wandered into a production of Salomé, with me playing the part of John the Baptist," because we see only his head above a steam cabinet. Today's producers would never permit any show to assume this level of cultural literacy among its audience. And more's the pity.
While I'm at it: Nancy Olson and Ralph Meeker are totally winning and perfectly cast. It's an above-average episode but not one of the best. Still very much worth watching.
Intelligent, driving, compelling drama. I won't belabor the plot which is already described here. Don't read too much about it before viewing! (Frankly, the less you know about the plot in advance, the better.) I will say how glad I am that the producers permitted this story to stretch over two episodes. It permits detail, texture, and the buildup of suspense normally characteristic of finer motion pictures. Surprisingly, two hours are barely enough.
Of course, it doesn't hurt to have a legend on the order of Robert Duvall in the lead--and the supporting performances are just as strong. But the real credit in my view goes to Seeleg Lester, Sam Neuman, and Ed Adamson, who devised one heck of a cracking yarn, so deliberate and insistent that you aren't really distracted by some minor plot holes, or anything else frankly. On top of its entertainment value, it's genuinely disturbing.
I have no idea if Lester intended this--consciously or otherwise--as an addiction allegory but it most certainly works as one. Men forced to do things against their will, over and over--lying, cheating, stealing, "but for what purpose?...We aren't even aware of what we're doing." Because they are driven by an unseen demon. Of a sort. (A bit more far-fetched, it also works as a Cold War allegory.)
Ever since seeing "Demon with a Glass Hand" (q.v.) I sorted the series to see which other episodes got such high ratings (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056777/eprate). That naturally led me to this. So I was very much interested to see what OL ep would garner an 8.8 rating. Well, it turns out that the Outer Limits fanboys (and girls) on IMDb know what they're doing. Given that TOL includes some really cheesy, kitschy eps it's gratifying to see one as smart as this.
Two hours? There's barely enough time to catch your breath.
Talk to the Hand
An astonishing episode. I've seen dozens of Outer Limits eps and really had no idea one could be as intriguing, profound, and even tragic as this. I've now watched it a second time and the plot was as gripping as the first, plus a lot of details stand in clearer relief now. It certainly doesn't lack for atmosphere either!
No need to belabor the details of the narrative (others have completed that task) but in my view this ep redeems the entire series. It's made with the quality and care one normally associates with motion pictures, and the storyline and theme stand the test of time quite well, unlike so much sci-fi and fantasy-fi from the era.
A pleasant surprise, highly recommended.
PS: Don't read any spoilers!
Epic Texas Soap Opera Devolves Into...
Pretty to look at, with some pretty stars too. You don't need me to tell you the plot--it's just an epic family-based drama of Texans over the early-mid 1900s. You don't need me to tell you how pretty Liz Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean are--you already know.
What you may need me to tell you is how tedious GIANT becomes as it morphs from an epic family drama into an endless harangue about race relations and 'white privilege' although they didn't call it that in the 1950s. Guess what? Racism and sexism are really bad. In case you aren't sure, GIANT spends three hours repeatedly hammering this point home, over and over. Although, it's concerned with Mexicans only and the blacks in the film remain in properly subservient roles. I guess we pick and choose our lessons. By the end (it finally does end), Liz delivers the final speech, wherein she declares that by beating up some evil racists, Rock has finally become her hero. Wow, that took a while.
Very few long films justify their length. GIANT is one of the many which don't. It's fun for awhile but gets a bit worse with every minute that passes. Time is precious--don't waste it. There--a lesson the film does teach, however perversely.
Autumn Leaves (1956)
Cliff does it with his mom
And if you think that's weird, his mom looks exactly like Michael Jackson did just before he died.
But seriously, this sudsy bit of kitsch stars none other than the high priestess of camp herself, Joan C. She gets to perform her trademark overwrought teary thing almost continuously throughout this flick, and the viewer is invited to pretend along with her that Cliff falls head over heels for this freak. The day after they meet he's all "What would I ever do if you left me?" and I'm like "WTF, you just met her dude!" Back in the day, Charles Busch did this act really well in drag. I actually found this film fun to watch though. I laughed along with it but mostly at it. Is that so wrong?
To Rome with Love (2012)
After Woody Allen's surprisingly deft script for 'Midnight in Paris' many had high hopes for 'To Rome With Love' despite its title indicating a retread. Well, a retread would have been more welcome than this meandering, unformed, and undisciplined collection of predictable vignettes.
I won't belabor the mini-plots as a few hundred people have done that already. I'll just point out that a couple of them--starring Roberto Benigni and Fabio Armiliato--are themselves belabored well past the threshold of intolerance. Why? Because each vignette has just one joke behind it and could have been entertaining for five minutes. Not twenty. (At least Armiliato does have a good singing voice.)
Allen, as he never tires of reminding us, adheres to Nietzsche's 'Great Man' theory, wherein mere mortals should hope at most to bask in reflected glory of the Superman, never to question him. And the Superman never follows the rules which apply to lesser mortals. But someone needs to tell Mr Konigsberg that his jokes are inevitably overextended and many fall completely flat. Alas, like most self-styled supermen he appears to have no one around who dares to be honest with him.
Even Woody's visual tribute to 'Roma La Bellissima' falls somewhat flat despite the visual pr0n on display. He consistently selects locales which would have been clichéd and tiresome to an American tourist in 1960. Spanish Steps? Are you serious? I wonder if he knows the city at all.
The film (as so many of his are) is actually a more transparent paean to adultery. In Woody's world, cheating on your lover is a productive, life-affirming, transformative act which improves your life in almost every way. Even your betrayed partner will be delighted at the new you! Woody? This is called self-justification, and you never tire of it. If only the rest of us could say the same.
Who Was That Lady? (1960)
Pernicious, offensive, and worst of all, stupid
All this star power--what a waste. Doubtless in 1960 this seemed a passable comedy, even clever, and it didn't raise an eyebrow that a man's highest goal was to fool his wife into abject devotion so he could have "good home cooking" with "romance on the side" whenever he wanted.
Dean Martin grates on contemporary taste in everything he ever did. Tony Curtis fares better and Janet Leigh suffers through a thankless role here.
By all accounts Norman Krasna was an objectionable little man, out to wreak his revenge on women and on all the world for his own shortcomings. He earned his reputation as someone who could turn out scripts quickly and cheaply for notoriously rapacious producers. His style of 'humor' though simply hasn't aged well.
Spare yourself this particular bit of painful and extremely unfunny misogyny.
God Bless America (2011)
Shooting Fish in a Barrel
This was a film with tremendous, unfulfilled potential. It wants desperately to have a message but muddies it with multiple internal contradictions and ends up traversing well-trod ground, channeling (among others) American Psycho, About Schmidt, American Beauty, Network, and of course Bonnie and Clyde. Only here, the target is people who aren't "nice" enough. Seriously.
What could have been a sharp critique of a decadent, materialistic, celebrity-besotted society instead ends up being 100 minutes of preachy, overwrought, simple-minded liberal agitprop. (And I'm generally liberal.) Shooting fish in a barrel, the targets are right-wingers, anti-semites, mass-media blowhards...the usual suspects. Despite leaving no cliché unturned, the film still offers a couple good and funny moments. Cartoonish at best (and admits this explicitly) but in the end not nearly as subversive as it pretends to be.
As a final insult, much like in American Psycho, we're treated to the repeated and irrelevant apotheosis of third-rate musical talent, in this case Alice Cooper. Please, spare me.
Footlight Parade (1933)
Only one part I could not believe...
Thoroughly fun early musical, whose plot I need not belabor (it having been elaborated here by many others). Only two things I want to mention: how amazing it is that this film is made concerning the transition to talkies and early musical prologues in the cinema--barely three years after the real thing happened.
And then the part I simply could not believe! Cagney's character gets his inspiration for a Busby Berkeley musical number by watching young black children playing in the spray of a fire hydrant. All it needs it to have them replaced with 'beautiful white bodies' he says! And a splendiferous number it is... but oh how times have changed!