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The Hellfire Club (1961)
There are only three good reasons to watch this
Those reasons are two actors and the production look.
This early look at Keith Michell was a treat, to see him as he was prior to his true star turn as Henry VIII in that excellent BBC miniseries. He is a great historical chameleon who looks authentic in any period of history and can speak all versions of English. Peter Cushing is virtually unrecognizable as the lawyer whose beard is totally out of fashion in this era of both vice and enlightenment. Good performances by both.
The 18-century costumes were spectacularly accurate and well-done and the actors wore and moved in them well. The sets were worth of Hammer's usual period setting work.
However, the harem-girl stuff on the exploited females will always remind me of Hollywood drivel.
The story is an Alexandre Dumas-style cliché which could have worked with a little more effort on the writers' part. In the hands of actors less capable than Keith Michell, Peter Cushing, and Peter Arne, this would have been an even bigger mess.
La que no podía amar (2011)
Good Story, Superb Performances
Despite this being a remake -- and a 2nd one at that -- this novela stands up there with the outstanding performances of Jorge Salinas and Susanna Gonzales as two contentious siblings, Ana Brenda Contreras as the woman they argue about, and Ana Bertha Espin as the scheming aunt whose actions have a domino effect on the lives of almost all the characters.
Jorge Salinas' Rogelio is a study in depression as the result of an accident that ultimately caused him to question his value as a man. He reacts in typical male fashion with serious anger-management issues, wielding his riding crop and inspiring fear in everyone around him until the right woman arrives in his life. His interactions with Maria (Ana Martin) show that he does not have to live permanently in a private hell and prepare him for Ana Paula (Ana Brenda Contreras), the pretty nurse who has the patience to deal with his difficult personality. Rogelio's sister, Cinthia, is a lazy, spoiled young woman who secretly defies his authority by carrying on with the foreman (Fabian Robles) and constantly whines about the inheritance she isn't allowed to touch. She forever complains about him keeping her prisoner at the ranch, not allowing her to get an education or have friends, but she in fact is too lazy to do any of this. She is also a total ingrate when Ana Paula's presence changes her bother's outlook and begins her personal campaign to break them up.
Ana Bertha Espin is also excellent as the aunt whose greed and hunger for status puts Ana Paula into Rogelio's path. She is a manipulative leech, pretending to love her niece and nephew while conspiring with the equally greedy and vengeful Bruno Rey (Julian Gil), a predator who will stop at nothing to satisfy his sadistic goals.
Great atmospheric music underscores the action. The writing was mostly good, although the several illogical plot turns may have been due to some emergency rewrites through the middle of the series to accommodate Jorge Salinas' medical situation and recovery. Although other actors might have been available to replace him (Sebastian Rulli was considered as a possibility), it was better that it turned out this way. While Sebastian Rulli might have been a decent first choice for this role, nobody could have lived up to it after Jorge Salinas. He is Televisa's ultimate alpha male.
Dark Shadows (2012)
Should have been titled "Tim Burton's Dark Shadows"
After seeing the trailers for this film I was prepared to hate it. The trailer promises something it (fortunately) doesn't deliver: Endless fish-out-of-water jokes about a vampire being released from a locked coffin after two centuries. Since that wears thin after two minutes it's well that this film didn't spend all its time there. Nor was this film a true comedy or even a satire. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to define it with any exactitude.
After a good, atmospheric prologue to explain Barnabas' backstory, the film becomes somewhat uneven. The comedy was slapdash in places, juvenile in others, and mostly pulling teeth in the rest. The best laughs in this film are actually from lines such as Barnabas' response to Carolyn's "Are you stoned?" when he says "They tried stoning me, my dear; it did not work." While this is a fish-out-of-water joke because of the gap in vernacular, it points to the realization that any humor that should be transfused into DARK SHADOWS should have been on the order of Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw. Visual jokes such as Barnabas brushing his fangs to no reflection in the mirror and his reactions to objects unknown in his own time should have seemed too obvious to be included in anything that purports to be original.
While Tim Burton's visual sense for sets and costumes is admirable and well done in this film, the makeup and lighting leave much to be desired. He is a one-trick pony with overpale complexions and whiteface makeup and dark sunken eyes on the characters and hair colors that look like nothing from nature or like they don't belong on the actress that wears it. His fascination with jailbait females is somewhat disturbing and accounts for a Carolyn who is significantly younger than in the TV series and a Victoria Winters who doesn't look remotely old enough to be a governess. In contrast, the makeup on Eva Green is designed to make her look cheap and hard, which is in absolute contrast to Lara Parker, the original Angelique. The special effects that make her farther away from human also do nothing positive for either the character or the story.
There were several lines lifted or adapted from the original series (fans will recognize them) and this is where we see Depp's appreciation of it. The power of the original series lay in the humanity of Barnabas and Angelique, not fully realized in this film. While it is impossible for a two-hour film to do what a stripped television program can do, we don't get enough of Barnabas' guilt nor do we get any sense that Angelique felt anything real for him. Which is a pity because Johnny Depp showed that he could have been an excellent Barnabas with a better script and without the Max Shreck fingernails and white foundation.
There was very little used of Robert Cobert's music from the original series and little new Danny Elfman music in favor of using actual 1970s music that was meant mostly to serve as ironic commentary to the action (such as the Barry White song used for the demonic sex scene whose action reminded me of the aerial fight in THE LOST BOYS). As in the TV series, the 1970s music should have been restricted to the party scene and scenes in the Blue Whale or other venues where such music would have been heard. Not doing so served to take away from what should have been the atmosphere of the film.
Why did they blow up a story with so much potential?
This series had a lot of promise and potential. It had a science- fiction premise, interesting characters to develop, and an appealing cast, including two dogs. It started to go seriously wrong when Elisabeth became a serial killer AND started messing with Aurora's head. Either of these would have been acceptable; both was excess.
Beyond that there was an excess of excess, most of which was not well thought-out. This led to some serious continuity issues including but no limited to Martin's sudden inheritance. Nothing about that made any sense in view of Lorenzo's previous comments about his ex and nothing about what happened to her after she walked out on him made any sense either.
Once Rebecca arrived everything fell like dominoes. Right behind her was Catalina The Soulless, devoid of all human feeling and ethics, with a collection of gangster minions. Her personality went a long way to explaining Vanessa's own twisted emotions but could never have been reformed.
Mandatory forgiveness is a novela cliché I could seriously do without because it isn't humanly realistic. Some of the characters would have to be saints in view of their ability to forgive the most egregious sins of these villains, which I will not enumerate here. If Telemundo wants to break any new ground in the world of telenovelas it should remove the mandatory forgiveness and unrealistic redemption and recognize that there are such toxic people in this world that they do not deserve forgiveness.
The relationships in this series are far more convoluted than in any other novela I can remember. Particularly disturbing are the cross- generational relationships: In what world would Natalia not be going daft at her daughter getting involved with the former suitor of her old friend and later see this guy marrying her other best friend? Nina and Victoria are best friends in school and Nina doesn't flip out completely at the prospect of Victoria getting involved with her father? Aurora herself should have had more issues than she did about her father and Natalia, considering that she was only 20 years old for all practical purposes.
It also made no sense that Nina would have the hots for Martin when they grew up as brother and sister no matter how hot he is.
This story could have dealt with more science-fiction issues such as the effects of cryonics, ethical issues over whether this is even a good idea, and possible government interference in the entire process. None of this was even touched upon. However, those things don't involve much emotion.
What was truly disturbing was the constant media coverage of Aurora's frozen state and revival, but that is a possible prediction of where "reality television" is heading.
Vanessa's first husband is still on ice at the end. Who forgot that?
Criminal trials are conducted in English in New York. The trial scenes and the behavior of the lawyers were not remotely realistic, nor did the courtrooms even look like any New York City ones.
Finally, there is no good reason this story should have continued much beyond Aurora's death. She was named for a fictional princess and she died like a real one with Lorenzo chewing out the media for their role in her death. If this series wasn't doing well in the ratings, they should have wrapped things up at this point.
Telemundo also has a tendency to extend their novelas excessively if the ratings are good enough and probably to pander to viewer reaction. This greatly compromises the quality of writing and is something they should reconsider.
Mujeres asesinas (2005)
Just when you thought it couldn't get more perverse....
...your gag reflex kicks in again.
This anthology series from Argentina is the original of this name, based on the book by Marisa Grinstein. The cases are real, from Argentine police files. The killers' motives, methods, and mental states run the full spectrum. Some are sympathetic, others despicable, others pathetic. Most of the stories are compelling and all are played for maximum shock value.
Crime has been a popular subject for entertainment since ancient times and the brutality of the crimes in this series would please any audience that knew the Caesars. The presentations are formatted in one of two ways: a linear story told by a fly on the wall or with an investigation context as witnesses and perps talk to detectives. There is no single police precinct or regular cast of police characters, so the viewer doesn't quite know what to expect from week to week in this series. This is different from the Mexican version, which has a single police division and a regular cast of law-enforcement and forensic personnel.
Although the acting is good to excellent, the production values are flat. Unlike Mexican television, Argentine television is very studio- and backlot-bound, so the visuals feel almost two-dimensional. What compensates for this is the unpredictable nature of the stories to anyone encountering them for the first time. When you see "Margarita, la maldita", which is presented in linear fashion, you have no idea who her victim is or what the murder weapon will be. The Mexican version has forensic experts discussing this at the opening of the episode. What remains a mystery in the original is her motive for the crime while the Mexican version supplies at least a partial explanation.
I am not as familiar with Argentine television as I have only seen one novela produced there, but my feeling about the Argentine MUJERES ASESINAS is that the cast is mostly made up of people who don't get lead roles in novelas. Several actresses have played more than two of the killer women, where two has been the limit so far in Mexico; Cristina Banegas has done five episodes as the killer. This series therefore probably lacks the promotional hook of casting against type that helped make the Mexican series a hit. The majority of the episodes are set in working-class environments, with occasional episodes having middle-class characters. As in the Mexican version, all episodes end on the crime itself, followed by the crawl explaining the legal outcome of the case.
Since a significant number of these episodes concern women who kill abusive men, rape victim status is a frequent motive for murder. The general depiction of sex in this series is more than enough to turn viewers' stomachs. The episode "Ana, Sometida" shows a husband who begins the S&M married sex life in the honeymoon suite, followed by escalating scenes of humiliation that build toward motivating the crime. If a psychiatrist needed to use aversion therapy for sex addicts, this series could be a valuable tool.
Hombres de honor (2005)
Romeo and Juliet Meets The Godfather
What a prime story for a telenovela: Two crime families competing for dominance over illegal businesses is the background for romance for their firstborns.
As our story opens in Buenas Aires in 1940, Luca Onoratto is released from prison after serving three years for the murder of the twin brother of Don Carlo Paternostra, a crime he did not commit. His father, Don Lorenzo Onoratto, is murdered a scene or so later and Luca's mother, Alberta, decides to take the reins of the family business. Although most of the men scoff at this, she is far more level-headed than they as she lacks their hair-trigger tempers.
The succeeding episodes are filled with scenes long familiar to fans of mob movies: The restaurant whacking, the wedding massacre, the taping of a pistol in a hidden spot for future use, and the clandestine meetings where anything can happen. Novela viewers will not be disappointed because certain standard novela plot points are also present: The romance that is not approved by either set of parents, family secrets, paternity issues, disguises, madness, jealousy, and revenge. There is also occasional comic relief, especially in the brothel scenes.
Hmm... this also is beginning to sound like Shakespeare.
Unlike Shakespeare's most famous pair of lovers, Luca Onoratto and Maria Paternostra are adults who seem to know what they're doing. They are thwarted mostly by her father and his men in their attempts at elopement, but they are not giving up no matter what obstacle they find in their way, including the repeated misunderstandings.
Unlike Mexican novelas this one is very studio- and backlot-bound, but the period detail is excellent. Vintage cars, interior design, props (especially tableware and telephones), wardrobe, and coiffures are right out of old Hollywood movies. My main criticism is the scarcity of incidental music of the period that would play up the film noir aspects of the story (note the opening title music, which sounds like it comes from THE GODFATHER soundtrack).
The cast -- many of whom have Italian names -- is flawless. Gerardo Romano is the perfect Hollywood image of the Mafia don, complete with thick silvering grey hair, elegant suits, Italian accent, and gestures. Leonor Benedetto -- who looks here like a cross between Tallulah Bankhead and Joan Crawford -- gives us a Mafia widow you don't dare mess with. Laura Novoa has something of a Lois Lane look as Maria, who is as tough as her father, while Gabriel Corrado (who looks like Chris Noth with blue eyes) provides machismo and romance as Luca.
The plot thickens on Latelenovela Network, but if you can find the episodes online, this series is worth your while.
Dark Shadows (2005)
Anyone who knows and loves the original and the 1991 revival will cringe at this travesty, shown only at conventions and festivals.
This was clearly produced for the "Scream" audience, without regard for the Gothic heritage of the stories that made up the original's various chapters. The treatment of Angelique was egregiously bad. The casting of Alec Newman as Barnabas might have worked if this were being produced now; he wasn't mature enough at the time of this production although he appeared to understand the character.
If anyone ever considers making a new TV series, they should realize that its original atmosphere and stellar cast were what made it work despite the stagey acting style and the continuity errors.
Fans of DARK SHADOWS, FOREVER KNIGHT, and ANGEL: Take note!
You will all appreciate this miniseries starring an A-list of Latin American actors led by Chayanne as the title character. Gabriel Marquez, a three hundred-year-old vampire, has a LaCroix, a Josette, and a Reverend Trask all at once in a stylish tale set in present-day Miami with historical flashbacks in Venice and Cartagena de Indias. He seeks redemption for his past sins, beginning with not having killed in a century and consuming only animal blood (which causes other vampires to call him a "vegetarian") while attempting to protect Eva, who is the reincarnation of Viviana, the woman stolen from him when he became a vampire three centuries ago.
The new elements to the story include two local priests in conflict over how to handle the "invasion of demons", a stalker who has been following Gabriel for reasons of his own, and the goth scene in Miami when it is infiltrated by genuine vampires. All this works well to provide a riveting story with excellent cliffhangers at the end of each episode. Special effects are kept only to the necessary ones and the photography is excellent. My only problems with this series are that the humor doesn't always work and the inclusion of pop music in some scenes that doesn't suit the mood of the series.
The cast all gave excellent performances, but someone should have thought about creating a slightly different look for Jose Luis Rodriguez, whose latter-day Pizarro looks like a twin for Paulie Walnuts in THE SOPRANOS. It's a look that would draw more attention than a vampire probably wants. It compounded the humor that didn't work because it made Rodriguez a parody of himself in some scenes.
The series was probably rated TV-14 for violence and some sexual content. There is also one nightmare sequence that is absolutely guaranteed to shock.
Mad Men (2007)
They threw it down the well and it made a hell of a splash
Mad Men, despite a generation of fast-action, quick-cut entertainment junkies who claim they find it boring, is a huge artistic success as a series with both style and substance. It has inspired a retro fashion trend, interest in cocktails nobody has mixed in decades, and countless intergenerational debates about business and personal ethics.
All while providing a riveting character study of the 1950s mindset. Despite the calendar, the minds of the older characters are firmly in the 1950s, a decade rife with racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia. From Roger Sterling of the silver baby spoon set to secret upstart Don Draper we span the social spectrum of white America at a time when the world is changing. The pulse of the Future Shock of youthquake, race relations dialogue, and the sexual revolution is something Madison Avenue needed to have its finger on, but Sterling, Cooper, some of their staff, and most of their clients have their heads in the sand. The Season 4 scene between Freddie Rumsen and Peggy Olsen discussing women's motives for using cold cream is almost painful to watch to anyone who remembers the women's movement. Later Boomers watch this series grateful to have been born during the 50s instead of having come of age then. Younger viewers are incredulous that the world was so socially fractious and that people ever smoked that much.
The latter might not be such a bad thing.
The writing is sharp with superb dry wit and gallows humor when required; most lines have two or three layers of meaning. The production design is impeccable and the performances are stellar and on the money. The almost sledgehammer depiction of sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace is shocking to those who didn't experience it as is the huge contrast of the comparative emotional restraint shown to clients and the emotional disasters experienced by the characters in their private and privileged lives. Every actor is perfectly cast from the stunningly handsome Jon Hamm as our Man in a Grey Flannel Suit to the coldly beautiful January Jones as his Stepford Wife. That their characters are endlessly argued about speaks well of their performances.
Let younger viewers who want car chases and blood spatter watch the programs that exist for those things while their more curious peers can tune in to find out what they missed about the 1960s and why they should feel happy about that. Mad Men drives that point home well.
Mi pecado (2009)
Romeo and Juliet meet the Seven Deadly Sins
The seven deadly sins are played out among four old friends and their families in a small town rife with gossip and the willingness -- perhaps eagerness -- to believe the worst of others.
The rift between the Cordobas and the Huertas begins when Rosario Cordoba unjustly accuses Julian Huerta of killing her beloved son César when both were children, resulting in Julian's later inability to find employment with anyone except Gambino Roura. Greed and lust drive Gambino, who married out of greed and later committed adultery with Justina, who married Rudolfo Huerta to move up socially. Ironically, she ends up envying others who have more money and a higher social position. Paulino's pride (and possible fear) forbids him from seeking psychiatric help for his wife Rosario, whose insane wrath is aimed at their innocent daughter Lucrezia. She abuses her emotionally and systematically before attempting to banish her permanently from the house at the age of ten. Envy will drive Lucrezia's cousin Renata to excesses similar to those of Rosario, while sloth is the sin of Gambino's son Carmello, who looks to make a fast peso without working for it and Justina's son Josué, who wants what Julian has but doesn't work for it. A suitable punishment for a father who murdered his wife as soon as he found out she was about to change her will and a woman who cheats on a good man with an evil one. There is a Cain and Abel dynamic between Julian and Josué, both of whom want Lucrezia.
Lucrezia and Julian will have a long, hard time fighting the sins of their parents and the machinations of their peers before they can be together.
Thus far Daniela Castro delivers the goods as the coldly insane Rosario, a more manic version of Beth from ORDINARY PEOPLE. After failing to get rid of Lucrezia, she attempts to control her every move, every thought. Her hard beauty must have once been a little softer to have attracted her husband in the first place and she has over the years gradually coerced him into completely catering to her whims which are not by any means capricious. Roberto Blandón's Paulino is the classic workaholic husband who is not home enough to see the true levels of evil within it and he appears unwilling to face them. Sabine Moussier as the adulterous Justina exemplifies the social-climbing wannabe Rosario accuses her of being, making all the etiquette faux pas (like wearing a sexy dress to a funeral) and failing to learn other appropriate public behaviors. This detracts from her usual femme fatal sex appeal, perhaps intentionally. Sergio Goyri is appropriately creepy as Gambino, who has gotten away with murder so far but will ultimately pay in the end. Francisco Gattorno is less appealing than usual as Rudolfo, the cuckolded husband who may not know the truth until almost the end of the story. None of the mature characters are particularly effective parents except for the Cordobas' housekeeper, Delphina. Magda Karina shines in this role, the only voice of reason Lucrezia can hear in that household. The other voice of reason is that of Padre Mattias, ably portrayed by Salvador Sánchez. The younger actors hold their own in this drama, with Eugenio Siller particularly appealing as the much-maligned Julian.
The Biblical themes are emphasized by two of the families being in the apple business.
Lluego, cual es tu pecado?