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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Uncannily Prescient, 14 July 2012

This episode was a fairly standard Disney attempt at educating the public about space exploration, by which I mean that it was decades ahead of the rest of Television or movies of the time. It had some heavy science behind it. NASA keeps referring to this series today, in 2012, for the uncanny accuracy of some of its depictions. Yes, we get fodder for the kids such as shark-like plants, and the usual "dying Martian civilization" pablum, but get beyond that and you start the see the real wheels spinning.

For the 1950s, the quality is exceptional. One should recall that Americans in those days who were fortunate enough to have a TV set were limited to two or, for some, three networks (depending on whether Dumont broadcast in their area and was still in operation). Also, everything was in black and white, and TV sets were small by today's standards. So, when you look at something like this episode today, in vivid color on a large screen, you aren't really seeing what people back then saw. But the fact that people still watched and enjoyed it anyway shows the power that raw science still exerted on the masses back when the US was on the ascendant. That era is long gone, of course.

"Mars and Beyond" stretched the limits. It boggles the mind that Disney could get huge ratings for shows that were packed with dense scientific jargon and obscure physics. Seen today, one can pick apart episodes such as this for out-there concepts that died in the 1950s, such as fleets of nuclear-powered ships basically invading Mars en masse (well, that idea may still happen someday....). Everything is so clear in hindsight, eh? Heck, at that time we hadn't even launched a single satellite, and here they were showing a Mars shot in graphic detail! And competing successfully against shows like "I Love Lucy" and "The Honeymooners"! Just mind-blowing when you put it in perspective.

However, this particular episode is even more astonishing than usual just for how right it was about some minutely precise details. A sequence on the descent to Mars shows the use of parachutes and thrusters that almost perfectly foreshadows the arrival in 2012 of the "Curiosity" lander. NASA helpfully points out these similarities on a regular basis.

Clearly, somebody was thinking hard back then, conceptualizing something so remote from ordinary, everyday existence that you get the idea where the phrase "like a rocket scientist" comes from. You don't have to guess who was doing all this thinking - the man is right there on screen, Wernher von Braun (along with another of his German cohorts, Ernst Stuhlinger). Von Braun was sort of the poster child for NASA in the 1950s, and today it is easy to see why, with his reassuring (to me, anyway), no-nonsense "it's only about science" attitude.

Now, von Braun takes his hits on boards such as this from moralistic and patronizing know-it-alls because he had the misfortune to grow up in Nazi Germany. Well, if the US were to be taken over by, say, China, everyone in the US could be tainted by the US adventurism in places like Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan, so get off that high horse, my friend. Von Braun was a technocrat before the term was invented, and survived a corrupt system by focusing on science. He later did his best to atone for whatever sins he had to commit by basically creating NASA, though I'm sure the ones who smugly condemn him now would have done the only honorable thing - refusing to work for their homeland's horrendous dictatorship - by walking themselves straight into a concentration camp voluntarily out of sheer moral purity. Yeah, that's real likely. Yes, his homeland's leaders required the use of slave labor, and von Braun's early work flowed from that. Can't deny it. But by surviving, Von Braun was able to go on to do something admirable for the entire human race and perhaps redeem Germany's reputation (at least scientifically) just a smidgen. Let's hope you do something as worthwhile for humanity as get the first man on the Moon. I highly doubt that will happen.

Anyway, if you bother to look, it isn't difficult to see the genius touch of von Braun throughout. He still, as in earlier (also exceptional) Disney space animation in this series, was stuck to some extent on the liquid fuel idea that was abandoned when things got real in the 1960s, but that just shows how far his thinking was ahead of mundane reality. There also is a corny precision to the rather far-fetched outlines of the journey to Mars - it wouldn't take a little over a year, it would be "13 months and six days" and so on. Nice flourishes that emphasized that even intricate space flight calculations were simply scientific questions whose answers could be thought out with precision - and this at a time when computers could do little more than simple multiplication. Try calculating planetary geometry with a slide rule and see how far you get.

The truth is, the entire US space program that has done so much good for so many people and for so many reasons came straight out of Peenemunde. It flowed directly from von Braun's (and Stuhlinger's and Oberth's and so many other Germans) brain. If he managed to get a little airtime, it's a lot less than he deserved. Looking back on this series now should remind you that you have men like von Braun to thank for your cell phones and your satellite cable TV and your GPS. If you are so noble and morally above using the work of men like von Braun, who themselves at one time used the work of slave laborers, give that all up to be consistent. Not going to do it? Didn't think so. You are no better than him, and he explored the stars.

Unforgiven (1992)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
"'Deserve's Got Nothing To Do With It", 12 February 2012

I saw this on it its first run. It came out during a unique period in American history, right after the fall of the USSR and the First Gulf War but during a painful Recession. In some ways the US was riding high, but at the same time it was the captive of its own painful vulnerabilities and imperfections. That is the story of "Unforgiven," transmuted to the Old West.

A tough man and his companions embark on a journey to right some wrongs. Along the way, we learn something about the man, but we don't get his full measure until the very end. What we learn turns everything upside down and leads to a very satisfying conclusion. This simple tale fits into the pure-Americana mold of "True Grit" and "The Searchers." If you haven't seen those two films, you should before you see this one. "Unforgiven" unmistakably walks in their giant footprints.

The key to this film, I believe, is to learn exactly what Clint Eastwood's character, Bill Munny, stands for. At first we don't know what is special about him, or why anyone would approach him for help. He is just a simple farmer, and not a very successful one at that. But he is taken by a story of a prostitute who was unnecessarily and cruelly disfigured in a town called 'Big Whiskey.' While a bounty is involved, it's as insignificant to the quest as the payment in "True Grit." There are much larger issues at stake. There is an underlying air of chivalry that comes straight out of "True Grit": a wronged woman demands justice, vengeance is required, and the worthiness of those involved is irrelevant. Munny thus hooks up with an inexperienced young partner (an obvious commentary on the Glen Campbell role in "True Grit") and his reliable old comrade Ned (Morgan Freeman) and off they go.

Gene Hackman is "Little Bill," a pompous windbag of a sheriff who rules Big Whiskey with the proverbial iron fist. He is riding high, and delights in not just beating his victims, but degrading them. Richard Harris ("English Bob"), a phony dime store novel hero, unwisely ventures into town accompanied, improbably, by his very own biographer (Saul Rubinek). Little Bill finds him fascinating but brings English Bob down to earth quickly. It is the rough and tumble old West where only raw power counts, and Little Bill has it.

Perceptive and clever despite his own faults, Little Bill knows there are hired guns out to kill him. He captures and interrogates Ned, then kills him. When Munny is told this, he at first appears to simply accept it as something that happens in their line of work. Watch, however, his reaction change when he is told that Little Bill put Ned's corpse on display with a big sign saying "This is What Happens to Assassins Around Here." That reaction, one of the most dramatic in any Clint role, sets in motion the climax of the film. We also learn at this point that Munny himself is not, can never be, and cannot consider himself better than anyone else. That fact is important because it shows the source of his humbleness, the demons that haunt him and why he is driven to drink. His character is not the issue here, though, only what it impels him to do.

Right after the 2001 terrorist attacks, I was riding in an airport van back to a hotel after being grounded. Rumors were rife, but everyone knew the world trade center was gone. Nobody knew what to say, but a fellow in the back said simply, "Someone's gonna pay for this." Exactly.

It is not giving anything away to say that when Munny and Little Bill finally meet, there is a brief but epic exchange. "I don't deserve to die like this," Little Bill says. "'Deserve's got nothing to do with it," Munny replies. The whole meaning of the Munny character and, indeed, the film is encapsulated in that one line, in the same way that, say, "A Few Good Men" comes down to "You can't handle the truth." Little Bill is pleading his case, as a member in good standing of the community. He thinks his entire life's work should be taken into account before he is sentenced for what both of them know are unpardonable crimes. Munny unhesitatingly rejects that defense out of hand while acknowledging his own fallibility. Little Bill unfortunately had broken a tacit code of tough men: you may kill people that you must, but you don't take pleasure in their humiliation. A whore must not be deprived of the only thing she could be proud of, a harmless visitor should not be unnecessarily disgraced, a dead but honorable foe should not be publicly mocked. There shall be no mitigating factors whatsoever when you cross that line.

So, you have America, with all its flaws and weaknesses, finally kicking Saddam Hussein out of his intended conquest, Kuwait, and Gorbachev finally tearing down that wall as Reagan demanded. Bill Munny, vile murderer and failure, rights some simple wrongs, and that is all anyone can do. As he rides out of town, you feel as if something greater than a man is present. It is not Munny riding that horse, but the eternal Avenger of honor and decency in the most humble of human forms. His final words temporarily bring the world back into simple balance. And, in this vale of tears, sometimes that's the best you can hope for.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Wernher von Braun Lays It All Out For You, 28 January 2012

This is an excellent introduction to basic space physics and history. It is brought to you by the Disney folks and the future leaders of what a few years later would become NASA. Most of the information is still valid and useful. As a bonus, you get an up-close look at the nascent US space program and its Germanic roots. Legendary announcer Dick Tufeld ("Lost in Space") narrates in suitably dramatic fashion.

Perhaps the show's greatest accomplishment is how simple some complex concepts are made. Orbital velocity and booster rocket design are explained in particularly comprehensible ways. The brains behind the space program speak here in their own voices, and quite accurately predict numerous details of space flight years before anyone got anywhere near going into orbit: weightless food preparation, psychological testing, cosmic radiation shielding, space medicine, computer control. Some of the early testing methods shown, where volunteers were subjected to up to 35G's of force and violent air pressure changes, are fascinating and show the bravery of those involved. Disney animation is used throughout and is quite unobtrusive, aimed at an adult level. This was serious stuff, not prepared just for kids.

But "Man in Space" is terrific viewing today even if you already know all that. Some of the giants of rocket development - Willy Ley, Wernher von Braun - explain and propose ideas that in 1955 must have seemed far-fetched. Von Braun boldly predicts that a passenger vehicle could be developed within ten years, or by 1965 (actually, it happened a few years before that). This was when they were barely past the V2 stage! Sounds awfully similar to something President John F. Kennedy later said about the Moon....

Of course, some of the ideas were later dropped due to practical necessity. Von Braun's large model rocket, for example, while looking eerily similar to current designs of the 21st Century, was far too ambitious for the technology of the day, and liquid fuel ultimately was replaced by solid fuel. However, one understands the precise logic off of which these pioneers were building. If anything, the "mistakes" show just how far in the future these guys were reaching. At that level, science begins to depend on imagination and theories as much as facts and experience. If you listen closely enough to von Braun, you can see in your mind the blueprint unfold for what actually happened over the next fifteen years. He, of course, was behind it all.

I can't watch this, though, without feeling kind of sad. Back then, they knew how to make hard science exciting and appealing. Manned space flight was not considered a luxury, but an imperative. This type of wonky documentary could appear in prime time on a popular program, and made cutting edge science accessible to everyone. Compare that to today, when popular science has turned inward, focusing on software designed to make people feel better, economic panaceas and unmanned probes at the expense of grand adventures such as "the conquest of space." It would be so nice to get some of that buccaneering spirit back.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Fabulously Independent and Free Spirited Look at Hollywood, 13 January 2012

This continuation of Emma Caulfield's individualistic 2004 film "Bandwagon" follows up on the zany adventures of a fictionalized version of the life of its star. There is so much going on here that simply calling it "comic satire" doesn't do it justice. It is more a generalized look at the absurdities involved in getting ahead when you have to rely on other people to get there, the inherent drama of creative people, and how frustrating it can be when the best laid plans run amok. Imagine that you have gathered a group of your super-talented friends to create your own personal send-up of sheer human orneriness using your own status as a minor TV star for the starting point. That is "Bandwagon: The Series."

The film and this series blend together seamlessly. In fact, they chopped the film up into episodes and called that "Season 1" and this "Season 2." So, this is a review of both the film and the series, because they are really the same thing - well, it's a little confusing, but you get the point, hopefully. Anyway, our heroine, "Emma," is a brilliant and quirky Hollywood actress who, to her professional chagrin, is famous and perhaps a bit typecast solely due to a TV role she played years before. She has a fine reputation and connections all over town but hasn't yet quite scaled that wall to the "A" list. So, looking to raise her own profile as much as anything else, she embarks on a Quixotic adventure to show how much she "cares." Rather than adopting an African orphan or whatever else the "A" list types are doing these days, Emma instead decided to be creative by charitably advancing the career of one "Tubie" (an outstanding Karri Bowman, who also directs). Tubie is a mentally challenged waitress with acting aspirations who just happens to serve Emma lunch one day. This plays out in decidedly unexpected and explosive ways which bring out the best - and worst - in everybody involved.

There are wacky high concept - creation of a "Ghetto Glee" TV show - and low concept - traumatized after getting turned down for a film role due to her age, Emma goes to a pet store and does something, um, dramatic - ideas throughout. Both the movie and the series end with pie-in-the-face type moments of revelations of sheer comic horror that give everyone a chance to let loose with emotional tsunamis of acting bravado. But you will probably be drawn in even by the mundane aspects of Hollywood life shown, such as the intricate politics behind planning a party or casting a show (both proved as equally vital to a career).

Tracie Thoms is a highlight as actress friend Tracie who finds out not once but twice that relying on other actors for career advice or advancement can be a double-edged sword. Sheilynn Wactor has some nice moments as Tracie's sassy sidekick. Look for occasional uncredited cameos by some of Emma's real-life "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" friends such as the legendary Joss Whedon and Tom Lenk. My only very minor quibbles are that the pace drags a bit whenever the ever-scheming Emma is absent for very long and that the episodes are much too brief. This obviously was done on a shoe-string budget, but that lends charm in a cinema verité kind of way.

A decided triumph by the hugely creative but sadly under-exposed Ms. Caulfield and her entire team. This showcases just how much talent lies bubbling under the surface in the film industry just waiting for the right moment to be recognized.

4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Breathtaking Lead Performances, 5 July 2011

Science fiction is usually about the present or the recent past. Fanciful new technologies are used, and mis-used, just as real ones have been exploited in the real world, setting up moral paradigms for our heroes to resolve correctly this time. Setting a story on some alien world and changing the names of the players usually doesn't hide the underlying message to anyone mindful of the historical parallels.

"Patterns of Force" follows in this tradition, though it takes the somewhat unusual route of transplanting real situations of Earth's past to the requisite alien world. Skirting the risk of taking the easy route and simply condemning the unredeemable, making the lesson a bit too didactic, the episode instead veers in another direction entirely and becomes a wonderful critique and examination of enduring human nature and frailty.

The Starship Enterprise, lead by the redoubtable Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), is looking for lost historian John Gill (a barely-there David Brian) when it is fired upon by a missile from a planet that shouldn't have that capability. Kirk and his Vulcan sidekick Spock (Leonard Nimoy) beam down to investigate. In rapid sequence, they find out that the planet is controlled by real, honest-to-goodness Nazis, are captured and almost killed, and then find themselves in cahoots with an active resistance movement.

So, we have the set-up, that this is going to be an examination of bad, bad Naziism, right? Well, perhaps, but that is not the episode's real target. Wisely taking the brutality and illogic of Naziism for granted, instead, our heroes use that system's inherent weakness against it as they retain focus and search for the lost Gill.

Valora Noland, born the day after Pearl Harbor to parents who had fled Wiesbaden after Kristalnacht, and named after a speech by Winston Churchill, reportedly (understandably) hated playing a Nazi figure. However, she is the episode's blazing star. She plays Daras, a Nazi propaganda hero. However, is she really a Nazi, or something else? That answer is provided quickly, and emphatically, and thereafter Daras becomes more of a meditation on the media than anything political. Watch her preen as Kirk holds a camera in her face, and flounce up the stairs of the Nazi headquarters as if going up the red carpet at the Academy Awards (almost an inside joke there, I think). Valora knew how to act with her eyes, watch them closely throughout for some real emoting. Some may decry the lack of facial prosthetics and so forth (so painfully over-used in later incarnations of the series) to make the aliens look "different." However, this supposed negative turns into a major asset when it permits you to experience the emotions flitting across Valora's face as she first holds a gun on Kirk, then abruptly and surprisingly turns and fires at someone else. Strong females on Star Trek seldom fared well in the final analysis, but Daras defies that peril against all odds. A fabulous role played fabulously.

A fascinating aspect is the casual, almost backhanded slap taken at the reality of Naziism. For instance, the Nazis are shown to be infiltrated with the very people they were persecuting. Many real Nazis had, for example, Jewish origins, including perhaps Hitler himself, and they wasted a great deal of time investigating or justifying each others' phantom racial purity. This subtly supports the series' recurring message that we are all morally interchangeable and thus responsible for our moral choices. The absurd use of physiognomy to categorize and denigrate is completely sent up when arch-villain Malakon (Skip Homeier, in one of his several awesome guest star turns in the original series) pompously derides the smartest man on the planet (Spock) for his "low forehead, denoting stupidity." But the target is much wider than simply an indefensible political system and its self-serving justifications. The ending takes a sharp jab at modern media in general as being simply a tool to be mis-used even with the best of intentions. Daras is hailed for the cameras as a great hero (again) despite the fact that everyone in the room knows that she indeed may be a hero, but certainly not for the reasons the media will state.

The episode is about Nazis, yes, but that is just the launching pad for the real insights. Everyone in the cast gives a rousing performance, and I wouldn't be surprised if they felt something personal about the entire experience. This wasn't the only time TOS Star Trek mentioned Nazis (see "The City on the Edge of Forever,") and its treatment of them is extremely honest and, dare I say it, even-handed as a sort of aberration that somehow crept out of the Id's cage. Some will decry this episode as politically incorrect and the notion that anyone at any time could fancy Naziism as "efficient" as completely insane, but it certainly is possible that some future (and possibly wacky or senile, we learn absolutely nothing about the man) historian could completely misread history. And that reveals another point to this tale, the danger of misreading history from a distant vantage point. Never forget.... Human nature and enduring reality is the larger target, one that is hit dead center by a stellar cast and script.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Cold War Paranoia, 22 March 2011

If you are considering watching this one, be alert to the fact that it is a documentary composed virtually entirely of old black and white news clips and civil defense films. Anything you find in it - humor, dread, amazement - you will be supplying yourself.

As with any documentary, choices have been made as to what to include. They are meant to guide us in a particular direction. That is inevitable, and not a failing of this particular piece. If it did not have a point of view, it would be dreadfully dull. Your particular reaction, though, will depend on your pre-existing mindset.

So, the film is loaded with clips that make people of the past look preposterous. Soldiers are seen staring down nuclear blasts, authorities are shown giving misinformation, and bomb shelters provoke a storm of confused political messages (they may keep you safe, says the good Reverend, but don't let in that lonely stranger if it might compromise you!). Schmaltzy tunes of the past that treat the subject casually are given the "Let them eat cake" treatment, as in, how DARE anyone treat this SERIOUS threat lightly. The film is actually quite moralistic in a backhanded sort of way, in a Jonathan Edwards "enough of this frivolity, get down on your KNEES and fear the bomb" manner.

The documentary over-reaches, however. This was brought out in 1982, and clearly was catering to fears brought about by Ronald Reagan's 1980 election. He was seen by many of his opponents as a dangerous cowboy just itching to blow up the world. Crazy to think that now, of course, given the fact that he did not blow up the world the first, second, or hundredth chance that he had, but that was the mantra. The images depicted are all from the mid-1940s to the early 1960s, but they even manage to work in a quick shot of actor Reagan himself from those years.

If you want to be smug, as the filmmakers are banking on, and react, as they wish, with "weren't they all such idiots," well, fine. But consider this: at one point in the film, someone is asked how far you would have to be to be safe from a nuclear blast. "Twelve miles," he responds grimly. Then, apparently as the "sane" response, someone else is shown saying even more grimly that you basically would have to be on Pluto to be safe.

Sounds awfully familiar. In 2011, the Japanese government said that to be safe from the Fukushima meltdown, you needed to be, what a coincidence, twelve miles away. Meanwhile, the Americans said you had to be much further away. It's so much easier to sit back and laugh at people thirty years later, isn't it.

There is a lot of just plain odd stuff. Richard Nixon, at the depths of infamy at the time of this film, is practically the film's star (heavy?), even though his connection to anything nuclear throughout is forced and tangential (his Kitchen Debate with Khruschev is included just to give him some more negative air time). Just illustrates conclusively the political orientation of the film.

There are some surprises. Lloyd Bentsen, later Democratic Party darling, is shown stridently supporting the use of nuclear bombs in Korea (one shudders that this actual mad bomber almost became Vice President and, later, Secretary of Defense). President Eisenhower, though, is shown as a very thoughtful man who apparently appreciates the dangers at hand.

Some scenes are shown to make fun of the "stay inside, duck and cover" advice. Close the windows to protect yourself. So hilarious, who could survive a radiation scenario, right? Well, that is exactly what the residents of Japan are being told to do right this minute. Hahaha, so funny. But doing simple things like that are, in fact, what people are still advised to do if they wish to increase their odds of surviving a nuclear attack. Under the right conditions, say a large enough distance from a blast, it quite actually could save your life. But so much easier to laugh at the notion that closing a window will deter the effects of a hydrogen bomb.

Of course, bombs in those days were much, much less powerful than they are today or, for that matter, were in 1982. Some of the advice given in the 1950s that was appropriate for that time obviously is outdated. But easy to make fun of people then based on what we face now, isn't it?

Those were the early days of educating people about nuclear events, and there was a lot of misinformation, hyperbole, guess-work and so forth, all given the wise-guy send-up of the malicious tool out to make fun of people. The anti-Soviet attitudes are widely ridiculed, and, given that all-important hindsight, rightly so. And certainly, the complacent idea that nuclear wars are somehow OK is the film-makers' real target, and who is going to deny that (well, maybe Lloyd Bentsen if he were still around). The filmmakers are stacking the deck just a might too heavily against people of the past who sincerely were groping for answers before it just became a fool's "common knowledge" that there is no surviving radiation and you are "better off" just running outside and standing out in the open to hasten your doom if the worst happens.

Just all right as a documentary. Obviously, widely missed the mark with me as either an exercise in comedy or satire. More interesting as insight into the evident cold war paranoia of those who made the film (and their sad, misguided fear of Reagan) than as any kind of insight into the times depicted.

Alfie (2004)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Fantasy Fulfillment Time for Women, 28 December 2010

This is a clever little film, intricately designed to appeal, I think, to certain women. It works so well on so many levels as a chick flick that one is left wondering, at the end, why it was so uninspiring even on that level. But, for me at least, that was the bottom line - a gorgeous film, full of gorgeous models, that ultimately caters only to the eyes and not the head.

Jude Law is magnificent, perfectly cast (for the burden placed on him here, at least) as the ultimate chick magnet. Boyish, winning smile, perfectly composed at all times, handsome as a male model. His menial job doesn't matter in this fantasy world, all that counts are his classically good looks, that's his ticket. A very stereotypically feminine sensibility, if you will, as I don't think many of us know of men in our own lives who can get along like that - that is more a given of the female of the species. You almost half believe, while he rides around (beautifully shot) Manhattan on his adorable little moped, that female models actually do compose the entire sidewalk population. Naturally, they have nothing else to do but turn from whatever they are doing so they can gaze on Alfie's awesomeness. Here's a thought - put a female model on a cute little moped cruising Manhattan and that might actually be realistic.

Which leads me to my main point. The whole thrust of this film is that Alfie is meant to be seen from a womanly perspective. It is the female gaze they are pandering to, not the standard male gaze. That's the trick - switch everyone's gender, and suddenly the light switches on. The women in the audience are meant to put themselves in Alfie's shoes. Once that is accomplished, the whole thing makes perfect sense and serves as a Nice Moral Lesson.

Well, for sure. But the picture only gets lovelier. Alfie lives for women, and serves as their no-questions-asked lover of the moment. He fatally supposes that romance/sex/love has no consequences, but - egad, shocker! - it does. Dropping women like flies after seducing them eventually catches up with him. Oh, my! So, we have the perfect set-up to comfort every woman: Mr. Irresistible who callously breaks hearts before breakfast is actually weak like everyone else, and has feelings, and is susceptible to emotional dramas and manipulations. Well, ladies, we can't leave him blissful in his cruel ignorance! The film becomes a meditation on the comeuppance of somebody who is aggressively shallow, and whose fatal crime is that he knows how shallow he is the whole time and Just Doesn't Care. Criminal serial feelings offender! It's all about the emotions, baby. Hurt peoples' feelings and you will rue the day.

Alfie takes his "girlfriend" for granted and loses her - and when of course he realizes how much he needed her, it's too late, she's with someone else who is just simply to die for. Isn't this every "mistreated" woman's fantasy? Heartlessly dump another one who's not worthy - and she summarizes his character a little too perfectly as she plays the martyr and pathetically leaves in the cold and rain (you better feel guilty now, boy!). His fantasy figure turns out to be a sophisticated much older woman (cough cough audience fantasy fulfillment cough cough), but she serves up to him what he had been serving up to others - wow, couldn't see THAT one coming. The big twist(s) at the end is hardly worth the wait, but perhaps some will see this as "deep." If so, it would be the only such moment in the film. "I took advantage of women and didn't give, only took, and that is a bad thing which leaves me a fancy-pants loser" - what Solomonic wisdom.

At heart, the moral of the film - if you want to dignify it as such - is that drifting through life as if it were a fast-food meal ultimately is unsatisfying. Fair enough. But the character of Alfie becomes uneven, set up as so insightful, perceptive and knowledgeable about so many things relating to women and relationships in order to seduce them, yet ultimately blind to the perfectly obvious consequences of his dark designs. Making the cultured Alfie appear simplistic at the end when he needs to be because finally he is on the receiving end is done in grotesquely ham-handed fashion. Suddenly, Alfie is shown to be so uneducated that he never learned how to pronounce the word "Aphrodite." Oh, you poor, uncouth loser. The perceptive fellow who has been giving us the (eventually tedious) running monologue throughout the film, shading delicate situations with extreme subtlety while he spins his evil (from a female perspective, natch) little webs turns out to be our inferior, hopelessly beneath us! Yay, now burn him at the stake!

It was a nice touch having Mick Jagger do the score. Someone behind the scenes had a good chuckle about that. Hope you didn't sprain your wrist patting yourself on the back! Hey, he sang backup on "You're So Vain," too, so this isn't the first time. If you want obvious, well, this will hit the spot.

I didn't like the film. It said nothing to me, can you guess? But it may make you feel good for a spell, waiting for little Mr. I'm So Vain to get it in the end (no, not THAT way). The saving grace is that "Alfie" is so full of beautiful people, and things, and situations that it is easy on the eyes. Plus, it doesn't require any thought, everything is s-p-e-l-l-e-d o-u-t for you. You know, like A-p-h-r-o-d-i-t-e. Burger and fries with a diet coke! So, if you like Jude Law and all that jazz, well, give this one a whirl.

Casino (1995)
2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Tons of Atmosphere, Tons of Clichés, 19 November 2010

Martin Scorcese is a film legend. No matter what anyone might say about any of his films, his reputation is unimpeachable. Even his misfires have terrific scenes. "Casino" isn't a misfire - far from it - but only manages to be a good film weighed down by the ponderous style and overly didactic expressionism that is Scorcese at his worst.

"Goodfellas" was a Scorcese classic. This isn't "Goodfellas," but it sure feels like a mediocre extension of it. For what it is, "Casino" is enjoyable. Unfortunately, one of the hurdles that lesser Scorcese films face is that they bring to mind his better work. This is especially a problem when one of his films uses similar themes and even actors from his classics. Here, we have Joe Pesci from "Goodfellas" doing his angry mobster shtick again, and Deniro also reprising his standard wise-guy turn. Further, we have crude hoodlums increasingly turning on each other, having mundane personal problems that cross over into their "work," and exhibiting increasingly bizarre behavior after starting out seemingly in complete control. Sound familiar? Well, it probably does if you've seen "Goodfellas" or many other, better Scorcese films.

Robert Deniro, who at times is brilliant and at times seems to be suppressing a smirk in his "love" scenes, overall is fine as a middle-level mob boss who mistakenly begins to believe he is the top dog. So, we have the age-old theme of the inevitable mistake of taking your actual bosses for granted. Throw in Joe Pesci as his old friend who reaches the same conclusion about himself, and watch events unfold. Anyone who's seen mob films stretching at least back to "The Godfather Part II" on down the line has to see this train racing down the tracks. No real surprises, standard decline-and-fall stuff relieved by the usual Scorcese flourishes which, alas, went over much better elsewhere.

Sharon Stone is the empty center of this film, despite the fact that it supposedly is about Deniro's character. As the antagonist out to smash Deniro's controlled world, she is set up as the biggest thing in Vegas. She has to be for her character to work. Unfortunately, but none of that comes across, at least it didn't to me. Not enough time was spent on her character to show why at first she was so popular (which is odd, considering how long this film goes on), so her inevitable decline doesn't strike the emotional chord it should. Reviewers like to say she deserved the Academy Award, but I don't see it. She does get numerous histrionic moments, but then leaves huge gaps in her devolution. Her character lacks continuity. Stone gives two performances, one as a reluctant bride (why?), and then one as an increasingly unhappy wife (again, why?). Admittedly, she does a good job of acting, but it all seems forced and like, well, acting. Her character didn't grab me.

The single most annoying aspect of this film is a self-indulgent Scorcese trademark that reached its nadir here and in "Gangs of New York." You may find it charming, or helpful, or entertaining, but to me it is downright distracting and needless. That is a banal historical (this is "semi-fictional" in the worst way) explanation and constant narration by the Deniro and Pesci characters which continues right to the end. A little of that works, but it gets way out of hand. The characters repetitiously "explain" things that don't need to be explained. For example, the narrator will say, "And then she hit bottom and blew her money on drugs and pimps," and we see Stone stumbling down a hallway, doing her mighty best to show herself "hitting bottom." "And when they found her body...." and she immediately falls down in the hallway, right on cue. Nice acting, Sharon! The technique is patronizing. It is as if Scorcese is directing the film toward people who are complete blank slates, and know nothing about people, or history, or motivations. But, in reality, the audience is not stupid. It can be trusted to draw the appropriate conclusions, given a story rather than a monologue with accompanying moving pictures. I think Scorcese forgets himself sometimes. I think most viewers would find thinking things through themselves more enjoyable.

In other words, skip the quasi-documentary stuff, and this would be a far superior film.

Despite my major quibbles, I enjoyed the film because it does transport you to another time and place, Vegas in the early '70s, before, as Deniro the narrator so unnecessarily (but characteristically) explains, "It became Disneyland." The fashions (Deniro sporting a gold lamé suit is a riot) alone are worth the time. Just try not to compare this film to true classics.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Amber Benson Rocks, 17 May 2010

I enjoyed this film. I especially liked Amber Benson as Donna, an aspiring screenwriter with serious esteem issues who makes no secret of her overpowering sexual appetite. She convinces her shy but successful roommate Christi Ann (Kristen Kerr) to pick up two gigolos downtown for some paid sex. The girls and guys pair up, have sex, then face the consequences in the morning and thereafter.

The set-up is silly and full of those little coincidences that are routine in these kinds of female-oriented relationship films. The two supposed gigolos are actually unemployed construction workers (female fantasy time) who need someone to pay their bar bill at the fancy hotel bar they chose to patronize (only in the movies), and the two wanton females (male fantasy time) are only too happy to oblige (ahem). Well, they have to meet somehow, right? If you can get past that silliness, things do pick up later.

Johann Urb (Joe) and Stevie Long (Stanny) are genial enough as the two buddies who luck out, but their characters are drawn simplistically. Urb plays Joe as a male model type (at one point he even gets a job offer as a model, one of the more believable moments in the film) in whose mouth butter wouldn't melt. Stanny is played as a crude lout who says thing while sober that you would have to be drunk to think are acceptable. Both guys are given dialog that sometimes rings true and sometimes doesn't, sometimes makes sense and sometimes doesn't.

There isn't any explicit sex shown, but some scenes are about as suggestive as you can get without crossing that line. Which isn't a bad thing, the sex scenes are essential to show the complex attractions involved. That's a pretty remarkable achievement, usually the sex in low budget films like this is gratuitous, but here it really isn't. Donna in particular has a lot of issues and gets closer to reality with her neuroses and sensitivities than the others, who are broad stereotypes. If as much care had been taken with the other characters, "Strictly Sexual" might have become a minor classic.

But, alas, along with Donna we have the shy, innocent girl who must learn about love from her sensitive, gentle and caring construction worker/male model Joe, and the other construction worker who takes the caveman routine way too far. Only in the final scene does Stanny get a chance to act like a human being, and unfortunately, that's too late.

Even with its flaws, I liked this one. An entertaining way to spend the evening, especially if you like Amber.

2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Uneven Film with Moments of Sheer Transcendence, 2 February 2010

This film has gone in and out of fashion more often than the miniskirt. A triumph in the post-war period, it was virtually forgotten by the 1970s except by students of cinema. Recently, it has begun to get recognition as perhaps the most even-handed representation of soldiers' integration into post-war life ever made (and that most definitely includes films such as "The Deer Hunter.") I like it, but my overall evaluation is somewhere between those extremes.

The tale is a simple one. Three very different servicemen who have mustered out after World War II (The Big One!) fly home to their Midwest town and try to resume, or create, civilian lives. One has a disability, one has a cushy job waiting for him, and the other has nothing to go on but determination.

There are some good but unfortunately uneven performances. Fredric March won the Best Actor Oscar for playing an old Sergeant who returns to his job at the local bank. Personally, I think Jimmy Stewart deserved it for "It's a Wonderful Life," which also deserved the Best Picture Award, but clearly this film touched a nerve with the post-war audience. As I said, it was fashionable. March has one fantastic scene, a humorous speech that brought to mind somewhat similar incident involving real WWII hero Pappy Boyington, and otherwise is solid but unspectacular.

I am going against the grain here, but I thought that Myrna Loy, who played March's wife, was justly ignored by the Academy. I detected barely a hint of warmth from her. In fact, I kept thinking she was going to slap Frederic March for annoying her. She practically grimaced every time they were together. Something was definitely missing there, in her forced smiles and her air of tolerance rather than joyfulness. I think all this nonsense about her being "the perfect wife" is correct only if you think a passionless 1950s homemaker is your ideal. You may disagree with that, but the Academy voters apparently did not. She is a major problem with this film, terribly miscast.

Dana Andrews as a former soda jerk who became a war hero, then winds up behind the counter again, is amazing. He is saddled with a wife who evidently married him right before he left for the war for all the wrong reasons, and his future looks bleak. But then he chances upon March's daughter Peggy (Teresa Wright, in a fantastic turn), and fireworks explode. Both are great, but then comes that unevenness again that pervades this film. Some moments of pure soap opera intrude, punctuated by the all-time classic line, "I'm going to bust that marriage up!" The romance is uplifting and does mirror a common condition after the war, that of returning servicemen finding love upon their return.

Speaking of uplifting, now we come to Harold Russell. He has a naturalistic quality to his acting, or is it non-acting, that rings just as true today as it no doubt did then. Taking a no-nonsense approach to his situation, he is an inspiration. His best scene, one of the best in all cinema, is when he brings the girl who likes him up to his bedroom to show her the truth of his condition. "I'm lucky, I still have my elbows unlike some of the boys." Truly great stuff.

The film has some moments that soar. It also has some moments that belong in the afternoon soaps. Take the good with the bad and see this one for the high points.

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