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I don't like this film. Not at all.
Lame. Shockingly lame. Lame beyond belief.
And cynical, too - Hollywood at its most exploitative and greedy.
The original cartoons were no great shakes, but this... this really lowers the bar for TV nostalgia cash-ins.
And to think that Rowan Atkinson used to be funny.
Billy Elliot (2000)
It's Grim Oop North
BILLY ELLIOT is the latest in a succession of it's-grim-up-north-so-let's-do-something-heartwarming films. How does it stand up against BRASSED OFF and THE FULL MONTY?
Pretty well, is the answer. First-time director Stephen Daldry does a good job of presenting the simple story, although his lack of cinematic experience shows a bit, for example in the depiction of the flow of time. There are a couple of sequences where time passes, but this is not apparent to the viewer.
It's never difficult to find good actors for a low-budget British film of this kind and Daldry, who has a fine reputation for his theatre work, has assembled a good team here. Of course, the film's raison d'etre is Billy himself and Jamie Bell needs no further praise from me. A passionate and natural performer, he could hardly miss and he doesn't.
The film's biggest problem is its rating (15 UK, R USA). There's something wrong when a film can't be seen by its natural target audience (who are Billy's age of 11-12) simply because of the language that is used in it. Mr Daldry is used to the kind of freedom he has on stage, and no doubt did not want to compromise a good script by snipping out the strong language which is perfectly convincing in the context of the characters and the story. But would it really have done fatal damage to the film if the producers had listened to the film censors and taken whatever action was needed to get a 12 (USA PG-13) rating? I think not, and it's a pity that that wasn't done.
I still prefer BRASSED OFF, for its wider scope, but BILLY ELLIOT is well worth all the praise that has been lavished on it.
Tom's Midnight Garden (1999)
I was entranced by this book as a child, so I was hoping for the best from this film. I wish I was able to say that my hopes were fulfilled.
Let's start with the good things. This film looks very good and, visually at least, belies its low budget. One of the things that digital effects have achieved is to enable inexpensively-made films to look as if they cost more to make than they actually did. The sets and outdoor shots are fine, except for one or two scenes where the (hilly) Isle of Man where the film was shot doesn't completely impersonate the (flat) countryside around Ely where the story is set.
So far, so good. The problems start with the script. It tops and tails the original story with an irritating 'present day' sequence featuring a grown-up Tom. I suppose the writers could find no other way to accommodate a story that is firmly fixed in the 1950s, but these scenes still grate.
Next, there is some fearfully clunky dialogue. Many of the adult actors manage to handle the stuff they have to speak pretty well, but this is unfortunately not true of Anthony Way who plays Tom, and whose acting is little better than the sort of thing you can see in any school play. He was 16-17 when the film was made, so he also looks much too old for the part. Perhaps the low budget led to insufficient rehearsal and shooting time. Some scenes are simply embarrassing.
If you can ignore this poor performance there is much to enjoy here. The atmosphere of 1950s England is nicely recreated, for instance. But, in the end, you may find that you're cringing too much...
It must have seemed like a good idea at the time...
Of course, Disney were up against it from the start. The original FANTASIA, while not a great film as such, nor a commercial success, was conceived as an artistic and technical project and not necessarily a popular one.
The original film contained animation that dazzled in the 1940s and still looks terrific now. It contained many brilliant sequences, but also several which plumbed the depths of bad taste. Centaurettes, anyone?
The new film certainly follows in the tradition of its forerunner in that respect. It's a real curate's egg, except that rather fewer parts of it are good.
So, starting at the top. I could name SORCEROR'S APPRENTICE, but that would be cheating. Walt Disney's concept for FANTASIA was that it would be regularly updated, with new segments added and old favourites kept as the years went by. So the retention of SA honours Disney's wishes and I've no argument with it. If only it didn't show up so badly the Donald Duck segment that follows it!
The outstanding new segment is RHAPSODY IN BLUE, which is a delight - witty, beautifully drawn, perfectly matched to the music. It breaks no new ground, but it does exactly what it should do, and does it supremely well.
The all-too-brief CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS sequence is also great fun, although it suffers in comparison with THE DANCE OF THE HOURS in the first film, which it is clearly intended to echo.
As for the rest - flying whales, CGI toys, if-it's-Stravinsky-it-must-be-volcanoes, some extraordinarily clumsy links - ugh!
As a footnote - the DVD contains the Oscar-winning short TOOT, WHISTLE, PLUNK AND BOOM, from 1953. It's well worth checking out. Historically, it was Disney's first foray into the minimalist style which was pioneered by UPA studios.
North by Northwest (1959)
This may not be Hitch's greatest film, and it's shallow compared with, say, VERTIGO, REAR WINDOW or PSYCHO, but it is still terrifically entertaining.
Continuing with a number of the ideas he used in THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS, but with a full-on Hollywood budget, this film was very influential on all the secret agent films of the sixties; from James Bond (many of the James Bond novels had been published when this film was written) via Flint and Modesty Blaise and the Man from UNCLE, right up to today's Austin Powers epics - films so dumb they don't realise they're spoofing a spoof.
The world of the late fifties is conveyed in all its wacky optimism - all those clean, flat pastel surfaces - and hope for the future. You can tell that these people - cold war or no cold war - just know that tody is better than yesterday was, and that tomorrow will be even better.
Lastly; the film restoration and DVD transfer are exemplary - pin-sharp with great colour, free from telecine and digital artefacts and enhanced with excellent extra features. In only all DVDs were so well done...
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Now see the play
I guess that just about sums it up. Having seen this film, which is a barely opened out version of the stage play - I'd really like to see the stage play.
I'm sure it would work much better in a small studio theatre - the sort of space where you can reach out and touch the actors - than in a large theatre or on the cinema screen.
That said, there are some great performances in this film. Every time Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino or Alec Baldwin are on screen it's riveting. But they're stage performances, not film performances.
A Good SF-Based Drama
It took me two tries to finish this film. I'll explain.
In the 1940's John W Campbell's Science Fiction magazine ASTOUNDING was in its Golden Age. It seemed that every issue contained material that moved the genre forward in some way. Anthologies of classic SF are crowded with stories from around that time. Among those stories was September 1946's VINTAGE SEASON, attributed to Lawrence O'Donnell but actually written by the husband and wife team of Henry Kuttner and Catherine L Moore.
VINTAGE SEASON is really a mood piece, rather than a hard-plotted story. It has an atmosphere of decadence and languid eroticism that probably pushed the limits of what could be printed at that time in a magazine that was mainly read by children and young adults. Just as Hollywood at that time had to portray sex by implication rather than in explicit detail, so a more subtle approach was also required in print.
So the first time I saw this film I threw the remote at the screen after 15 minutes. This wasn't the VINTAGE SEASON I knew and loved; this was just some crummy TV movie leeching off a classic original idea. I forgot about it literally. That's why I taped it when it came around again, based on a decent write-up in the TV guide.
This time around I must have been feeling a bit more mellow, as the remote stayed safely on the sofa. I reflected could anyone actually film VINTAGE SEASON as it was written? And show it to an audience that had seen the BACK TO THE FUTURE films? I considered what I would do if I were the writer charged with developing the original story into a script that could be filmed with an adequate but not enormous budget and actors with mostly TV movie credentials.
Taken on these terms, TIMESCAPE (its title in the UK) has to be judged a success. There is more sentimentality than I like and the plot elements are not handled with the rigour demanded by genre Science Fiction. But the story and characters that have been wrapped around Kuttner and Moore's original idea are sufficiently interesting and involving to compensate and the acting, production standards and effects work are more than good enough for a TV film.
In summary, TIMESCAPE is a decent SF-based drama that viewers expecting a slam-bang FX epic will probably find dull but which will appeal to those who appreciate its more human-scale charms.
It's hard to find something new to say about this film after so many comments have already been posted here. I'll own up to being one of the crowd who claim that it's close to flawless.
So what I'd like to highlight is this: Frances McDormand's portrayal of the police chief Marge Gunderson strikes me as being one of the best depictions of a wholly good person that I've seen on screen. It would have been so easy for the script to have given her a raft of inner demons to overcome or a corrupt PD to fight or mounds of frustrating paperwork to do. All old stuff - seen it dozens of times. But no - Marge lives a comfortable but not wealthy life, she has a husband whom she loves and who loves her and she possesses the kind of natural trust in people which allows her to be deceived by an old school friend because, heck, why would he lie to her? But Marge is trusting, not gullible; she lives a simple life, but she's not simple; she's gentle with people, but she's not a doormat.
It's just so refreshing to find a character who demonstrates that good doesn't equal stupid and that nice guys don't have to finish last.
The Mill on the Floss (1997)
Good acting can't save a dull production
Actually, not so much dull as starved. The resources - time and money - available to the makers of this TV film were simply not enough to give the show the zest it needs to present a minor Victorian classic novel to modern audiences.
The ending particularly disappoints. Eliot's novel deploys the pathetic fallacy to dramatic, if somewhat incredible, effect in bringing about Tom and Maggie's final reconciliation. This film settles for a bit of Photo shopping and an unfortunate drowning accident leaving the viewer feeling distinctly short-changed. Whether this was due to a desire to maintain the low-key tone of the rest of the film or the result of budget restrictions the result is perfunctory and fails to give the story the filmic climax it needs.
On the plus side, reliable acting and good locations please. But it's all too polite and restrained.
Starship Troopers (1997)
The Horror, The Horror!
Well, you'll tell me I should have known. It was shown on Channel 5 - wasn't that enough to warn me? (But they showed GOODFELLAS the other week). I could have mis-keyed the VideoPlus+ code. I could have run out of tapes. I could have posted a pop-tart into the VCR.
I could have spared myself.
But no. I had to tape it. And, having taped it, I had to watch it. And now - I don't known when I'm going to be able to drive that terrible image from my mind.
Sometimes - for whole minutes at a time - it's as if it never happened. But it's just when you think that you have overcome the effects of the trauma that you realise that it's still with you; haunting your memory, staining your life.
That's how it is with me.
And here I am, in the clear light of morning, knowing that the image that maimed my night-time dreams has not gone away, will not go away, may never go away.
That sight. It's rising up before me now, obscuring my vision. I can't stop it.
It's Denise Richards. She's turning towards me (oh no). She's opening her mouth (please, no). She's looking straight at me (why me?)
SHE'S GRINNING AT ME! NOT AGAIN!! PLEASE STOP!!! DO SOMETHING ELSE, WOMAN. SNEER, FROWN, SMILE, ANYTHING BUT THAT AWFUL GRIN!!!
Sign me up for 20 years service in the Federation. Let my brain be eaten by Bugs. Give me Double Administrative Punishment. Anything. But never, ever again make me suffer that grin, those teeth...
And then I'll be happy. Happy, I tell you. The way I was before IT happened. Happy - and sane again.