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Everyone in the world should see this
NATURE has once again given us an exemplary documentary about the natural world, informing us of the alarming decline of frog populations throughout much of North and South America. The loss of natural habitat, the encroachment of roads, chemical run-off from industry and private homes, as well as the pervasiveness of a bewildering lethal fungus, collectively move a wide variety of frog species quickly toward extinction. The efforts of scientists to understand this collapse--and its effects on the ecosystem--and to turn it around makes for a fascinating hour. As one scientists observes, "This is our only chance to save them."
The River: Magus (2012)
Contrived and artificial
This high-budget, well-acted entry into the horror genre fails in its attempt to generate chills, and its self-conscious directorial choices keep the viewer completely outside of the story. The conceit that this is documentary footage seems to be an attempt at realism, but it has the opposite effect. Every shot is perfectly lit so that we always see exactly what we need to see, we always hear exactly what we need to hear--but of course there isn't a single significant shot of the evil entity wreaking havoc on the character. We are supposed to be scared by the shaking cameras, flickering lights and spooky noises, evidently. And sometimes, such as in the final scene on the bow between Lincoln and Tess, we SHOULD be able to see the cameras filming the characters--as we cut back and forth between two angles--but they are nowhere to be seen. In my opinion, the choice to make this a pseudo documentary completely ruins the show because it never stops drawing attention to itself.
American Horror Story (2011)
Ruined by obnoxious direction and editing
Interesting characters presented to us by competent actors are completely undermined by editors and directors that are far too impressed with their choices. What they apparently think of as a slick, smart, hip style is completely misplaced and very alienating to the viewer. If they would just get out of the way and let us watch the story unfold without the fast-paced cutting and the "artsy" camera movements, there MIGHT be a reason to keep tuning in to the series. After the first two episodes, though, I am completely turned off by their pretentiousness and have lost all desire to give the show another chance.
The Playboy Club (2011)
Cliché should be just a starting point
My expectations for "The Playboy Club" have been low, due to its overt attempt to clone the far superior "Mad Men". In spite of that, the show has kept me interested enough to watch both of the shows that have aired, and I will continue to watch for a few more episodes to see if it ever hooks me. Part of the brilliance of "Mad Men" is that it dives headlong into cliché and usually surprises the viewer with an unexpected angle on that cliché. In "The Playboy Club", the makers follow firmly in the footsteps of "Mad Men", but forget to include the surprises. It is awash in cliché, saved only by the high quality of the art direction and acting. Even the musical performances fall short. The songs may be top-notch and sung well, but the direction cripples them with a "Glee"-like artificiality and a lack of imagination. In episode two, for example, the arrangement of "In the Mood" -- a song from the thirties -- is a virtual duplicate of Bette Midler's version from 1973. How is that choice appropriate for a show set in the sixties, particularly when the production designers are so careful about visual authenticity? Why not duplicate an arrangement from the sixties, or maybe even create something new?
The Anniversary Party (2001)
If you like Robert Altman films...
If you like Robert Altman films, you should take a look at this film. It's much like an Altman film, with its use of naturalistic dialogue, subtle humor, and a wide spectrum of characters which feel like real people, in simple, believable situations. But it's tidier than an Altman film. It still could use a little trimming, I think, but in general it doesn't have as many rough edges as a film like "A Wedding".
Here's an excerpt from Roger Ebert's review, which could very well be a comment about an Altman movie: "The appeal of the film is largely voyeuristic. We learn nothing we don't already more or less know, but the material is covered with such authenticity and unforced natural conviction that it plays like a privileged glimpse into the sad lives of the rich and famous. We're like the neighbors who are invited. Leigh and Cumming co-wrote and co-directed, and are confident professionals who don't indulge their material or themselves. This isn't a confessional home movie, but a cool and intelligent look at a lifestyle where smart people are required to lead their lives according to dumb rules."
I found the film engrossing, but only because it was overflowing with striking imagery and plenty of skin. If we, the viewers, are to have a meaningful emotional connection with characters who risk their lives and lose them for the sake of their country, those characters must convince us they are, in effect, real people. In "300", realism is wholeheartedly jettisoned for the sake of artificial, though striking, imagery. As a result, it is a film for the head, not the heart. The characters are one-dimensional archetypes, hardly distinguishable from each other. In fact, if one thinks about some of the choices made by the director and/or production designer, it's almost laughable. (Capes?!!!!) The movie will be remembered only for its unique visuals, not for its impact on the heartstrings.
Felix the Cat (1959)
As I recall, the words to the theme went: "Felix the Cat, the wonderful, wonderful cat. You'll laugh so much your sides will ACHE. Your heart will go pitter-pat watching Felix, the wonderful cat."
I watched this TV cartoon series regularly as a child in the 60s. I enjoyed it a lot, but I believe I never suffered from aching sides. In fact, there were a few things about this show that were a little bit creepy, such as the sinister Master Cylinder, and that lantern-jawed kid Vavoom, who could blast through anything by just shouting "Vavoom!" That's the kind of stuff that creeps into the dreams of young kids and gives them nightmares!
Mary Poppins (1964)
"Mary Poppins" is only pretending to be a children's film
Although I loved this film upon first seeing it at the theater in '64, it wasn't until I was an adult that I began to appreciate and be amazed by the sophistication of the writing. Sure, the special effects and the music and the visuals are what grab the attention, but the script itself and the lyrics offer just as much brilliance. I would even assert that this isn't a "children's film" at all, but a film aimed at adults under the guise of a kids' film. And that type of subversion is exactly what you'd expect from Mary Poppins. Her method from day one is to use reverse psychology on anyone she is trying to manipulate--in a good sense, of course. She teaches the children to give money to the poor by suggesting they "feed the birds". She gets them to fall asleep by sweetly singing "Stay Awake". She gets Mr. Banks to take the kids with him to work by acting as if it was his idea, and complimenting him for thinking of it. (A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.)
The film's main character, dramatically speaking, is not Mary, nor the children. It is the father, George Banks. After all, he is the one who makes the film's primary transformation brought about by the presence of Mary Poppins. She is there to show him that his children are more important than money or his job, and once she has completed her task, she moves on. And that is the sort of message that the adults in the audience need to learn, not the children.
As further evidence that this is a film aimed at adults, take a look at this line from "Jolly Holiday", when Mary sings to Bert:
"You'd never think of pressing your advantage. Forbearance is the hallmark of your creed. A lady needn't fear when you are near. Your sweet gentility is crystal clear!"
In these days when studios tend to pander to young audiences, desperate not to add anything that might bore them or be over their heads, it's refreshing to return to the days when films like "Mary Poppins" trusted in the integrity of its material.
Hell's House (1932)
The production values leave much to be desired, as this was apparently a B-movie with a very low budget, but several things make it worth watching. There's the legendary Bette Davis, before she was legendary. She always owns the screen whenever the camera sees her, and this early performance is no exception, even in a smaller role. Plus, Junior Dirkin as Jimmy Mason, the teenager, is wonderful in a simple, unaffected performance, as is Frank Coghlin playing his buddy Shorty. Also, there's Charles Grapewin, prior to his role as Uncle Henry in "The Wizard of Oz". And if you have an affinity for reform school movies, as I do, add this to your list. Don't know why, but there's something about the incarceration of youth that appeals to me.
Well worth seeing
If I enjoy a film enough to purchase it, then it means I KNOW I can enjoy repeated viewings of it, and that is certainly the case with "Mother". The story is character-driven, and the comedy is clever and often subtle, rather than being filled with broad, gag-oriented laughs--so it won't appeal to everyone. Debbie Reynolds is wonderfully understated, and does a great job of shedding the glamorous persona we're used to seeing from earlier films and TV roles. Albert Brooks is his standard but enjoyable self, and though his screen characters are known for their complaining, I never found it irritating. Lisa Kudrow has a small but funny role as one of the women Brooks dates early in the film.