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I guess somebody just assumed that a French-speaking film with prostitutes in it would automatically strike the audience as artistic
The mainstream middle-class person decides to investigate some aspect of demi-monde living, in this case prostitution, and finds herself being caught up in its irresistible fascination and reconsidering how she views her own identity. Did the filmmakers really think that there was something here that an audience hadn't seen before? With minor variations it's been done with murder, mental illness, gambling and drug addiction -- a half-dozen such films come to mind easily -- not to mention alternate lifestyles that may not be wrong in themselves but are nonetheless labeled "fringe-dwelling," so what exactly is new here?
Juliette's character says she doesn't drink, but suddenly relents and shortly afterward is drinking everyone else under the table. Someone at the production end apparently just assumed that he/she understood the teatotaler's mindset and had the character flip abruptly on a moral resolve of this magnitude. If, rather, the character is a recovering problem drinker or even alcoholic, should not this little character detail have taken priority in what's really wrong with her life?
Fantasy sequence where main character imagines herself surrounded by all the male customers described by the prostitutes she interviewed is blatant and way too concrete.
One could call the film character-driven perhaps: that these actors in these roles seem to have plausibility in being family and/or forming friendships. If the film were genuinely about something the audience needed to see then these would be the actors we'd like to hire.
Larry Crowne (2011)
Zero conflict -- other than a serious discredit to community college instructors.
Comedy authority Stan Freberg said once, and I agree, that humor needs to be based in reality. Unfortunately the reality that director-screenwriter-star Tom Hanks has constructed for himself here is that convenient target of community college as a collection of uninterested losers who try the instructors' patience to the extreme that he or she, much like leading-lady prof played by Julia Roberts, is angry, cynical -- yet at the same time apathetic -- and something of a tippler. Along comes Tom Hanks as Larry Crowne who, as a newly-unemployed middle-ager among the weeds of youth, somehow (osmosis?) introduces the unique perspective that age, intelligence and life experience can bring to continuing adult education.
As Larry/Hanks struggles with his early attempts in the class, that of conversational speechmaking, we see Julia Roberts' character roll her eyes upward and refine her growing contempt as the younger folk in the class give supposedly insubstantial talks such as shopping and comparing one Star Trek series to another. Well, what should they be doing instead? In the meantime the instructor herself, as far as the audience can see, contributes nothing.
Under the circumstances these kids are making a valiant, sincere effort. Okay, the one guy had crib notes written on the palm of his hand.
By the way -- has anyone else figured this out -- there is nothing unusual about older adults, intelligent or otherwise, who return to school and find the real, practical self-enrichment they seek. This falseness of the film's primary concept is an embarrassing display of how little Hanks, et al, grasp the everyday realities which, to the movie audience, are dirt-common.
I'd forgive any of the wrong turns taken in this film if it were funny. I didn't laugh once.
Subplot that Roberts' character's own marriage is deteriorating (gee I wonder why), other than making her available to LC as a love interest, has, like so many other story elements (the motor scooter "gang," the eternal garage sale next door, waste of George Takei's good character work as poor man's John Houseman in Larry's other class -- wasn't Larry supposed to be taking three classes?) little or no integration with rest of story.
Near end of picture Julia's character says to Larry/Hanks "You're a great student" and he says "You're a great teacher." No she isn't! The first and only time she shows the remotest interest in her job is five minutes before the final exam, when she has the students do a mild aerobic exercise to loosen up.
It is, rather, the very fact that community college instructors don't make much money and don't find intellectual gold at the end of all their hard work that we know that they do care. My impression, and I'm sure many will agree, is that, if a student gives the slightest indication that he or she is trying to learn, a community college instructor will bend over backwards to give that person an education.
Tom Hanks as director is out of touch with human society to a degree unprecedented since Kubrick in Eyes Wide Shut. One can only assume he agreed to this project as part of a deal to let him do something good next.
Turner and Hooch 2?
Will Hooch even return Hanks' phone calls after this?
L'année dernière à Marienbad (1961)
Tend to agree with Medved book: at best a moderately successful experiment.
It was reasonable, among other possibilities, for the "50 Worst Movies" book to conclude that this was a bad film. In fact I think Chicago's Music Box, in its current release (May '08) committed a sin of omission by not mentioning all the negative reviews cited in the Medved book. Actors' standing perfectly still while others step out to speak is a non-cinematic affectation, not really adding to motion picture art or craft, and pretty much exhausted by Eugene O'Neill in the Twenties. Aristocratic setting makes the work effete and personal. Fact that it reflects Hiroshima Mon Amour or other works in Resnais "oeuvre" not relevant to whether this film is good. I'm still open to discussion about the good qualities attributed to this movie, but also afraid it will take a lot of convincing.
By the way, the "50 Worst" book is not exactly by the Medved brothers: it was co-authored by Harry Medved and Randy Dreyfus. It does list Michael Medved as a contributor somewhere in its Acknowledgments.
The Ugly Duckling and Me! (2006)
Okay for kids, if they don't examine story too closely.
Not really a bad film: children will appreciate some overarching lessons about human relationships if they're not too confused by the conflicting details.
Irony is that what's perhaps most dissatisfying about this film is where it __does__ resemble HC Andersen's original fairy tale; the meandering from one apparently unrelated scene to the next in order to fill out the prerequisite playing time of a feature-length story.
(Mild spoilers from here on, but I'm trying not to reveal much. Film is grudgingly recommended for children, but adults should be aware of content, and prepared to discuss with children anything that disturbs them morally or physically.)
Main character Ratso appears to be buddies with a worm character, who then turns out not to have all that much to do with rest of story. Backstory of worm and rat is as developed as present tale of rat with baby "duckling" who assumes Ratso is his parent, yet the worm is unworthy of being recognized as extended family member, presumably because he is a worm. Rat's exploitive, selfish personality is allegedly redeemed by love, although for most of story he has shown no emotional capacity or learned skill for caring. He could have been friends with the worm, or at least in denial about needing friendship with the worm.
"Adult" aspects of storytelling seem to be tempered for younger audiences, resulting in implausibly denied reality: a predator is evil and deadly, then suddenly friendly. Another predator appears to have killed (a bit graphic here), and then victim turns up alive. Similarly another villain turns out not to have wanted to kill them at all.
Sudden growth spurts turn the title "duckling" into different personalities overnight, again hearkening back to Andersen's original story wherein the character becomes a swan (we'll allow that spoiler, I think) whether or not preceding learning experiences have contributed to his becoming a better, or at least more attractive, person. Lesson here is for parents to identify with their own dealings with growing kids, but logistical problem of starting out with one character and then abandoning it (remember the worm?) is a jarring technical point the audience is going to resent.
Plenty of inter-special relationships, including romantic/sexual affinities (burdening audience with yet another layer of suspended disbelief, a la the grasshopper-bee relationship in Fleischer brothers' Mr. Bug Goes to Town).
Admittedly UD + Me is attractively filmed and animated, a plus for its acceptance by younger audiences, however intelligent these kids are. The adult swans, however, who are admired for their physical beauty, aren't all that graceful or attractive. There's an intended irony in question of whether physical beauty is enough for the "duckling" to want to become swan-identified at the end, but the superficial beauty in these distant objects of desire isn't quite there anyway.
Voice actors are talented and well cast.
Little tweaks in the writing of the dialog might have smoothed over inconsistencies. Shakespeare could have created satisfying plot development within this random grouping of "people" who become a family, even though they're not technically family. Perhaps the writers, including Andersen, should have studied Shakespeare.
Tries to please everybody with adult-yet-not-adult content: ultimately, is this film for anybody?
Predictable time-travel plot; cheapness is in lack of imagination
Suckered myself into watching Michael Crichton's Timeline, based on author's reputation. Name of producer Donner should have been clue as to film's actual cheapness, but low-budget sci-fi can be okay, like Tycus (a sort of When Worlds Collide remake) or Asimov's Nightfall (apparently inspired by HG Wells' story Kingdom of the Blind). Timeline turns out to be formula retelling of Final Countdown, with now-predictable "surprise" ending, except here time travelers have gone back to medieval battle instead of Pearl Harbor. Some identifiable Crichton touches, but already handled in other stories.
When I identify the film as "cheap" I must amend that the visual effects of battle scenes, electronic zapping and medieval fortresses (we'll assume computer-generated) are quite plausible. The prosaic photography and the aforementioned lack of creativity in the story line are more what I mean.
No-name cast (all very good actors) tells us that cost was cut in that area, but this type of venture is exactly the type of place where new hopefuls can earn their veteran credentials without being too embarrassed by a shameful past. Who ever heard of Paul Newman before (ugh) Silver Chalice?
Bush's Brain (2004)
Bush's Brain was revealing, but loses focus near end. Shows that Rove has been sleazy -- very sleazy -- throughout his political career in Texas but not exactly how he manipulates George Bush today.
The 2000 Presidential campaign, the part of the movie that would have answered the film's opening question "How could this have happened?" is not really covered at all; rather the film goes abruptly ahead to the 9/11 episode. Film goes for pathos near end by showing a particular soldier who died early in Iraq thing, similar to Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11, but does not tie war dead specifically to theme of Rove's being Bush's Svengali and how "this" (Bush's presidency) could have happened.
As other viewers have commented, the film's own agenda, to show Karl Rove as a sinister villain, is in conflict with the visuals of Rove as a pleasantly pudgy, self-effacing nerd. There is a distinct danger that the audience may decide finally that that visual image wins, rather than the text of the movie. Remember the scene, apparently based on a true story I read, in Broadcast News where Holly Hunter's character shows a video of a worldwide domino competition in order to portray "soft news" in a negative light; instead the comical, diverting image of tumbling domino tiles is the only part of her recitation to which anyone pays attention. The Bush's Brain people should have learned from such examples and done more to show that Rove's commercial image is what's being contested.
Do see this movie, for the sake of the facts of Karl Rove's seamy career that it does succeed in showing. It's also a good example of combining "talking heads" with other footage in a documentary to keep the audience's level of alertness piqued now and then, compared to the occasionally dulling effect of recent anti-Bush documentaries Outfoxed and Uncovered. Ironically those two are far superior films.
Seems as if a more nearly complete documentary had been planned, but that this one was rushed into release in order to be timely and to influence voters before coming election. May, rather, hurt progressive agendas that this movie is not as well done as it should have been.
Colorful, musical and historical but not much of a drama
Okay but overrated: not really a dramatic work, just a slice of life look into G & S at a particularly productive period.
It debunks the idea that this duo were such flamboyant individuals that they were bouncing off each other and/or avoiding each other constantly (at least they're not in this time period, after the relative failure of Princess Ida and the success of Mikado), but what statement this bio film does have to say eludes me.
Some nice performances from the G & S repertory, but I'm sure we all have our favorite performances on records and videotape. Might make a useful primer for neophytes. And I assume, as in the film version of Shaffer's Amadeus, we're getting a sort of time-machine peek at how these productions originally looked onstage.
The story culminates in the premiere of Mikado, which of course is a great work of music and comedy, but the old G & S biography movie with Robert Morley and Maurice Evans climaxed with a revival of Yeoman of the Guard, which I think is Gilbert's and Sullivan's crowning achievement; more importantly, Yeoman became integrated with the particular dramatic values and historical ideas that that older movie was trying to put across. Topsy-Turvy just ends.
It straddles the fence (ouch) with regard to the "old" revisionist claim that Sullivan was a notorious womanizer, as opposed to the still newer revisionist claim that he was gay, and just maintained the hetero image to keep the press off the scent, say the way modern celebrities going through troubled marriages deliberately feed news bites to the tabloids so that those reporters don't do any unwelcome digging on their own. How Topsy-Turvy does this is to show Fanny, the particularly visible woman with whom he supposedly dallied, as either a naughty but "platonic" friend, a la Nancy on It's Garry Shandling's Show and Elaine on Seinfeld, or a "fag hag" a la Grace on Will and Grace. Let the audience decide how it wants to interpret the relationship.
Basically the stage performances from their operas perk the movie up at intervals, but the dialogue in between is trivial and, as such, too long.
I thought that I should vote it a 7 on the IMDb's rating poll, but I saw that the current overall rating was 7.4, so I voted lower in order to help drag the figure down to where I thought it should be (perhaps my vote was a tad unethical, but hey, this is Chicago). It is at least a "7" movie, both for what I think is wrong about it, and for what is wonderfully right.
Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
A bit too much cynicism passing for humor
Saw Bridget Jones's Diary last night. Audience liked it, I must admit, but for me it was nasty and obnoxious. The fact that she's cynical is automatically inferred to mean she's funny. In the first five minutes she's put down her mother for serving pickles on toothpicks as hors d'oeuvre, a potential boyfriend for wearing a funny reindeer sweater at a Christmas party, and a gay man simply because women have some unquestionable God-given right to do so. The unintentional irony is that, for all Bridget's self-alleged independence, the picture's central, driving purpose is to attach her to a wealthy, influential man, at which point her story will end -- in marriage. Ultimately nothing better than a throwback to most of the Julie Andrews musicals (My Fair Lady, Cinderella, Sound of Music, Thoroughly Modern Millie) of ancient times -- minus the songs. The other irony is, even Julie's material has grown beyond such a shallow self-image for modern women.
Snowflakes at the end looked fake in close-ups.
The DuPont Show of the Month (1957)
Cole Porter's Aladdin: disappointingly mundane children's play with "adult" songs squeezed in
After more than forty years of owning and enjoying the record album of Cole Porter's final musical Aladdin, I was finally given the opportunity to see the show itself via the (apparently) live broadcast of February 1958. I must say, even after due warnings of how the show was "summarily dismissed" by critics at the time, that it is a tremendous entertainment letdown.
Cyril Ritchard, probably most famous for his portrayal of Mr. Darling/Capt. Hook in the Broadway and television productions of Peter Pan, is placed in the unenviably silly role of narrator and villain Sui Generis (a pun on "chop suey," I assume), who goes through the opening patter song Come to the Supermarket (the show is a bit topheavy with comic novelty songs) in a stereotypically Chinese attitude with hands hidden in sleeves and hopping up and down to music's rythm. Other numerous celebrities in respective roles (Dennis King, Basil Rathbone, Una Merkel and Howard Morris, plus Sal Mineo in the title role, Anna Maria Alberghetti as his Princess and Geoffrey Holder as the Genie) don't fare much better with the childlike level of dialog provided by S J Perelman.
If it were a children's play, then fine, but the relative sophistication of the Cole Porter songs make an uncomfortable transition to music. The well-known story of Aladdin and his magic lamp remains intact, if somewhat truncated, but with nowhere near the musical and dramatic dimensions of Disney's (okay, Eisner's) animated film of later years, nor even the contemporaneous Aladdin film "starring" Mr. Magoo. Porter's own deteriorating involvement in the show due to his increasingly painful leg problems and upcoming operation may help to explain the so-so level of integration between songs and plot.
I still strongly recommend the cast album from CBS, more recently rereleased as a compact disc -- and in stereo -- but it seems that its performances and arrangements are not at all representative of the show itself. I conclude that Mr. Porter had arranged for this "concept album" to be produced with the dramatic and musical continuity of a legit stage musical, on the speculation that a remounting on Broadway might result from the positive exposure. In fact there was a London stage production a few years later, for which a record album was also released.
To be fair, I must say that Aladdin's songs are not equally admired by all listeners, although a few consistently stand out, such as the aforementioned Come to the Supermarket (covered by Streisand in her '63 solo album), and two other comic numbers for Ritchard. Dennis King gets two reprises of a pretty-nice Trust Your Destiny to Your Star, and Mineo's love song I Adore You has a catchy simplicity I like to compare to Rodgers' and Hammerstein's last song together, Edelweiss (others may find the Porter song a bit __too__ simple). By the way, Porter's own last song ever written, Wouldn't it Be Fun, is only on the album and not in the show itself.
I was aware, from the rather pessimistic account given in the liner notes of the CD release, that Aladdin was either genuinely bad or simply considered unworthy by critics because of the wholesale quality and production values attributed to television; nevertheless I'd had hopes that Cole Porter's Aladdin would show potential as a musical on a level with other shows of that period. I will always like it to a fair extent, and I think others will too, but will never again attach to it the youthful wonder that I'd once had for the show as I thought I'd known it.
Secret Window (2004)
Predictable, uninspired -- unless you count all the other pictures from which it steals as "inspiration"
Psycho, Magic, Fortune Cookie, Cape Fear, Baby Jane, Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, take your pick.
The minute I saw one type of character appear onscreen, I knew a certain type of thing was going to happen to him/her. I hoped that there was going to be an unexpected surprise in some of these situations, but instead each part of the story led to the same predictably grisly conclusion.
Picture is a virtual catalog of story points ripped off from other movies (I should include here Philip Glass' score, a transparent ripoff of Bernard Herrmann's from Psycho -- also suspiciously similar to Glass' own Thin Blue Line material). I suspect that parody was the original intention, but this film takes itself with absolute seriousness -- not that there isn't comedy in it, but seriousness about its conviction that the plot's twists are going to surprise the audience. Surprisingly none of the story line ever does conclude with any action that was promised earlier.
The "steaming corn" analogy (ironically appropriate) used throughout the screenplay stays til the picture's final shot of a cornfield: if this allusion is to Children of the Corn, then at least Stephen King is ripping off himself for a change.
I'd thought of doing a "spoiler" review in which I could discuss the film's points in more detail. Interested persons will have to email me privately.