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Return to Me (2000)
How stupid do they think we are? (spoilers ahead)
For this, Bonnie Hunt secures a multi-picture deal? I weep for the future of American film.
The number of scenes (and lines of dialogue) that rise above cliche can be counted on one hand, someone on the production staff must have consulted his grade-school, zoo-obsessed son for the gorilla angle, and Bonnie Hunt (usually so sharp as an actress) for some reason decided to pummel her audiences over the head with relentlessly gooey music.
Does she think we'd miss her point, that this is a fuzzy-wuzzy, cutsey-pootsey romantic comedy? How could we, when in the very first scene she rolls out that most annoying of movie cliches, the saint-on-Earth-and-therefore-about-to-leave-it wife? Show us a happy marriage, fine, but don't make it so idealized that it loses all reality.
I could just imagine these two in the mornings:
"Well hello there, my sweetie, cutie, honey, angel-baby little love. Would you like some sugar in your coffee-woffee?"
The Pirate (1948)
What a pair of comedians!
Judy Garland may never have been so funny again (or had such a wonderfully over-the-top script to work with) as in "The Pirate." Her best scene by far comes toward the end, when she discovers that Gene Kelly is not the dashing pirate he's pretending to be. At first, she makes a great show of passion toward her "dream lover," but her temper soon snaps and Kelly is dodging everything from vases to chairs.
Kelly is also marvelous, both in his dancing and his comic delivery, which meshes perfectly with Garland's. My personal favorite: "Oh senorita, don't marry that pumpkin."
Not to be missed!
Red Dust (1932)
Fatally marred by racist elements
"Red Dust" may well define the term "museum piece." Although stars Clark Gable and Jean Harlow are in top form, the film is marred by its starkly racist depiction of the Asian characters, particularly the Chinese houseboy.
Other elements of the film are strong, including the bold, sexy performance from Gable. Harlow's comic gifts are on fine display, especially in the scene where she confronts Mary Astor about the fact that Gable came out of her room with rouge on his mouth. "I suppose he asked to borrow your lipstick," she snaps, making the line both cutting and hilarious.
Fans who know Astor only from her later works in "The Maltese Falcon" and "Meet Me in St. Louis" will be interested to see her here in a very young role. She was only 24 or 25 and although she tends to overact at times, her performance is strong overall.
"Red Dust" is also interesting because it was made just two years before the Production Code came into effect, banning all sorts of suggestive dialogue and situations. Filmmakers were still relatively free at this point, and "Red Dust" offers the perfect balance of sexuality and restraint.
When Gable nobly decides to send Astor back to her husband, he sardonically remarks that he's taken up wings and a halo. Harlow takes the news with delight, and heading up to her room, archly tells him, "You can check the wings and halo at the desk." "I'll be right up," he replies. You have to look long and hard to find films with that kind of snap today.
Unfortunately, all these strengths can't save the film from its fundamental racism. Set on a rubber plantation in Indochina, the story portrays all the Asian characters as stupid and/or lazy. Gable tosses water on a group of resting natives at one point (they apparently shouldn't mind working under the blazing mid-day sun) and later berates them for not wanting to work in an area where a man-eating tiger has been spotted. (Gee, those stupid natives.)
Worst of all is the Chinese houseboy, a perfect example of the Hollyood caricatures of the 30s. Every line he speaks is delivered with hysterical giggling and the prominent display of enormous buck teeth. It's a true shame that so many of his scenes are with Harlow and help illustrate her jealousy towards Astor's character. Otherwise, modern video makers and cable TV execs could just edit him out.
Babe: Pig in the City (1998)
I, too, have been shocked by the many critics who condemned "Babe: Pig in the City" as mean-spirited and "too dark" for children. One review even suggested that the round-up of the animals and Flealick's near-death were played for laughs! Nothing could be further from the truth.
Many of these naysayers should go back to the early days of Disney and take a look at such works as "Bambi", "Sleeping Beauty", and "Snow White"; all beloved by millions of children for decades, all undisputed classics. And what kind of scenes do these classics contain? Trees that come to life and grab at your clothes in dark forests. Evil queens who poison apples and threaten to bury beautiful girls alive. Witches who turn into dragons and scream, "now do you deal with me and all the power of hell!" And scariest of all perhaps, human hunters who slaughter mother deer and leave their baby sons to cry, "Mother? Mother?"
The world is a scary place. Disney knew that and children know that. Look at the violent games they play, which are for them a way to feel in control of an unpredictable environment. Any child can identify with Babe's fight to survive in an unknown place, and any child would cheer his ultimate victory. "Babe 2" repeats the excellent message of the first film: that hard work and "a kind and steady heart" will triumph in the end.
"Babe 2" also teaches children the importance of caring for their fellow creatures. This movie is a searing indictment of man's cruelty to animals, of the way we often discard them like worn-out toys. None of the animals' suffering is treated as a joke. My eyes fill with tears every time I hear the mournful Irish music and watch Flealick desperately trying to save his friends. His decision to come back from the brink of death is one of the most touching moments in the history of film.
101 Dalmatians (1996)
Needed more dialogue
Having fully expected not to like "101 Dalmations" at all, I was actually surprised by the first half hour or so. The human leads, Roger and Anita, have fine chemistry, and their dunking in the park, followed by a romantic proposal, was quite touching.
Glenn Glose is also excellent as Cruella de Vil, making the performance just as campy and outrageous as it should be. Her office is an art-deco delight.
Unfortunately, the film starts to break down when it moves on to the puppy-napping and chase. Instead of using "Babe"-like techniques to give the dogs the vocal ability they had in Disney's original cartoon, the movie sends silent (sometimes barking) canines running through fields, houses and barns. Occasionally they slide down ramps or drop people in vats of molasses. With many of the gags recycled from "Home Alone", this is neither original nor exciting.
The original film was interesting because of its dialogue and plot developments, not the animation (if you look carefully, you can see that many shots have been recycled). When will big Hollywood filmmakers get it through their heads that special effects do not a movie make?
My Best Friend's Wedding (1997)
It was refreshing to see, at the very bottom of this list of comments, someone else who was distressed by the sexist subtext of "My Best Friend's Wedding." Professional critics seemed not to notice, or not to care, that the "best woman" in this film is one who gives up absolutely everything to be with her man, including a college education.
Even if Dermot Mulroney was the most handsome, fascinating man on the planet--which he's not, unfortunately; his casting is the other crucial mistake in this film--I wouldn't like the idea of Cameron Diaz quitting school to marry him. Especially when Julia Roberts' character is presented as a selfish fool who lost the "perfect man" because she didn't want to be tied down.
A much better approach would have been for Mulroney to also realize that he needs to make some compromises, too, that although he has a right to expect a woman to give up *some* things for love, he shouldn't expect her to sacrifice everything. Couldn't Mulroney have settled in Chicago for two years or so until Diaz finished her degree? Then they could travel to their heart's content.
But I suppose it doesn't matter, in this story, if Mulroney gets hit by a bus and leaves a young wife with no secondary education. She wouldn't have to take some horrendously low-paying job, she could just go back to Daddy's money. Hogan seems to prefer the idea that women should be cute and dependent, surprising after the strong heroine of his "Muriel's Wedding."
That aside, "My Best Friend's Wedding" is a fairly well-executed movie, with the exception of Mulroney's character. Poorly dressed and wandering through many scenes with a slack expression and his mouth hanging dully open, you wonder if he and the director were *trying* to make the character look stupid. There is no way on Earth that two beautiful women, one rich, the other highly successful, would fight tooth and nail for him. Cameron Diaz shines all the brighter for being next to Mulroney; in fact, her performance is the only one that doesn't pale next to Rupert Everett's.
Everett is, of course, marvelous. His scenes have so much more panache and energy than the rest, and the dialogue is so much better, that I wonder if he didn't ad-lib a good many of his lines. Julia Roberts also does well, but she appears a bit low-class next to Everett. Especially when she rips loose with that braying, donkey-laugh of hers--I know it's one of her trademarks, but it's like fingernails on a blackboard to me.
The Newton Boys (1998)
"The Newton Boys," an obvious "Bonnie & Clyde"-wannabe, ignores the most fundamental reason for the latter film's resonance and success--*it did not glorify the heroes.* We can't even call Bonnie and Clyde "heroes," really, protagonists would be a better word.
"Bonnie & Clyde" makes it perfectly clear that its two lead characters are overgrown children, getting in further and further over their heads. We feel sorry for them when they die, but we also acknowledge, with a sad sigh, that this was the only possible end for them.
Director Richard Linklater of "The Newton Boys," however, was clearly enamored of his subject and approaches these criminals as personifications of the misunderstood man and carefree American spirit. The period details are well-done and all the actors have charm to spare, but the fact remains--*these are criminals and they are stealing other people's money.*
This deals a fatal blow to our identification with the so-called heroes and our enjoyment of the film. Am I really supposed to sympathize with Dwight Yoakam's character as he throws a temper tantrum over a round safe (apparently harder to detonate than square)? Oh, the poor little bank robber's having a hard day at the office.
The film also has problems in terms of writing and performance. It's hard to believe that Julianna Margulies's character would be head over heels for the top Newton bro; someone that stunning would surely be able to find numerous, law-abiding boyfriends. The film needed less bank robbing scenes and maybe a few showing how she was ostracized by society and/or poor and Mr. Newton gave her a new lease on life...something like that. Perhaps Julianna was bored with this thin role, for there is little life in her performance.
Only one or two of the brothers, especially Skeet Ulrich as the youngest, stand out in any particular way. The music is hokey and the whole thing goes on far too long. If you see it, though, do stay till the very end to catch interviews with the real Newton brothers toward the end of their lives.
Easter Parade (1948)
Doesn't quite add up
Any film starring Judy Garland, Fred Astaire and Ann Miller already has more going for it than most, but "Easter Parade" never manages to combine its many excellent parts into a particularly memorable whole.
Astaire was not supposed to make this film at all; Garland's expected co-star was Gene Kelly. The two had just scored a big hit with "The Pirate," a wonderfully over-the-top comedy featuring one of Garland's most hysterical performances, and the studio was hoping to create the same magic again. Unfortunately, Kelly was injured during rehearsals and Astaire came out of retirement to fill in.
Astaire would always be Astaire, but he was almost twice Garland's age (she was 26, I believe, and he in his early 50s). The difference shows--frankly, it's a little hard to believe that Garland's character would fall in love with this man, especially with the handsome, elegant Peter Lawford nearby. When Astaire dances, his age fades away, but many of his scenes with Garland are necessarily non-dancing, and Garland was a far superior actress and comedian. Observe them in "A Couple of Swells" near the end; she draws nearly all the attention. At times, you have to remind yourself that Astaire is also on the stage.
Nevertheless, the film is worth seeing, especially for such highlights as Ann Miller's dazzling solo, "Shaking the Blues Away." Other must-see elements: Garland's imitation of a blowfish on a busy street and the marvelously overblown production number, "The Girl I Love (is on a Magazine Cover)." Find me the restaurant large enough for a production like that!
Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
A few flaws, but strong overall
Tom Hanks is his usual steady, likable self in "Sleepless in Seattle," a steady, likable movie that also benefits from one of Meg Ryan's more restrained (i.e. less obviously, annoyingly cute) performances.
It's their talent that helped me overlook some of the film's more noticeable flaws, particularly its treatment of the eventually-to-be-rejected Other Man and Other Woman. Both Hanks' and Ryan's "unsuitable" partners appear to be perfectly nice people, yet the movie casually dismisses them over one little flaw apiece--the woman laughs like a hyena and the man has terrible allergies. Both characters behave very well, considering the way they're treated by others. Hanks' girlfriend in particular desires a medal for putting up with his brat of a son, who is rude to her at every opportunity.
I also had difficulty warming to Hanks' son, although he is certainly preferable to the young girl who keeps expressing everything in initials.
On the bright side, there are many engaging supporting characters, including Rob Reiner as a fellow architect. Also of note are the rich homeowner, the dotty babysitter and Rosie O'Donnell as Ryan's editor and friend. Thankfully, few to none of their scenes involve the annoying children.
Many of the jokes are funny, the best coming when Hanks and a friend ridicule the weepy reaction of many women to "chick flicks" by sobbing as they recount the plot of "The Dirty Dozen."
Wyatt Earp (1994)
"Wyatt Earp" was where I started to catch on, and the likes of "Waterworld" and "Message in a Bottle" have confirmed it. Kevin Costner considers himself God's gift to women, yet deep down, he has a frightening streak of sexism that affects all his work.
I lost track of how many times in "Wyatt Earp" Costner or someone else tells a woman to "shut up." Usually, the men are upset because those stupid, non-blood-relation women are complaining about having to move and/or be shot at all the time.
When the women aren't making unreasonable demands like that, they cling to him saying things like "I just want to be close to you." Translation: you don't have to marry me or even treat me well, just allow me to hang around and gaze at you adoringly.
Yet "Wyatt Earp" would still be bad without this sexism. It's too long, melodramatic in the extreme.
Too violent, way too violent
I don't care whether this is a "comic book movie" or not; it's far too violent. At one point, the villain actually throws a little girl across the street into a kiosk. She goes through it and lands on the street in front of a bus, glass flying everywhere (and gets nary a scratch, of course, in true "comic book" style.)
Perhaps the filmmakers thought this was acceptable because the "bad guy" did it and Wesley Snipes saves the girl, but I was horrified. I actually cried out in shock and anger in the theater. I'm surprised Stephen Dorff agreed to do it; he should be ashamed of himself.
Of all the money obviously spent on effects, could they not spare a few more dimes for the script? I'm sick of hearing that I "want too much" from action movies, that I should just sit back and enjoy the ride. No, thanks very much, I want a decent story. I want some character development (a 10-year-old could come up with better than what "Blade" provided). Most of all, I want some decent dialogue ("A cold heart is a dead heart"? "Maybe you should just let it go"? Somebody stayed up all night writing those lines, didn't they?
And for heaven's sake, what's with all the evil Asians? Nearly every single vampire henchman was Asian, and an silent, chop suey type Asian to boot. As an American reporter and movie critic living in Tokyo, I was embarrassed to sit in the theater, surrounded by Japanese journalists. By the time it was finished, I wanted to throw a bag over my head and dash for the door in shame.
Dance with Me (1998)
Lack of direction ruins "Dance with Me"
Halfway through "Dance with Me," leading man Chayanne escorts Vanessa Williams to a Latino club, where they rip through one of the most exciting dance routines in recent movie history. Flying around the room, the two capture perfectly the fire and passion of dance.
Unfortunately, this is the only bright spot in an otherwise ludicrous film. "Dance with Me" tries to be a serious drama *and* a light, frothy comedy, and fails at both attempts.
The entire subplot involving Chayanne and Kris Kristofferson, for example, is a deadly bore. I could not summon up an ounce of interest in Kristofferson's character, the removal, or heaving trimming, of whom would have vastly improved this far-too-long movie. (Is there some new rule in Hollywood that a film must be two hours long, regardless of whether the story requires it?)
And even if his storyline was interesting, the 63-year-old Kristofferson would still be remarkably miscast as a not-yet retired dancer. Most professionals hang up their competition shoes at the age of 40, tops, yet we're expected to believe that this man is still trying to lift students the age of nubile Jane Krakowski?
Chayanne and Williams do manage to generate a bit of romantic heat, but they have so little on-screen time together, the audience is left wondering how they fell in love.
Nor is the comedy anything worth repeating; the funniest bit is when Vanessa Williams' zipper nearly comes down at a dance party, and Chayanne's timely rescue prompts a despairing "why?!" from an elderly student who was hoping to sneak a peek. Talented British veteran Joan Plowright has such pedestrian dialogue as a hot-blooded grandmother that all her valiant efforts go to waste.
Worst of all, this is a dance movie with only one memorable dance sequence. The afore-mentioned Krakowski engages in one of the *worst* dance routines in recent movie history, a pseudo-ballet sequence in which she does nothing besides look longingly into the distance and be lifted over and around Chayanne's head under soft pink lighting. The couple shown dancing before them is so obviously superior that Chayanne and Krakowski's ultimate victory makes you wonder if they bribed the judges.
The final, professional competition in Las Vegas goes on far too long and none of the dances are particularly interesting. In fact, many of the scenes are so crowded, it's hard to find Williams and her various partners.
Those seeking fine onscreen dancing should rent "Strictly Ballroom," "Dirty Dancing," or any of the Astaire/Rogers library. They're all fluff, to be sure, but they're well-directed, well-scripted and well-acted fluff. "Dance with Me" is fluff that doesn't know it's fluff; in short, it's a crashing bore.
Legends of the Fall (1994)
History's most selfish movie hero
"Legends of the Fall" is remarkable in one sense, and one sense only. Its hero, Tristan (Brad Pitt), is quite likely the most selfish hero in the history of film.
We are asked to symphathize with this man as he rips out people's hearts, compromises and then abandons his dead brother's fiance (Julia Ormond), bootlegs liquor during Prohibition--a profession that leads directly to his wife's death--then rips out a few more hearts and lives to a ripe old age.
The older brother, played by Aidan Quinn, is presented as a pencil-pushing loser, simply because he doesn't feel the need to break the law. Handsome, kind, willing to marry Ormond even though she is no longer a virgin (quite liberal for those days), he is still, somehow, inferior to Pitt. Maybe he would have been more worthy if he too had blond hair flapping in the wind.
Yet the treatment of Quinn's character is nothing compared to the film's two worst stereotypes, namely Ormond and the Indian character One Stab (Gordon Tootoosis). It is simply incomprehensible that this vibrant, beautiful woman would spend her life mooning over Pitt or his younger brother (Henry Thomas of "E.T." fame). Thomas looks and acts far too young for her; when he brings her to the Montana ranch at the beginning, you wonder how in God's name he won her affection. Pitt certainly has enough charm to snare a woman, but I think most would be turned off eventually by a man who is so self-centered he has to run off to find himself among the Pygmies.
And for heaven's sake, haven't we gotten past the era where Native Americans in the movies say things like "in the summer of the red grass"? He'd probably have said "last year."
Tristan was "the rock they all broke themselves against," intones One Stab at the end of "Legends of the Fall." That's all very well...for the rock.
La vita è bella (1997)
I was amazed--and appalled
Never have I left a movie theater as disappointed and disgusted as I was with "Life is Beautiful." Benigni's film is only mildly funny at its best and terribly offensive at its worst.
Numerous reviews have compared Benigni to Chaplin, a grave disservice to Chaplin's memory. Benigni's pratfalls can be seen coming a mile away; at one point he even falls over a chair while carrying a loaded tray of food. How original!
Worse, Benigni never, never stops talking. His rapid-fire delivery is funny for about 10 minutes, then it's simply annoying.
After about an hour of this somewhat amusing comedy, Benigni and his family get carted off to a concentration camp and the film becomes an exercise in amazingly bad taste. Gee, that place is remarkably clean and safe for a concentration camp. Benigni doesn't have to worry about being shot when he casually walks out the door at one point, these German soldiers are so stupid that a little boy can evade them just by hiding on the top of a bunk bed and ducking anytime someone comes in.
Benigni complains constantly when forced to do hard labor-- oh, those Nazis were so mean, weren't they, making him carry all those anvils? But look how they took that Jewish guy off to the infirmary and stitched up his arm when he got hurt. I guess all those stories about how troublesome Jews were dragged to one side and shot weren't true.
In short, Benigni presents a camp with almost no horror, or horror extremely white-washed. We never see him deal with the fact that his father was gassed, along with many others he probably knew. He gets on the PA system to send a message to his wife at one point, a blatantly manipulative scene that is clearly meant to get the audience teary. Would anyone do that in real life, risking both his own life and that of his son? Ditto for the playing classical music so his wife can hear it nonsense.
And the end, oh the end--I nearly screamed in anger and frustration--you can practically hear Benigni saying, "now, that wasn't so bad, was it?" as the inmates walk away from the camp. A concentration camp's a breeze if you just grin and never stop talking.
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
Best picture of 1952??
"Greatest Show..." as best picture of 1952? Now there's an interesting choice, especially when you consider that John Wayne's "The Quiet Man" and Gary Cooper's "High Noon" were also nominated.
True, "Greatest Show..." is a fun picture, magnificently camp, but Academy Awards give it a weight it doesn't deserve. The performances are all, pardon the expression, over the top, with Betty Hutton the worst of all.
Little Women (1994)
Falls prey to the Jane Eyre syndrome
Everything about this movie is beautiful, a fact that works both to its advantage and disadvantage. The cinematography is breathtaking, yet never too big for the story. Many of the most memorable shots are quite "small," for want of a better word, particularly the image of Hannah scattering rose petals over Beth's empty bed.
Unfortunately, Winona Ryder as Jo is also very beautiful, a complete departure from the tomboyish, ordinary-looking creature she is described as in the book. Was the screenwriter out of their mind to give her the line, "No wonder Aunt March doesn't like me, I'm ugly?" Sorry, that doesn't work. If someone looked like that, it wouldn't matter how awkward or forward she was. Men would be falling all over her.
It's as if the filmmakers fell prey to the age-old syndrome affecting Jane Eyre, a story that has been filmed numerous times with actresses far too attractive for the part--Even Joan Fontaine played her at one point. I ask you, Joan Fontaine!? Only the latest Jane Eyre dared to break from that pattern.
I must also admit that I did not care for Winona Ryder's acting. She has always struck me as mannered, especially in her period pieces. The only exception so far has been "The Age of Innocence;" in "The Crucible" she was almost painful to watch.
Claire Danes' performance as the angelic Beth is probably the best in the film, believable and endearing, actually somewhat better than Susan Sarandon as Marmie. Sarandon does her damndest (and that's pretty good), but her character is such an utter paragon of maternal virtue and love, that at times she's a bit grating. When little Amy burns Jo's beloved book, Marmie tells Jo, "you have every right to be put out. But don't let the sun go down on your anger. Forgive each other." A spanking for Amy would be more appropriate than that platitude; no wonder the girl is so spoiled.
To end on a positive note, Mary Wickes' Aunt Marsh is a delight. She speaks not a single word at Meg's wedding, yet manages to clearly portray her utter bewilderment over how anyone could willingly marry someone so poor. Her confusion is so complete, so endearing, you just want to give her a hug. "It's okay, Aunt Marsh," you'd reassure her, "Meg's happy."
Okay, hit me over the head one more time
"Stepmom" was not uniformly awful; there were some funny lines and touching moments. Unfortunately, they were, respectively, too scarce and too common.
For example, the whole sequence where Sarandon's daughter, coached by Roberts, tells off the boy who dumped her and then waltzes over to a dazzling adolescent who is pretending to be her new boyfriend. "Didn't I see that boy naked in a Calvin Klein ad?" Sarandon asks Roberts. "No, Ralph Lauren, fully clothed." Very funny, but most of the rest of the dialogue is along the lines of Sarandon: "I have cancer." Harris: "It should have been me."
Many of the scenes are utterly unbelievable. The one before the Calvin/Ralph exchange, for example, is complete fiction. No real boy would sit there so long and let a girl rag on him, especially in a speech that was obviously rehearsed by an adult. It would have been far more realistic if she had just walked by with the gorgeous creature and they laughed as she pointed at the old boyfriend.
Whatever lack there may be of realism and humor, however, there is no shortage of awwwwww scenes. Over and over and over, we have to see Sarandon bonding with her kids. At one point, she wakes her daughter up in the middle of the night (I've got a babysitter for your brother, she says; tell me how she did that at about 1 a.m.) and they head out for a moonlight ride. It has nothing to do with the story, like a half-dozen other scenes, stretching the movie out to a mind-numbing 2 hours, 10 minutes.
Many characters and questions are also inadequately realized. Sarandon apparently left Ed Harris because he was never around, and she appears to have been justified. He vanishes for two-thirds of the movie! There are no half-measures or compromises in this world; at one point, Julia Roberts blasely walks out of a photo shoot, knowing she will be fired, because she has to pick up Sarandon's kids. Is this what she's supposed to have learned? We're not talking about rescuing the kids from a burning building; they can wait a little while or Roberts could hire a babysitter to get them (Sarandon seems to hire a sitter often enough in the film). The film seems to be saying that the only proper, noble role for a woman is a full-time mother who drops absolutely everything to take care of her children, no matter what.
Talk about your one-hit wonders
It's hard to believe that the director of this film, Hugh Hudson, was also responsible for the classic "Chariots of Fire." He also made Al Pacino's dreadful "Revolution" in 1985, at which point his credibility as a director took a not-too-surprising nosedive.
"Greystoke" is every bit as dreadful as "Revolution." Christopher Lambert and Andie MacDowell give utterly bland performances; MacDowell's was so bad (she couldn't shake her Southern accent, for one thing), that all her dialogue had to be dubbed by Glenn Close.
The "finest" scene in all the film, however, the one that truly embodies how dreadful it is, is the so-called love scene between Lambert and MacDowell. Overcome by passion, he goes to her room...where he actually hops around on her bed hooting like a monkey! Perhaps they were trying for biological accuracy, but the ultimate result was merely to send me to the floor, shaking with hysterical laughter. I'm sorry, Mr. Hudson and Mr. Lambert, but hooting and hopping has never turned a woman on. If it turned MacDowell's character on, then she *should* have gone back to the jungle with him at the end.
Too concerned with being pretty
While most of the actors in "Emma" played their parts well, the film spent far too much time and effort presenting "pretty scenes." Shot after shot of the characters, especially Emma, sitting in magnificently arranged venues impossible to achieve in real life. At one point, Emma checks the mail sitting on a little couch with two perfectly pruned miniature trees on each side. Top it off with impossibly delicate, warm lighting and it's annoying and unnecessary. I felt like yelling to the screen, "I get it, she's magnificent, now leave it alone and concentrate on the story!"
I also felt that Paltrow's ravishing good looks were a detriment to the film. It makes it hard to imagine why she would feel threatened by Jane Fairfax, who is supposed to be the statuesque one in the book. Toni Collette and Ewan MacGregor are also miscast; it's especially hard to understand why Emma would be so enamored with the latter.
A light, charming musical adaptation of the Dickens' classic, this movie features strong work from nearly all the cast. Albert Finney gives yet another "my lord, is that really him?" performance, completely transforming himself into the elderly Scrooge with little more than a balding wig and various mannerisms. There seems to be almost no aging makeup other than slight bags under his eyes.
My only quibble is that the film is too long. There is no need for Scrooge's number "I Hate People," for example; it seems very odd to see him singing and his character has already been established with dialogue and the sarcastic "Father Christmas." Leaving out "I Hate People" would have made the finale all the more dramatic, when Scrooge finally opens up and starts to sing.
The sequence in hell is also unnecessary. The sets are cheesy, and Scrooge would have been frightened enough just falling into his grave.
Otherwise, the film is a delight, with sprightly songs that perfectly capture the various moods. Whenever old Fezziwig leads the party in "December the 25th," I have an almost uncontrollable urge to jump up and join the dance. Isabel's solo is sweet and achingly poignant, and "Thank You Very Much" is well-used in both its different contexts.
God bless us, everyone.
The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)
I almost don't know where to start in criticizing this film. Nearly everything about it--I am not exaggerating--is utterly terrible.
DiCaprio, for example, offers one of the finest examples of miscasting I have ever seen. Not for one instant does he come across as a monarch, let alone Louis XIV, one of the most adamant believers in the divine right of kings who ever lived. He has literally *no* royal presence. DiCaprio not only looks far too young (he looks like a boy who would still be at the girls are "icky" stage of life, not seducing everyone at court), he makes no attempt to speak like anything but a young, modern American male--at one point, his Louis actually finishes a sentence with "huh?"
But perhaps I should not assume that DiCaprio slipped that in on his own. Given the bargain-basement level of the rest of the dialogue, I can easily believe that writer-director Randall Wallace penned that "huh" himself. Top-notch actors like Jeremy Irons, Gabriel Byrne and John Malkovich must have been choking on their lines; Malkovich's flat performance does make it seem like he was bored out of his mind. I can only hope that the French members of the cast, including Gerard Depardieu, didn't realize just how bad their dialogue was.
My personal favorite was Byrne's statement to Queen Anne (Anne Parillaud): "I know that to love you is a crime against France, but not to love you is crime against my heart." I literally rolled off my chair laughing. That isn't even historically accurate: at that point, the Queen was a widow and no one would have cared a whit if she was sleeping with everyone in the court.
Such overblown statements and actions are rampant throughout the film. Rioting peasants toss an apple at D'Artagnan; he not only slices it with his sword, he catches it on the blade and deftly takes a bite. The scene is so ludicrously melodramatic, it must be seen to be believed.
My list of possible complaints is endless, but to wrap up with just a few: the cast members' accents are all over the place, the music overwrought and the entire film far too long. I sincerely advise all readers to avoid this movie, unless you're teaching a class on how not to make a film.
Fire Birds (1990)
The following is a conversation I had with my boyfriend after walking out of a showing of "Fire Birds."
Me: That's the worst movie I've ever seen in my life.
Him: Oh come on, it wasn't that bad.
Me: Okay, name one good thing about that movie, and I'll concede the point.
Him: ......................Okay, it was pretty bad.
Yeah, it was. An utterly vapid, worthless piece of moviemaking. Nicolas Cage should find every copy he can and burn them.
A missed opportunity
One of the worst films I have seen in some time, this movie was all the more disappointing because it missed the opportunity to say something very important about man's relationship with animals.
There is almost no value to this film as it stands. It's never explained why Rene Russo's character wants to keep so many animals and turn them into humans, or why her husband, by all appearances completely sane, puts up with it. One meaningless scene follows another, none of them with enough humor or pathos to merit watching.
Jefferson in Paris (1995)
Jefferson the jerk--contains spoilers.
"Jefferson in Paris" is a truly confounding film. It presents Thomas Jefferson (Nick Nolte) in the most unflattering light possible, painting him as a liar, racist and pedophile, yet offers not a shred of condemnation for those sins. This is the way he was, the film seems to say. End of sentence, end of movie, the door's behind you.
After arriving in Paris with his daughter Patsy (Gwenyth Paltrow), Jefferson proceeds to win the heart of Maria Cosway (Greta Scacchi), the wife of a homosexual English painter (the criminally underused Simon Callow). A turn of events sends Maria to England, however, and Jefferson proceeds to forget her with astonishing speed for a man who, mere minutes of screen time before, was asking her to live with him in America.
He's been bewitched, you see, by Sally Hemmings (Thandie Newton), one of his slaves just arrived from America. Just why he's bewitched is hard to tell--although Sally is undeniably beautiful, she acts like a simple-minded child in front of Jefferson. When she isn't telling ghost stories in exaggerated "darky" speech patterns, she's slinking around his bedroom, practically oozing lust for her distinguished massa.
If her behavior is an attempt to excuse Jefferson's, it doesn't work. Jefferson damns himself further when Maria, tired of waiting for his letters, travels from England to see him. I've not changed toward you, he insists, offering weak excuses for not writing. To her credit, Maria sees through his brazen lies immediately. When Sally appears, and she and Jefferson flirt openly (and cruelly, to my mind) in Maria's very presence, the illusion falls apart completely.
No one today believes that Jefferson, Washington and the rest were utter paragons of virtue and morality. Yet, are we supposed to believe that the learned, distinguished Jefferson would be attracted to Sally, a woman whose most intelligent conversation is about how "massa's Frenchie friends don' unnastan' aw corn" and who rubs herself against his front as she passes, right before Maria's eyes?
Even if we let that slide, it's followed by the horrifying revelation that Sally was only 15 when this affair took place (Jefferson was 41). Strangely, this fact comes out only toward the very end, when Sally's brother James is understandbly furious at her blase announcement that she is carrying Jefferson's child.
Jefferson is equally blase when told that Sally is carrying his child, and patronizingly tells her that she'd be far better off under his protection than free and living in France with her brother. But, he promises, I'll free her when I die and our children (including any more that come, Jefferson says, in a chilling declaration of Sally as *his*) when they reach 21. Oh thank you, massa, you feel like telling the screen. Big deal.
The worst scene is still to come, however, involving Jefferson's daughter Patsy. She is already angry at him, first for breaking his vow, made to her mother on her deathbed, not to marry again. (Obviously the woman wasn't just talking about matrimony.) Jefferson has also refused to allow Patsy to become a nun as she wishes, despite earlier moralizing about freedom of religion (that seems to mean freedom to agree with him).
Having promised Sally and her brother their freedom, Jefferson calls in Patsy to witness the bargain and promise to fulfill it should anything happen to him. Sally's brother blurts out the impending birth of the child, and Jefferson asks, "do you swear?" Paltrow's performance in this scene is brilliant, although she has almost nothing to say. Her face nearly contorts in agonizing pain at this revelation, yet she controls her grief and whispers yes.
If anything, and the filmmakers could have had something if they'd emphasized this point more, "Jefferson in Paris" is an indication of the status of woman in the late 18th century, viewed even by men like Jefferson as attractive property, pleasing but without true intellect or souls. We see Jefferson shed a few tears over a letter from Maria, obviously telling him where to get off, but he's soon laughing away at a wild dance from Sally, complete with tossed hair and heaving bosom.
I don't know whether this is an accurate portrait of Jefferson or not. I don't care to watch it, however, just for the sake of watching it. This Jefferson is no hero or even an anti-hero. He's a selfish, lying child-molestor--and one who gets away with it--not the kind of man I want to see a movie about.
The Naked Jungle (1954)
An interesting period piece
"The Naked Jungle" is a period piece in more ways than one. It was made in 1954, a far more confident, arrogant time in American history than the one we know today, and the Noble White Man Civilizing the Savages-type of character played by Charlton Heston illustrates that perfectly. Many of his lines (and the way he delivers them) are unintentionally hilarious when heard by a modern audience. Eleanor Parker looks wonderful (as does the film's cinematography in general) while swooning in Heston's arms, but their love scenes would never play today. '90s actresses would probably start giggling hysterically at Heston's Super Macho Man-wooing.
Good for what it is--a melodramatic adventure/love story--but not a classic in any sense. In a word: dated.