Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Something Wild (1961)
It's Half Worthwhile
The first hour of this moody, sometimes self-consciously arty effort by writer/director Jack Garfein is generally fine, with a touching, shell-shocked Mary Ann (Carroll Baker) caught in an emotional limbo after being raped. You might not completely understand some of her actions at first, but somehow the film and her character have their own kind of workable logic to them.
However, once the Ralph Meeker character enters the scene and become increasingly bizarre, the film goes completely off-kilter. Meeker's performance is a Method wallow and the film really doesn't create or explore any semblance of a convincing relationship between them. The final 10 minutes is simply unbelievable IMO - nothing preceding the finale provides a reasonable clue to Mary Ann's behavior. It's apparent what you're supposed to feel at the end, but the script doesn't set it up at all.
It's fun seeing Jean Stapleton and Doris Roberts in early small screen appearances, and for the most part, Baker does very well. It's one of her better roles before she trashed her career trying to be a sexpot for Joseph E. Levine.
Middle of the Night (1959)
One of Chayevsky's Best
As others have noted, Frederic March's superb performance is the centerpiece of this well-done drama of the ups and downs of a romance between a 56-year old garment manufacturer and the 24-year old receptionist at his firm. Another plus is the seamless integration of location shooting in NYC and in the studio.
This piece was originally done on Broadway with Edward G. Robinson in the March role and Gena Rowlands in the role played here by Kim Novak. Martin Balsam and Lee Phillips (as the young woman's musical ex-husband) repeated their stage roles in the film. For me, Novak's performance is sometimes good (her scene with Lee Grant, for example); other times you can see the effort and calculation she brings to the scenes and her acting comes off as artificial. Big emotional scenes always seem to tax her as an actress. I've never been a big fan of Novak's, and while this is one of her better efforts, she was never a first-class actress (and certainly not in Rowlands' league).
However, I don't think Novak really hurts the film much, and March and the rest of the cast more than make up for it. Of course, Balsam's big scene where he tells off his wife/March's daughter (played by Joan Copeland, Arthur Miller's sister) is Chayevsky at his most obvious - you can see it and the wife's hypocrisy coming a mile away. But there's not a false note in March's performance, which is certainly one of his finest ever. It's hard to believe he didn't at least get an Oscar nomination for this film - especially considering who won that year (Heston for "Ben-Hur").
Solid but not Inspired
Despite some fine scenes and special effects here and there, "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" doesn't quite scale the heights of film fantasy to which it aspires. There's a kind of dramatic flatness to the story, at least as adapted here.
Granted, the original isn't particularly complex emotionally even compared to Lord of the Rings. Director Andrew Adamson has only directed the animated "Shrek" films before this, so that could also be a reason for the one-dimensional quality of the drama.
Also, the acting is very uneven. Among the children, the wonderful Georgie Henley as Lucy and Skandar Keynes as Edmund are fine, but Anna Popplewell is a dull Susan, and William Moseley is a stiff Peter whose transformation into a soldier is impossible to take seriously on any level. Tilda Swinton has a imperious coldness as the White Witch - I liked her though you could say that she isn't quite terrifying enough. Another highlight is James McAvoy as Mr. Tumnus - his scenes with Lucy are among the best in the film.
The final battle scene - not explicitly described in the novel - is Lord of the Rings Lite, but it works well enough. One disappointment is the voice of Liam Neeson as the lion Aslan. Obviously it was recorded separately, but Neeson's line readings aren't very engaging and the sound has a disembodied quality that exposes the artificiality of the special effects. Some of the other voice performers (Ray Winstone and Dawn French as the beavers, and Rupert Everett as the fox) fare better. This film gets its job done well enough, but classic fantasy film it isn't.
It'll be interesting to see when/if the rest of the Narnia books get adapted. Unlike "Lord of the Rings" or the more recent "His Dark Materials" trilogy, the remaining Narnia books are extremely variable in quality (and increasingly preachy), the final volume being downright dull.
Cheesy, lame Italian Thriller
I rented this on DVD based on the glowing reviews I saw here, and I cannot understand how anyone would think this cheap, cheesy, poorly made mystery is some masterpiece. There are a few unsettling or creeping scenes (the title sequence in particular), and there is a good idea for a story here. But most of the film is sloppily written & directed, and woodenly acted, which kills any real chance of creating interest in any of the characters, much less the mystery. The house in the title actually has very little to do with the plot. Leave this one alone - it's pretty obvious why it never got much of a release outside Italy: it's a slapdash B-movie at best.
My Sister Eileen (1955)
Garrett Shines in Mediocre Musical
I had heard that this second musical version of "My Sister Eileen" (the first being the Broadway show "Wonderful Town") was very underrated. Well, it's not.
Columbia Pictures owned the movie musical rights to "Eileen" and when Leonard Bernstein wanted too much money for "Wonderful Town", Columbia passed on adapting the Broadway hit, and created its own musical film adaptation. Unfortunately, this version isn't just inferior to "Wonderful Town" - the score and script are truly mediocre in their own right. The songs are all forgettable, which is surprising given that the composer is the great Jule Styne who went on to write "Gypsy" and other shows. Either he and lyricist Leo Robin had very little time to write the score or inspiration took a vacation.
The two saving graces in this film are Betty Garrett, who plays the more tomboyish Ruth. Unlike Rosalind Russell who played Ruth both in the non-musical film and in "Wonderful Town," Garrett can really sing and she's less self-conscious about being the center of attraction - she's much more natural in the role.
The other occasional grace is Bob Fosse's choreography. In some numbers, especially one dancing "duel" between him and the terrific Tommy Rall, the film comes alive. Unfortunately, some of the other dances - particularly the climactic "Conga" sequence, fall flat, perhaps due more to director Quine than Fosse.
Janet Leigh plays Eileen and she's very charming, though not quite the kind of looker who would have men literally at her feet all the time. She sings fairly well, and dances rather better. And since she's top billed, the script gives her character more emphasis than the original play. Jack Lemmon plays a publisher on whom Ruth has a crush; Lemmon is good, though his one song is far from a highlight - he's no singer.
It's a pity that Columbia and Bernstein didn't see eye to financial eye - it would have been great to see Garrett do "Wonderful Town," though Leigh and Lemmon would never be able to handle their parts in that score.
Great Subject matter - soapy execution
"Paradise" is a pilot for a proposed series on Showtime that didn't get picked up. Certainly the subject matter of the televangelist world has a host of excellent possibilities, particularly for a pay cable channel that can take bigger risks than a commercial TV network.
Unfortunately, "Paradise" comes off as nothing more than a "Dallas" clone with a different setting. And like most pilot episodes, this one spends a lot of time with the necessary job of introducing characters and setting up situations. But the story lines are pretty stale and unimaginative for the most part.
The story centers on Bobby Paradise (David Strathairn), a former astronaut who had a near-death experience after a spaceship landing in the ocean, resulting in a religious conversion (we suppose). When the show opens, he's a major star in the televangelist circuit, raking in millions of dollars and presiding over huge stadium-size crowds at his revival meetings.
But Bobby is also going through a psychological crisis that is hinted at in the beginning, and there's the potential for trouble when he aligns himself with a hedonistic media baron for the sake of reaching more people on TV and radio.
His immediate family participate in his business, led by his wife (Barbara Hershey). His daughter is a bit of a tramp and hooks up with a professional boxer; his older son is the one who tries hard but never pleases Dad; the daughter-in-law wants more of a role but is brushed aside. And then there's the black sheep son who just got out of jail for manslaughter in a bar fight, and is still rejected by Dad.
So you can see that the stage is set for the kind of soapy family dynamics that any viewer of "Dallas" or "Dynasty" will recognize.
And that's too bad, because the subject of televangelism is a great one, with endless possibilities for a hard look at religion, commerce, media manipulation, and political ambition - particularly given the current residents of the White House. This pilot touches on some of this, but you can bet the more interesting dramatic (and perhaps satirical) aspects of this subject would have been brushed aside for more commonplace dramatics.
Even so, there's some fine acting talent on display. Strathairn is a great choice for the role of Bobby: this kind of morally gray character gives him am opportunity to show off his talent for suggesting multiple facets of Bobby at once. The role also lets him play a dynamic, dominating character rather than the more quiet roles people usually associate with him.
Hershey is good in a role that is pretty vague, but would have probably deepened had the show continued. Elaine Stritch adds some necessary vigor and vinegar as her mother, who enjoys all the perks of Bobby's empire, but isn't exactly the pious type.
However, the actors playing the children are a mediocre bunch, including James LeGros who has been good elsewhere.
"Paradise" is truly a squandered opportunity, and based on this pilot, it's just as well that the show didn't go any further.
Countess Dracula (1971)
Silly Costume Horror Drama
Despite the title, "Countess Dracula" spends an inordinate amount of time on the romantic scenes between the title character - an old countess who finds the fountain of youth by washing herself in virgins' blood - and a young, unsuspecting soldier. Most of the scenes are quite silly and badly written. The scenes of actual horror are very few, so I can assume that the director, cast, and scriptwriter thought they had something more serious in mind with this costume drama.
The result is not good. While it's fun to watch pros like Nigel Green, Maurice Denham, and Patience Collier play at court intrigue, the rest of the cast is variable.
Ingrid Pitt has some scenes where she attempts to chew the scenery, but she's not good at it. Apparently her accent was too thick for the director's liking so her role was dubbed by another actress in post-production (see the IMDb trivia about this). I'll say this much, the dubbing job is good - if you hadn't seen Pitt in other films you'd never know it wasn't her voice. And if you had seen her elsewhere, you'd know it couldn't be her voice.
As her hapless daughter, Lesley Anne-Downe made an inauspicious debut, though it's not much of a part. Sandor Eles overplays the young soldier who winds up with more than he bargained for. The sets are rather cheap looking for the most part.
Don't waste your time with this one. If you like Pitt, you're better off with the more entertaining "Vampire Lovers."
Roxie Hart (1942)
While this film has a fine reputation, I was very disappointed after watching it recently on DVD. The director, William Wellman, made one of the best of the 30's screwball comedies - "Nothing Sacred." But the scriptwriter/producer Nunnally Johnson had no background in comedy based on his credits. Perhaps that was part of the problem, since "Roxie Hart" is never as funny as it wants to be.
Being a big fan of fast-paced Hollywood comedies of the 30's and 40's, I was looking forward to seeing this. But so many elements seemed off. For one thing, there are scenes that just go flat despite the fast pace of the line delivery, particularly in the beginning.
Ginger Rogers' overacting as Roxie is a constant irritant. Having just won her Oscar for "Kitty Foyle," she's very self-conscious here. Iris Adrian, who plays a murderess who briefly steals Roxie's limelight with the press, is completely inside her character and far more effective in just a few brief scenes than Rogers is in the whole film.
Rogers' contract must have stipulated that she dance in the film, so we're treated to two dance sequences, the first of which starts well but becomes ridiculous when the whole press corps jumps in, and the second of which is just irrelevant.
Adolphe Menjou plays the blustery lawyer Billy Flynn, but he did this performance with better effect as Walter Burns in the original film of "The Front Page." George Montgomery is decent. The funniest performance is from character actor Lynne Overman doing his best Lee Tracy impersonation as the most cynical of the newspapermen.
I'm not familiar with the original play "Chicago," so don't know how faithful this film is to it compared to the Broadway musical (which I liked a lot) or its screen version (which I liked only in parts). But while "Roxie Hart" gets somewhat better once it reaches the trial portion of the plot, it never reaches the dizzying comic heights to which it aspires.
Demons of the Mind (1972)
Good Ideas Undone by Hysterical Treatment
I watched "Demons of the Mind" after not having seen it since it originally appeared. My memory of the film was very positive, and there are some interesting ideas in the script. However, there are an overabundance of plot elements that are presented in a haphazard and overly hysterical form by director Peter Sykes. One other reviewer here calls this a free-form narrative, but for me it was a confused jumble.
Robert Hardy plays (or overplays, as others here have noted) Count Zorn who is convinced that there is madness and other evil in his family's bloodline.
His wife had committed suicide, so he decided that he needed to lock up his children in case they started manifesting any insanity. Years later he has a controversial doctor (played by Patrick Magee in his usual mannered way) treating both grown kids (Shane Briant, Gillian Hills).
At the same time there are young women being brutally murdered in the woods and local superstitions are being whipped up, while a wandering evangelical (Michael Hordern) mutters religious dogma and joins with the locals.
A good director could have woven all these piece together nicely and provided a solid, disturbing thriller. But Sykes is more interested in whipping up a lot of intensity in each scene, which is why there's more overacting than needed and why the film winds up becoming exhausting to watch after a while. Too bad. It had the makings of a fine film. Perhaps the usual rushed schedule that Hammer Films had didn't allow for sufficient care, though screenwriter Christopher Wicking had history of penning horror films that were more interesting in concept than in execution.
Gone, But Not Forgotten (2003)
Good Idea - Bad Execution
There's an interesting plot idea for this film (love/mystery story involving an amnesia victim), but it's so clumsily written and sluggishly paced - even for a low-budget, digital video effort - that it grows tiresome quickly.
What also hurts the film a lot is that the character of Drew, the forest ranger (played by Aron Orr), comes off as incredibly childish, selfish, and downright creepy at times in his efforts to romance Mark, a yuppie he rescued after an "accidental fall" (or was it?) in the woods. Near the end you're supposed to see that Drew is desperately lonely, but it's too late by then: the writer/director should have established that better up front.
Also Orr's performance is mostly petulant when he's angry, so there's an automatic sympathy barrier between him and the audience. The rest of the cast is either amateurish or try a little too hard, though the guy playing Drew's brother has some good moments.