Reviews

16 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Pack of Lies (1987 TV Movie)
a note by way of a correction
3 October 2010
Hugh Whitemore is listed as the author of the teleplay of PACK OF LIES. It would be more accurate to say he co-wrote it. He wrote the original TV play that was then the basis of the stage play the was a success in London. It was less successful when it played New York and I saw it. He was signed to write the adaptation for HALLMARK. He delivered a draft. For some reason he decided to leave the project and I was brought in to do a rewrite. I made some substantial changes. I gather these annoyed him. He had the right to sign the script. I was told he disliked what I did so much he didn't want to be associated with it, so he signed his pseudonym, Ralph Gallup. I was billed as creative consultant.

The show was successful. "Ralph Gallup" was nominated for an Emmy, as were the show and Ellen Burstyn. (I watched the Emmys in my living room with a bowl of popcorn on my lap.) It was also part of the basis for HALLMARK's Peabody Award that year. If the credit were accurate, Whitemore would certainly have first position. I wouldn't make comment except that, of everything I've worked on for television (pilots, episodes, assignments, sitcoms, TV movies, soaps), this was my favorite project, and I remain pleased with my part in it.

I am one of Whitemore's fans, by the way.
4 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
a comic time capsule of the Sixties
1 October 2009
Former Second City director Alan Myerson decided to found his version of an improv-based sketch comedy company in San Francisco. Some of the players who played there over the years also clocked significant time with Second City, and one can see the two companies having a kind of dialogue about the possibilities of the form as well as providing a vital function of maintaining an ongoing commentary on what was going on in the country at the time.

Most of the original Second City people were well-read, college-educated folk (frequently from the University of Chicago). The Committee's people generally had greater contact with what was happening in the street. Or maybe it's just that more of the street spilled into their doors.

At any rate, this film is a collection of some of the more popular sketches at the time and it features some dazzling performances by a company, most of whom went onto bigger (though not always better) things. I run chunks of this for my students frequently and they always goes down very well indeed.

Anybody interested in the intersection between American social and political history and satire should find this pretty compelling stuff.
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Law & Order: Survivor (1996)
Season 7, Episode 4
10/10
One of the best episodes
10 May 2009
I teach writing. One of my students made a casual, dismissive comment about the quality of writing on TV. I sat him down to watch this episode and he was stunned and humbled. This is series writing at its subtlest and most intricate. A tragedy that begins and ends with bad behavior by banks. A contemporary death that has its roots in the history we never seem to outlive. And, in the middle of this, Karen Allen -- with maybe twenty minutes of screen time -- creating a character of unusual depth and resonance. LAW AND ORDER has had its ups and downs over the years, but when I think of those episodes when it's fulfilled the full potential of its premise, this (which was broadcast without much particular comment or attention) is the first I think of.
17 out of 17 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
7/10
A very effective movie with an omission
13 April 2009
The device of looking at the creation of A CHORUS LINE through the process of the auditions for a revival of A CHORUS LINE works very well indeed, and everybody with grease paint in their veins will respond. I do think the film one of the handful of films about the theatre that gets some of the sweat of the process accurately.

My only reservation is that the names of some of the writers of the show aren't spoken in the film. I am glad to learn that this will be adjusted in the DVD release. And this shouldn't discourage anybody from the pleasure of seeing it in a theatre. I saw it surrounded by actors, and they broke into applause several times during the run.
9 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
An Age of Kings (1960– )
Series available on DVD beginning March 31, 2009
7 January 2009
Just noticed that this series will indeed be available beginning March 31, 2009. Just type the name in at Amazon or DeepDiscountDVD. An awful lot of Shakespeare for not that much dough. Would be nice if DVDs came out of the English Shakespeare Company's series with Michael Pennington and John Castle directed by Michael Bogdanov. That was released on VHS, though the picture quality wasn't great. Then there was the Peter Hall WAR OF THE ROSES with David Warner, Peggy Ashcroft and Ian Holm. But then I'm a fan of any productions of the histories we can get our hands on. The BBC productions of the HENRY VI-RICHARD III cycle directed by Jane Howell were the peak of the BBC-Time-Warner "complete" series.
1 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Studio One in Hollywood: The Arena (1956)
Season 8, Episode 30
5/10
Rod Serling not at the top of his game
28 November 2008
American political stories frequently revolve around the threat of blackmail -- ADVISE AND CONSENT, THE BEST MAN and PRIMARY COLORS come to mind. This show predates most of these, but is nowhere as interesting. Serling tells of a young senator named Norton newly appointed to fill out the term of one who has just died. Norton comes with a chip on his shoulder -- his father had been a senator from the same state until he was forced out of politics by the same man Norton now has to deal with because he's a colleague. Norton acquires the ammo to avenge his father but wrestles with whether or not he should use it.

Part of the problem is that Serling draws his characters in such big crayon strokes that there is little moral complexity here. The father is such a snarling, vicious pit-bull that we wonder how the son could possibly have been blind to the old man's nature for so long. The son seems like a fool from day one. It doesn't help that Wendell Corey is supposed to be young and callow but he seems to be in his late forties at least. (I don't now what his real age was then.)

Serling wrote a lot of good stuff, but this isn't one of his better efforts. It's preachy and clunky. This show is most interesting for the slightly over-the-top performance by Chester Morris as a political operative with a convenient weakness for liquor and a view of the young Frances Sternhagen who would go on to do a lot of wonderful work in better parts.

This is in the STUDIO ONE box set and is the first program I've sampled. I'm hoping that the others are stronger.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
The Street (2006–2009)
7/10
Second season fine in individual doses, repetitive when seen back-to-back
6 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Any individual episode of THE STREET is comparable to a solid feature film. The casts are filled with some of the best actors in the UK, the scripts are made up of memorable and pointed scenes, the visuals are vivid.

But watching several back-to-back, I can't help but notice that in every show a central character makes a mistake that he/she has to keep secret, the consequences of trying to maintain the secret become increasingly difficult, and finally there is a cleansing confession. It's as if every episode were designed to illustrate the maxim, "Honesty is the best policy." There are many other story structures, and Jimmy McGovern's record past work is more than enough evidence that he knows it. I'm glad to see there will be a season three; I hope someone will keep an eye out to keep it from being bogged down by the repetition that has marred season two.
8 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Lemon Sky (1988)
10/10
Important production of a major American play
6 August 2008
Not all stage plays translate well to screen. This is one of the most successful adaptations, partially because it embraces the stage conventions rather than trying artsy things to obscure them.

In a way, this is an update of STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. A sensitive person comes into a household dominated by an alpha male. In STREETCAR, Blanche is destroyed. In LEMON SKY (which is set in the California of the late Fifties), you get the feeling that Alan has gone through something traumatic, but the Sixties are coming and Alan will find his place in a transformed society that will allow him to prevail.

I've talked to Lanford Wilson a little about this play and this adaptation. He had little to do with the film and expected not much and was thrilled with how well it turned out. Kevin Bacon is at the peak of his form here. I believe it was on this project that he met Kyra Sedgwick, whom he later married. I'm a great admirer of Lindsay Crouse, and the work here ranks with some of the best she's done.

By the by, I saw the original production in New York, and Alan was played by a very young and remarkable Christopher Walken.
14 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
10/10
Not remotely anti-woman
28 April 2008
Yes, one of the leading women turns out to be manipulative and appalling, but the woman at the restaurant and the woman who runs the stand next door are almost saintly, and even the woman who turns to topless dancing turns out to have a considerable heart.

This is not remotely a portrait of all Latin women or men. It is a story about one fairly naive guy who undergoes a series of adventures in a land where he can't speak the language and emerges with new knowledge.

Some of it is funny, some of it is heartbreaking. If I have any criticism -- and it's not much of one -- it's that the end titles are way more sophisticated stylistically than the movie they follow, and so they don't quite match. Big criticism, yes? Other than that, it's fascinating to see a film a lot of which takes place in a New York that seems to be a parallel and largely unseen world to the one Anglos like me live in. The idea that New York contains entire cultures that co-exist without much contact is intriguing.
23 out of 30 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
The Producers (2005)
Just what I needed
31 December 2005
It's time for members of the WGA to dutifully trudge out and see a batch of films before casting ballots for film writing. And indeed I've started trudging. And the experience is the usual mixture of fulfilling and dismaying.

But I purposely scheduled seeing THE PRODUCERS for when I just wanted to have a good time. Yes, I know the original backwards and forwards, and I saw the show on Broadway a few times (friends kept getting cast as replacements), but I really wasn't quite prepared for the pleasure I got from the film.

Most of the old jokes are there, and there are tons of new ones, tossed on with all the casualness of a sloppy waiter putting a little too much pepper on your order. Relieved of the effort of following the jokes I already knew, I kept my eyes on the new stuff -- the little quotes from old movies, the inside references, details in the scenery. God in heaven, there were even jokes in the orchestrations! I can't remember the last time I found orchestrations funny.

I'm sure there are well-reasoned opinions out there from some grumps who refuse to be amused. I'm not one of them. I think maybe the last time I laughed this hard at a movie was THE OPPOSITE OF SEX, and that was a different kind of laughter (and indeed a very different kind of movie).
0 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
The Baxter (2005)
7/10
A charmer and an audience-pleaser
19 July 2005
Saw this at the Maine International Film Festival. It shares some characteristics with prime Woody Allen -- an affection for New York (warmly shot) and a sure sense of casting supporting actors.

Is it a ground-breaking comedy? No. But it is thoroughly charming and entertaining and had the audience laughing at all the moments it intended. The truth is, most people identify not with the pretty leads in glossy romantic comedies but with the zhlubs, and this is a film that gives us permission to identify with the zhlubs (without demonizing the pretty people). There aren't a lot of uncynical comedies out there, and this is a welcome one.

It's also valuable for people casting in the New York area -- there are enough engaging performers in here to cast three or four movies.
20 out of 24 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
10/10
Delightful
15 May 2005
A forgotten mural of a group of people opens the door to an era when the bohemian artists of San Francisco regularly gathered in a restaurant that sold terrible spaghetti but terrific ambiance. The mural is cleaned up and given a new home in Enrico's, another landmark San Francisco hangout. The artist is found. He faces the work of his youth and attempts to identify the figures in the painting. Many of them are still alive, and they come to visit images of their younger selves. Along the way, there are stories about this place that was home to jazz and poetry and how the decor came to include brightly colored wooden chairs dangled from the ceiling. The tales illuminate one of the romantic eras and locations of 20th century American culture. The contrasts between the old faces, the pictures in the mural and photos from the time offer bittersweet commentary on how the radicalism of youth softens with age.
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Chicago Cab (1997)
A treat for acting fans
24 February 2001
I've had the pleasure of seeing the stage version of this piece twice, and my hope with the film was that it would recreate some of that experience. Onstage, a handful of actors play all the fares a Chicago cabbie picks up on one day, which unifies the piece some. In the film, different actors play the fares. Also, in the film, Chicago plays Chicago (and very well). The scenes vary in quality, but most of them are very strong, and for people with an interest in seeing tour de force acting, there are a lot of short, very vivid portraits played mostly by actors with Chicago connections. For anybody who is a fan of Chicago theatre, this is a special treat. Paul Dillon provides the moral center of the piece, a guy trying to both do his job and figure out how to be good under stressful circumstances. Is this a brilliant movie? No. But it gave me a lot more pleasure than any new American film I saw in 2000.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Nuremberg (2000– )
Response
15 December 2000
Some of the other comments suggest that this is a remake of JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG. It is not. JUDGMENT was fiction. The characters were the creation of the writer. A good piece of work, yes. But not a representation of the facts of the major first trial. (In fact, JUDGMENT is clearly set up as one of the subsequent trials.)

NUREMBERG, on the other hand, is a dramatization of the real, first trial, and the characters (with some exceptions) are named after the real people and much of the dialogue is taken from the record.

Those who complain about the Nazis being drawn three-dimensionally miss the point -- it is too easy to view Nazis as a vicious breed apart. What is disturbing is that, in recognizing those aspects of these people we share, we recognize that we, too, under certain circumstances, have the capacity for evil. Recognizing this possibility keeps us alert so that we have better defenses against slipping over the line.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Missing the point
21 October 2000
Obviously some have missed the point of this movie. It's a satire, and quite a good one at that, of the media's tendency to gobble up and regurgitate the lives of even the most marginal people. Yes, Holly Hunter's character is annoying. That's the point. And the fact that this nutcase character who seriously contemplates killing her daughter's cheerleading competition believes herself to be some kind of a celebrity and the degree to which the media is complicit in her delusion is also the point. Satire is not easy. This is a very successful one.
1 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
War and Peace (1966)
Even mangled it's great
18 March 2000
The video edition is pan-and-scan and dubbed. A subtitled, full-length version was run on PBS, but it was also a p&s version. One of these days, I hope a widescreen version will be released on DVD. This is not only one of the most visually impressive movies ever made, it is also an extremely resonant one, filled with marvelous, detailed performances and shot in a frequently audacious style. Even today, more than 30 years after it was shot, there is stuff that nobody has come close to in this picture -- huge battle scenes where you can see the geometry of the tactics, a ballroom scene that rates with the most romantic, a duel that truly feels as if lives hang in the balance. Great movie.
17 out of 19 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this