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The Magnificent Ambersons (2002)
Staggeringly bad TV movie is an insult to Tarkington & to Welles
This clumsy catastrophe is NOT made from Orson Welles' screenplay for his genius 1942 version, though it uses bits of it. The creators of this remake do everything wrong. The unforgettable prologue and narration are dropped entirely, important scenes are cut to make room for stupid new ones, others are shuffled and rewritten so they no longer make sense, and banal, foolish dialog is added.
Tarkington's story is deeply grounded in a particular time and place: a century ago in the American midwest. Welles, a midwesterner born in 1915, knew the place and the people well. This version's Mexican director, Alfonso Arau, shows so little understanding of his characters and story, you wonder if he's ever met an American.
Arau's choice of an isolated Irish country house to stand in for the Ambersons' urban mansion, located near the downtown of a city based on Tarkington's native Indianapolis, shows how clueless he is. That's like filming HUCKLEBERRY FINN in Vienna, with the Danube as the Mississippi.
Every choice is as wrong as the mansion. There is no sense of place or period. All of the leads are grossly miscast. The speech, the manners, the attitudes, the tone, the bad acting, the cheap suggestions of incest ... nothing in this remake rings true.
For George Minafer, the most American of protagonists, Arau weirdly goes to Ireland again, casting the amateurish Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who overacts like crazy in a phony, inappropriately-contemporary accent. Where Tim Holt was subtle and low-key, Rhys Meyers shouts, leaps about, and twists his pretty lips into sneers and scowls worthy of a circus clown.
Granted, the 1942 cast was perfection. Arau's casting makes you wonder what he was smoking. Madeleine Stowe is nothing like Isabel, but she comes off better than most of the others. Morgan is the bland Bruce Greenwood, whose wrongness reminds one how profoundly sensitive and right Joseph Cotton was in the part. Major Amberson looks and talks like an ex-hippie; and the frail, sexless Wilbur is played by a handsome, hearty actor who has way more sex appeal than Greenwood, which makes nonsense of the love triangle.
In the crucial role of Fanny -- the prim, plain-faced, repressed spinster aunt -- Arau casts (I am not making this up!) the vulgar, sexy Jennifer Tilly. Agnes Moorhead, heartbreakingly memorable in the Welles version, is rolling in her grave.
When Arau tries to get arty, he falls right on his face ... turning George's birth into a 1960s acid trip and adding an absurd scene to the ball sequence, where Morgan waltzes with Isabel in the snow while two butlers try to hold parasols over their heads. This sub-Fellini touch is so idiotic, like much of the movie, it becomes unintentionally funny.
Blunder piles on blunder. Isabel, Fanny, and George all appear to have collagen-injected lips, which sums up director Arau's apparent belief that Indiana in 1900 was exactly like Beverly Hills today. The dancers at the ball do the tango (!) as if the story's set in Buenos Aires. Nothing here seems to be happening in the United States, let alone Indiana.
If you know the novel or Welles' flawless, if studio-mangled, adaptation, you will shake your head in amazement: how could this remake turn such wonderful material into such an embarrassing train wreck for all concerned?
PLEASE don't let this inept, tone-deaf mess be your only acquaintance with THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS. See the brilliantly written and directed, perfectly acted Welles version or read Tarkington's masterful Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
Buried Alive (1939)
Awful, boring, inept noir -- AVOID!
A prisoner with a spotless record, about to be paroled, encounters a series of misunderstandings, unlucky accidents, and set-backs that jeopardize his freedom and his future with the blonde prison infirmary nurse he's fallen in love with. Sound interesting? IT'S NOT!
This movie is so badly written, it might be used as a textbook example of how not to construct a story. The exposition wanders around, trying to get a story started, and fails miserably.
It's not even clear who the main character is until about 45 minutes in. The script seems to have been written as some kind of protest piece against capital punishment. A worse punishment is trying to sit through this movie to the end.
Wooden dialog, poor acting and direction, and scene after scene in which characters' actions make absolutely no sense. This is almost Ed Wood- bad, but sadly it's not "so bad it's good". It's "so bad it's depressing".
Ambavi Suramis tsikhitsa (1985)
Parajanov -- an inspiration to other creative artists
SURAM FORTRESS has a bit more narrative than some of Parajanov's films but, as with the others, I still don't always understand what's going on or why. Still, his very eccentricity, breaking every rule of narrative and filmmaking, inspires me in my own work as a playwright and composer.
His use of striking, associative images -- powerful, even when they don't make literal sense -- recalls the great Tarkovsky, who does something similar in his films, in his own very personal style.
Parajanov, like Bresson -- another director who can fascinate and baffle me at the same time -- does everything differently from the way it's usually done, infuriating viewers expecting believable characters and comprehensible stories. With both directors, the results can be uneven, but at their best, they really inspire, stimulate, and get your creative juices flowing.
Bresson, Tarkovsky, and Parajanov prove you can truly try ANYTHING while following your own artistic vision. But, unlike some overpraised fraudulent directors, they are never pretentiously avant- garde for its own sake, phony, insincere, or "different" just to come across as cool, perverse, or faux-profound.
Parajanov and Bresson's boldly individual styles embolden me to be fresher, more original, and think outside of the box in my own work.
I'm No Angel (1933)
My Favorite Mae West movie -- funny, wise, very daring for its time
I've loved this movie ever since I was a kid, seeing it many times on TV as I grew up. The memorable quips and funny scenes just keep coming and West's confident star personality conquers all. It's not a "great film" as a film, or brilliantly directed or anything, but it's the ideal showcase for everything that makes West great, so I give it ten stars.
It's hard to realize now how radical Mae West's attack on Victorian views of women and sex was. In a world where "good women" were expected to be virgins before marriage and to never enjoy sex, even afterwords ... a world where men who played around were good ol' boys, but a woman who did so was banished from good society as "damaged goods" ... West arrived on the movie screen like a nuclear bomb, blowing away old attitudes and double standards with her wit and swagger.
West took the Victorian stock character, "the Vamp", which was still current in 1933, and turned it on its head. Vamps liked sex -- something no "good woman" was supposed to admit to -- and they seduced married men, wrecked homes, destroyed families, and were hated by other women.
Mae's character reversed all of this. She was open and frank about loving men and loving sex, but she was never a home wrecker, and in her films is always a good friend to other women, unless -- like the unforgettable prude "Miss Hatton" in this film -- they attacked her first.
Americans in 1933 were used to stories where decent, good women had no interest in sex, and disapproved of those who did, and sexy women were bad, tainted, and generally evil. Mae assaults this view from the beginning of this film to the end. Her sexy heroine is not a man-eater, but a generous, good-hearted woman who likes and has been fair to every guy she's ever dated, even the pickpocket Slick.
In "Miss Hatton", West reveals the prudish virgin as a snooty, nasty man-hater, not to be trusted by men or women. It's something of a miracle that Mae managed to dynamite the Victorian madonna-whore hypocrisy and other double standards so effectively, while entertaining the masses and making a fortune in the process.
The ultimate moral of this delightful comedy is that true morality has nothing to do with sex -- that decency, kindness, fairness, and generosity are what make a woman good, not avoiding and disapproving of sex.
Il trionfo di Maciste (1961)
Unoriginal but not bad peplum
This movie trots out all the usual peplum clichés, but gives some of them a little spin. The good girl, for once, is a brunette, which makes her confusingly resemble the evil queen who bewitches Maciste, making him her love slave, in a plot twist stolen from HERCULES UNCHAINED. In the typical test of strength, the hero here has to survive with a team of horses chained to each arm -- this scene occurs in a number of pepla, but here they add the touch of having sharp scythes attached to the chariots, threatening to decapitate proisoners buried up to their necks in the ground ... a little extra creative sadism, lol.
Kirk Morris is, as always, a beautiful physical specimen, with the face of a Botticelli angel.
I've only viewed this film in the awful, fuzzy, color-faded print in the WARRIORS DVD pack.
Can someone explain one thing to me? This is billed as Morris's first peplum, yet it contains a long underground sequence lifted from THE WITCH'S CURSE, released the following year. Was WITCH made first and released later? Or was the WITCH footage added to this one some time after its release, maybe to pad its length?
La vendetta di Ercole (1960)
One of the more fun and entertaining peplums
Mark Forest looks incredibly handsome and acts very competently in his first peplum outing. His physique is awesome and he handles the fights and action sequences with aplomb, even battling silly rubber monsters with passion and conviction.
The two things that make so many peplum movies boring -- talky court intrigue and confusing, interminable battle scenes -- are kept to a minimum here, which make this faster-moving and more entertaining than most.
The film serves up of a lot of what most of us watch peplum for: crazy monsters and imaginative, surreal action scenes like the one where Forest demolishes a palace by knocking down the stalactites in the cave beneath it.
Definitely recommended for fans of the genre. One thing I don't understand, though. Goliath's wife dies near the end, but in the final shot we see her alive again, smooching with her husband. Was this contrived "happy ending" created by moving a shot from early in the film to the end? I haven't seen anyone else comment on this.
La regina delle Amazzoni (1960)
Self-spoofing peplum is entertaining and different
Many of the Italian peplum (sword & sandal) movies from the period 1959- 1965 are unintentionally funny, but this one is made as a spoof. It's not great but it's different enough to make it pretty entertaining.
Unlike most pepla, this one focuses more on cheescake than beefcake. Colossus, the Hercules character, is played by a slim Ed Fury who looks like he hasn't been to the gym in a while. He's no more built than the other men in the film, and his role is surprisingly small.
Most of the story concerns his comrade, a wily mercenary played by a very hammy Rod Taylor (the leading man of Hitchcock's THE BIRDS) who enjoys being captured by a tribe of gorgeous Amazons.
The Amazons turn their captives into male housewives, cooking, sewing, and doing housework for the women. There is much role-reversal comedy where the men act and speak like put-upon wives -- some of this is actually funny. There are a number of bizarre touches like a talking parrot, never explained, that sometimes comments on the action, and an insane musical score made up of 1960s lounge-type jazz and hackneyed "funny movie" music of the kind used in bad TV sitcoms during the sixties.
This movie has mercifully little of the elements that make so many pepla boring: (a) endless battle scenes of soldiers, horses, and plebeians rushing back and forth, where you don't know or care who's fighting who, and (b) long dialog scenes about court intrigue that are as convoluted as they are irrelevant.
Peplum fans should definitely check this out for its peculiar differences from the run-of-the-mill muscle man flicks. It should also appeal to those who feel there's too much male flesh on display in most pepla and not enough female. This movie is all about hot Amazon babes in revealing outfits, led by their gorgeous, sultry queen (who resembles a young Joan Collins). Absurd scenes like a girl fight sequence are included just to up the cheesecake factor.
Not great, but for the most part good fun.
Flawed, yes, but so moving, the flaws don't matter ...
Growing up, I eagerly saw each new Truffaut film when it opened in the United States. This one had the biggest impact on me of all.
It's interesting seeing the dichotomy in the reviews here: about half call the film melodramatic, pointless, and dull. The other half find it beautiful, touching, even a masterpiece.
The flaws are easy to pick out. Leaud is awfully low-key to the point of blandness, and the (thankfully) few English language scenes clearly suffer from Truffaut's unfamiliarity with the language -- he failed to catch some really bad English line readings.
But the narration totally works for me, giving the film the "tempus fugit" feel of a great nineteenth century novel. The purposefully rushed, monotone narration keeps the story from becoming overly sentimental. The voice-over sounds like the cold wind of Fate, sweeping the characters through the years from naive youth to the disillusionment of early middle age.
I think one's response to the film has a lot to do with one's own nature: if you have loved passionately and experienced serious heartbreak, you may really GET this movie. If you're a cynical hipster who is simply embarrassed by passion, romantic love, and strong emotions, it's not for you. This is a highly emotional film for highly emotional viewers.
Muriel's letter scene will divide these two groups of viewers. Some posters here call it laughable and ridiculous, perhaps because they're sexually immature or repressed, so the topic of masturbation automatically gives them the giggles. To me, this scene is heartbreaking, when you realize this poor young woman's guilt over masturbating has warped her life and spoiled her chances for happiness. It shows how a small misunderstanding or character flaw can lead to loneliness or lifelong unhappiness.
This film affects me more strongly than the more famous and acclaimed JULES ET JIM, where the characters' actions strike me as more peculiar and clinical than moving. But that's just me.
Few films give such a strong sense of time passing as this one, and life running through the hourglass as we poor human beings bumble, blunder, and suffer as we search for love.
The final scene of an aging Leaud walking through a changed Paris he hardly recognizes as the city of his youth is unforgettable, justifying the movie's length. With a shorter running time, the film could never give you such a sense of time passing, characters growing, changing, and missing chances for happiness.
For those who respond to it, this is one of the most beautiful, affecting films of the 1970s.
Blue Valentine (2010)
Well-done but WOW is it depressing ...
Gosling is excellent and Williams is even better (a remarkable actress!) in this hyper-naturalistic kitchen sink drama of a working class couple's unraveling marriage.
It's full of deliberately grim and ugly details like the death of the family dog at the beginning, sex scenes that will make you never want to have sex again, and an abortion clinic scene that -- at the showing I saw -- sent several traumatized female audience members charging out of the theater.
With its focus on everything negative -- despair, degradation, alienation -- BLUE VALENTINE reminds me of those Ingmar Bergman films of the 60s and 70s about horrible couples in horrible relationships. These films are so relentlessly morbid and depressing they're almost unwatchable now.
The story is very well-observed, well-written, there's a lot to relate to, but still it's not exactly fun to view. Mainly because the characters are not interesting people; they're just helpless and pathetic, though the leads do everything they can to make them sympathetic. Still, much of it plays like watching a car wreck with fatalities.
If you like this kind of kitchen sink realism, this may be for you; it's a fine example of the genre. For others it may seem like enduring a two hour root canal.
Only Angels Have Wings (1939)
One of the BEST FILMS ever made in Hollywood
1939 is often called the best year in Hollywood history, but this superb, and superbly-original, movie gets overshadowed by THE WIZARD OF OZ, GONE WITH THE WIND, DARK VICTORY and other classics from that year.
ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS can be enjoyed as a terrific, fast-paced action/adventure movie, but beneath the surface there's much more going on.
The story deals with big themes -- honor, character, love, guilt, redemption -- in profound ways worthy of Tolstoy or Shakespeare. Jules Furthman, the greatest dialog writer in Hollywood history, outdoes himself here with laconic exchanges where what's said is only the tip of the iceberg. A world of meaning and emotion churn BETWEEN the lines.
One example: How many viewers even notice that Rita Hayworth, when she's first alone with Grant, produces a match to light his cigarette without him asking? In the context of the story, this tiny detail is a key to their relationship, past and present. The whole film is like this, stuffed with small details that illuminate the backstories, thoughts, and feelings of the characters.
ONLY ANGELS is a high watermark of intelligent, grown-up writing for the screen. It's a smart film written for a smart, observant audience.
Cary Grant should have won an Oscar for his intense, deeply-felt performance -- this from a star we usually associate with comedy. Many in Hollywood were jealous of Grant, of his good looks, skill, talent, versatility, and success. So they wouldn't give him awards.
The film is perfectly cast, written, directed -- even photographed. The opening scenes of the exotic port dazzle in a rich B&W chiaroscuro worthy of Von Sternberg. Above all, this film -- if you open yourself to it -- delivers a hell of an emotional punch. The flying scenes are as exciting as the personal scenes are sensitive and affecting. The nail-biting drama and suspense are leavened with just the right amount of comedy.
Here you see Rita Hayworth's star quality emerging for the first time, while D.W. Griffith's early-silent film leading man Richard Barthelmess underacts brilliantly as a man haunted by a guilty secret.
The first time I saw OAHW, I remember thinking the scene with the condor was far-fetched, but after the bird-caused plane crash in the Hudson River recently, I realize I was just ignorant about aviation. Hawks, a pilot and friend of pilots all his life, knew exactly what he was doing.
Movies do not get better, or richer, than ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS. It's one of my top-five favorite films of all time. You can see it over and over and get more out of it each time.