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This was an attempt at a Cold War sitcom that fell flat. Phyl(lis) is a
young American athlete who falls in love with Mikhy (Mikhail), an
athlete from the then-Soviet Union, who defects in order to live with
Phyl and her family. It's a set-up for lots of bad fish-out-of-water
jokes, along with a cute-and-cuddly KGB agent (Michael Pataki) who
follows Mikhy in hopes of getting him back to the Soviet Union.
The only reason why I recall this at all is because I attended one of the shows in 1979 when they were filmed. We laughed dutifully, but even as teenagers at the time, we easily predicted this would go nowhere. When it actually made it onto TV in 1980, it had to have been about the same time that Jimmy Carter had announced a boycott of the Moscow Olympics over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It made the already-ridiculous premise even more absurd.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When I first heard that A&E remade the sci-fi classic The Andromeda
Strain as a four-hour miniseries, I immediately made it a high priority
for this week's viewing. I read the book repeatedly as a boy, so much
so that my father still jokes about it. The original movie followed the
book rather closely, but it dragged; except for the first 20 minutes
and the last 30, the pace could cure insomnia.
After seeing part 1, I can say that the producers have cured that problem, but at the expense of making the story almost unrecognizable. As in the original, the plot involves a covert effort by the American government to find biological material in space that could be used as a weapon on earth, but unlike the original, we know that immediately. In attempting to cover that up, some members of the government try blaming the North Koreans for infecting the damaged satellite, even though as one character finally points out, why would Pyongyang spend all the money to send a biological weapon into space hoping an American satellite would come close enough to it to hit it and trust that said satellite would hit the US? The character who says that points out that Homeland Security can't be bothered to inspect most shipping, leaving that method wide open.
And that brings us to some of the other updates. Everyone has personal problems in this remake; the Head Scientist has a bipolar wife, the Nosy Reporter has a cocaine addiction, three of the main characters have unresolved personal conflicts from the war. It's all very Lifetime Channel in that sense. Worse, though, are the little zingers that the writers of the remake put into the script about the current war and administration. When the Utah National Guard gets mobilized to quarantine the area, the Nosy Reporter tells his television audience that the UNG expects the call-up to be brief and says with a smirk, "Where have we heard that before?" One character postulates that the US supplied Saddam with all of his biological weapons, and so on. These pop up on a regular basis about every 20 minutes during the first installment.
At the end of the first episode, the political correctness had pretty much run amuck, or so we thought. In the finale, we got even more than I thought could be crammed into a four-hour show. A crisis over "vent mining" on the ocean floor turns into a terrorist crisis, but that's not the end of that subplot. Two of the doctors fall in love when they're supposed to be saving the world. The one military doctor turns out to be gay, and since he's the key man, it gives him an opportunity to say, "It's ironic. The one person the military most fears turns out to be the one they trust to save the day." Even those of us who think don't-ask-don't-tell is hypocritical rolled their eyes at that development, which had nothing to do with anything else in the movie.
But that's just the beginning of the stupidity. It turns out that Andromeda is a messenger from the nearby wormhole. The message? "Don't mess with vent mining". The entire infection comes from our future, where vent mining apparently turned out worse than what the hysterics fantasize about pumping oil out of ANWR. Humanity send Andromeda and its packing material back to the past as a message, based in binary code hidden deep within the molecular structure, to tell us to leave Mother Earth alone.
Of course, no one bothers to ask why Future Earth does this in a way that would kill every living organism on Past Earth. No one in the script conference that created this bothered to ask why Future Earth wouldn't just send a metal plate through the wormhole that said, "HEY! STOP VENT MINING! LOVE, YOUR GRANDCHILDREN". Wouldn't that have been more effective and a lot less likely to, say, kill all of Future Earth's ancestors? Maybe we could send a message back that said, "HEY! WE'LL STOP VENT MINING WHEN YOU QUIT PLAYING WITH KILLER ORGANISMS! LOVE, GRANDMA AND GRANDPA". We can send that with some influenza as payback.
The ending provides the biggest unintentional laughs. The military doctor has been designated the key man, the one who has to stop the self-destruct sequence of the laboratory that will provide unimaginable power to Andromeda for mutations. Unlike in the novel, he dies when he falls in the tunnel into a pool of water used by the nuclear reactor, just as he hands off the key that will stop the sequence to the project leader. Unfortunately, the key sequence requires the military doctor's thumb for identification, which leads another doctor to do a Mr. Spock (Wrath of Khan) and go into the water to cut off the thumb. He then throws the thumb straight up for two stories to the project leader who's hanging on the side of the wall, complete with a close-up, slo-mo sequence of the thumb tumbling towards the hero as the self-sacrificing doctor dies in a pool of water that wouldn't be radioactive anyway.
It provides a perfect analogy to the entire movie. The only way this mess should get a thumbs-up is if a reviewer cut one off in protest and threw it in the air. The rest of the ending is fairly anticlimactic, with a few assorted assassinations as everyone starts covering up the government's role in the affair. Everyone's loved ones suddenly finds themselves free of the personal problems that plagued them. The President declares that he'll continue vent mining despite the strongly-worded memo from the future, which makes sense; I'd try to kill Future Earth too, after a stunt like Andromeda.
What a shame. It could have been interesting; instead, it gives a peek into the mind of the politically-correct paranoids who produced this dreck.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Soraya's husband Ali has tired of Soraya after having four children
with her, and wants to marry the 14-year-old daughter of one of his
prisoners. He can't afford two wives, so he demands a divorce from
Soraya, who refuses for economic reasons. Instead, Ali conspires with
the local mullah a fraud who has to keep Ali from exposing him to
frame Soraya for infidelity. The "evidence" is laughably transparent,
but as Soraya notes in the film, "voices of women do not matter here".
Her aunt Zahra, played by Shohreh Aghdashloo, provides the central voice for the film. It's mostly told in flashback as she explains what happened to the journalist who only came to town because his car broke down. Aghdashloo provides the voice of conscience and reason in a town gone mad, a village where Soraya's own father calls her an unprintable name and where her sons join in the stoning. Even with most of the film in subtitles, it is easy to follow and heartbreaking and enraging to watch.
The performances are universally excellent. Aghdashloo, an Iranian ex-patriate herself, brings Zahra and her defiance and despair to life. Mozhan Marno portrays Soraya beautifully, especially in the execution scene. Jim Caveziel plays the journalist, and while he doesn't get much screen time, he does well with what he has. The villagers are portrayed with surprising nuance. Navid Negahban provides a malevolent presence as Ali, while David Diaan's Ebrahim winds up being perhaps the worst of the villains a good man who refuses to stop an injustice he knows to be happening.
It's brilliant, infuriating, sad, powerful, and oddly enough, ends on a somewhat uplifting note.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Honestly, the first time I saw this movie, I assumed it was a dark
comedy about how an obsession can destroy one's life. I love dogs, and
even I got creeped out by Molly Shannon as Peggy less than halfway
through the film. Instead of loving and appreciating dogs, Peggy
instead obsesses about them, transforming dogs and other animals into
replacements for family, friends, a job, and eventually her sanity.
The worst part of the film, in my estimation, comes when her brother and sister-in-law leave her in charge of their kids for a holiday. Peggy terrorizes the older daughter by taking her to a slaughterhouse. After that, Peggy goes downhill quickly, attempting to murder her next-door neighbor and winds up getting briefly committed to a psych ward, then released into her brother's care.
And yet, at the end of this dreary 97 minutes (which feels strangely like 127 minutes), the film celebrates Peggy's transformation as she happily leaves the job she got back in some sort of ridiculous miracle after embezzling funds from her boss, to join an animal-rights activist caravan to protest meat-eating everywhere. The film pretty much makes a good case for her continued commitment, a point of which the filmmakers seem laughably unaware.
The film wastes a good performance by Peter Sarsgaard, one of the few recognizable humans in the film, and not-bad efforts by Regina King and John C. Reilly, who manages to sneak in some humanity into a role clearly designed to be a cardboard villain. It's a horrid film in almost every respect, and in the end a satire of clueless fanatics -- and the filmmakers who apparently love them.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'Open Range' is certainly successful as entertainment even if it doesn't
completely work as intended. There are some fine performances to be seen,
notably Robert Duvall's work as Boss Spearman. The cinematography is
artful, especially in the first part of the movie where the action stays on
the 'range'. But the plot doesn't entirely add up, Costner's Charley Waite
doesn't entirely add up, and the ending is so oddly upbeat you wonder what
Costner & Company was trying to say.
The problem with Westerns is the pressure filmmakers feel to connect the film to a greater ethos of vanishing America, and Open Range tries this through the somewhat arcane issue of free-grazing. Baxter's [Micheal Gambon] fierce opposition of free-grazing and his corruption of local law enforcement represents the decline of individualism and freedom during the American Industrial Revolution. The film never does play fair in this dispute, however -- after all, to a large extent America won the West based on building towns, farms, and ranches, and free-grazers infringed on all of those who invested in these, and besides, property rights are a cornerstone of American freedom. (If the producers don't believe that, I wonder how they would feel about all of us bootlegging this movie?)
Also, it was the towns that served as bases to clear out Native Americans -- in fact the town in the movie had been an Army fort before. These tribes would also have been very hostile to free-grazers, but by this time Charley and Boss don't even worry about them. In other words, Charley and Boss are exploiting the security that townspeople, farmers, and ranchers provide without giving any compensation at all. In this context, you can see why Baxter would act the way he does, and then you could show that without him being the stereotypically evil b*****d rancher so common in Westerns.
During the movie, Charley alludes to a dark past during the Civil War of which he is ashamed, which leads you to expect a meltdown á la Unforgiven or The Ninth Configuration, but nothing ever really comes of it. Even during the brilliant gun battle at the end of the movie (one of the best I've seen on film), he doesn't do anything but react like anyone else would in combat. You keep expecting a reckoning with the dark past he keeps talking about, but all it really does is impact the love-story subplot with Annette Bening in a way that winds up feeling more contrived than anything else.
There's a bit of High Noon too, although the townies eventually decide to help out, and the ending will satisfy the die-hard cheery optimists in the audience but leave the rest of us scratching our heads, wondering what it was the filmmakers were trying to say. If it's that freedom is worth dying for, well, that doesn't happen here. If it's that freedom is worth killing for, I can buy that, but then the film should have been framed that way, and Charley's attitude about his past doesn't make a lot of sense. If the point of the movie is just that the good guys win with no real consequences, then the gun battle becomes more of a cartoon than anything else. And if it's just that Kevin gets Annette ... <sigh>
However, I still think it's the most entertaining film from Costner since Tin Cup, mostly because he manages to stay within his own limitations as an actor most of the time, and it's well worth seeing in the theater. If you're expecting another Unforgiven or even Hang 'Em High, you'll be a bit disappointed, but otherwise you'll enjoy it. 7/10
Carl Reiner has a long and storied career, but he may always be best
as Alan Brady on the Dick Van Dyke Show. His manic, monomaniacal Alan
was one of the most brilliant characters in sit-com history; the episode
where Laura reveals that Alan is bald on national TV may be the funniest
sit-com episode ever filmed.
All that being said, this animated effort only captures the faint echoes of the brilliance of this character. Maybe if 'The Larry Sanders Show' had never aired (or hell, even 'My Favorite Year'), this would be considered biting satire. As it is, it's just too slow to work. First of all, it misses a live audience, and the timing is all off. Secondly, the 3-D animation style used has very little energy to it. It's almost like watching the effect of Tylenol PM on adults. This needed a much more zany and somewhat less structured animation style in order to capture the energy of Alan Brady ... certainly not Bill Plympton, but something of that kind of kinetic energy.
As it is, it plays a bit like an old Catskills comedian who is working ten years past his natural retirement date. It has its moments, but Carl Reiner is not past his retirement date yet (see Ocean's Eleven), and this should have been done better in order to capture his genius. I gave it a 5 for a couple of laughs.
"Cold Harvest" will harvest nothing more than a series of unintended laughs,
from the awful acting to the ridiculous martial-arts sequences, from the
warehouse-chic sets to the stock supporting characters, and from the bad
dialogue to the repetitive, redundant score.
Gary Daniels as a bounty-hunter uses a series of close-ups to feature the single bovine facial expression that he somehow confuses with a range of emotions. Bryan Genesse as his nemesis, Little Ray, fares only slightly better, speaking in a spaghetti-western monotone most of the time. Barbara Crampton (great name, that) as the inevitable damsel-in-distress love interest actually acts, but to no avail.
If you've seen one of these cheapo post-Apocalyptic nonsense fests, you've seen them all, so the plot is pointless anyway. But where "Escape from New York/Los Angeles" can be fun, this just beats you over the head with its stupidity. I understand limited budgets, but the set never looks like anything else than the unused warehouse that it is. Low budget doesn't excuse the sound effects either, where every body motion -- even the ones outside of martial-arts fights -- are accompanied by the sound of the doors opening on the Starship Enterprise. He turns his head -- whoosh! He moves his hand -- whoosh! He rolls his eyes -- whoosh! Also, the score consists of the the same three clips being played over and over again. Listen especially for the tension-emphasis music, which is repeated ad nauseum (and which would make a great drinking game).
This is only interesting for its unintended humor. The only film this comes close to matching is Battlefield Earth. 1/10
"Father of the Bride" is a charming, family-accessible movie that showcases
Steve Martin in one of his most likable roles. It has its flaws, some of
which get on your nerves, but it never pretends to be more than pleasant
fluff, and it will endear itself to you.
It's been commented that this almost seems like a parody involving the silly obsessions of rich white people, and you certainly get a sense that there is a lack of perspective on the part of all the characters, and not just Steve Martin, as it's supposed in the film. I mean, $250 a head for 300 guests comes out to $75,000, and that is a ridiculous amount to spend on a wedding. (The original guest list was almost 600 -- for a house wedding! -- and George's insistence on drastic reductions is portrayed unsympathetically.) The poutiness of the daughter, who is otherwise played to perfection by the beautiful Kimberly Williams, makes her seem like a spoiled little brat.
Also, in the first part of the movie, when Martin's character meets his daughter's fiancé, the natural fatherly impulse to dislike Brian (ably played by George Newbern) gets stretched beyond reality to something like a reverse Electra complex, and it gets kind of creepy for a couple of minutes.
However, I don't find it particularly offensive that Martin and Diane Keaton as his wife both own successful businesses, nor do I find it odd that the daughter is working on a Master's degree in architecture at 22 (most students get their BA/BS at 21 or 22). Just because two people have made successes of their lives does not mean they are bad or money-obsessed people, although Martin's reaction to the in-laws certainly suggests that he is insecure about his own status. In the Spencer Tracy original, the family was rich enough to call their maid by ringing a crystal bell, as I recall, and the naysayers don't seem to have a problem with that.
I found FotB to be mostly charming, given that it never really takes itself too seriously. Diane Keaton provides a steady and strong balance for Martin's frequent outbursts of nuttiness, and Williams and Newbern give a realistic portrait of a young couple in love -- even to the inevitable pre-wedding blow-up, which is resolved by an unlikely source. When my wife first saw this (I had seen it when it was released), we were in the middle of planning our wedding, and to this day we can watch this movie and find events that recall our own experiences. It's easy to relate to the movie and to most of the characters, most of the time.
Give yourself a treat, drop the class warfare for a couple of hours, and just watch this for the enjoyment of it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There is nothing quite so painful as a comedy that isn't, and unfortunately
Gene Wilder is is making more and more of them. Normally both Wilder and
Christine Lahti are talented performers, but this script would win awards
for boring. Not only that, but Lahti and Wilder have no chemistry at all,
and it just gets worse when Mary Stuart Masterson is brought into the
This is one of those "slice of life" 80's pictures that resemble nothing more than a bad Lifetime TV movie. Wilder's reactions run the gamut from unrealistic to inappropriate; when he's consoling Masterson in their break-up scene, it's like a father with a daughter, which (quite frankly) I found exceedingly creepy. The relationship with Lahti falls apart realistically enough, but with no humor, wit, or even insight possible as Lahti plays it straight and Wilder plays it far too broadly, even for a comedy.
** SPOILERS **
When he and Lahti get back together at the end, it's all rushed together, complete with an adopted baby coming out of nowhere, and with Lahti's lipstick still damp on Wilder's lips from their first kiss, she introduces Wilder and baby to a restaurantful of strangers as her family. For that matter, the way his mother dies (and how flip Wilder is about it throughout the rest of the movie) conflicts terribly with the way he treats his father when he starts dating again. Nothing in this movie makes any sense or bears any resemblance to human interaction.
In short, no subtlety, no humor, no great or even good performances (none bad either, except the inexplicable Susan Ruttan, doing her autistic impression once again), no connection to reality whatsoever. Let's hope that Wilder hooks up with Mel Brooks and they both turn out something that makes us forget their work from the last fifteen years or so.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Nuts" is one of those set-piece courtroom dramas that feel too slick, too
pat, too contrived to really work, despite some excellent work by Richard
Dreyfuss, Eli Wallach, and especially Maureen Stapleton. Even Barbra
Streisand (definitely NOT one of my favorites) isn't too bad when she's not
too busy chewing the scenery to pieces.
However, this movie drones out like a late-80s morality play, or even an acting-class extemporaneous psychodrama. It hits all the right PC notes: a stepfather who is a sexual predator, an alcoholic mother who (maybe) unwittingly pimps out her daughter for security, a physically abusive husband, not to mention the lawyer who wants to get rid of her quickly, the other lawyer who risks everything for justice, the uncaring hospital administrator/psychiatrist who ... well, I'm sure you're getting the picture. The most egregious is when the WASPy lawyer and psychiatrist get their panties in a bunch when she starts talking about sex and prostitution, as if they've never dealt with it before. All we're missing here is a learning disorder.
All of this is mere prologue for Streisand to strike a blow for feminists by declaring that her life choices are her responsibility (true) and that they want to label her as crazy and lock her up forever because she's dared to do things that men don't like, and they're afraid of her power (huh?). Maybe it's symbolism, but it's laid on very, very thick, and Streisand's tendency to overact doesn't help.
The result of all this contrivance is that the story feels false, the characters feel false, and a good deal of what goes on in the courtroom isn't at all realistic. James Whitmore as the judge gives the most realistic performance, but it's not the actors -- it's the script itself. People contradict themselves in ways inconsistent to their characters. For instance, Karl Malden as the stepfather makes a very incriminating contradiction on the witness stand. Would a man who had successfully hidden his abuse of his stepdaughter for 20-odd years suddenly crack under 5 minutes of unremarkable questioning? Not likely. Would a psychiatrist who had testified in "hundreds" of hearings admit any personal bias by accident as shown here? Not likely.
However, there are some good performances that definitely lend tension to the movie, and even though this has very obviously been adapted from a stage play, it avoids that flat, almost-video look that so many movies from the 80s tend to have. It's watchable but not remarkable -- I gave it a 6.
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