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The Lottery (1996)
Godawful Klunker of a Made-for-TV Movie
Based on the renown and tautly written allegorical horror short story by Shirley Jackson, this made-for-TV movie manages to take all the worst attributes of the made-for-TV movie genre and encapsulate them into one tedious and tiresome drawn-out telling of an otherwise great story while adding nothing in the process.
The great kernel that is the basis for this film is Jackson's story, upon which it spins a larger and longer story; yet it adds absolutely nothing to the tale, in spite of all of the production resources and the cast it has available to do the job. With saccharine and stilted dialog, a very badly developed and written screenplay, bad acting, worse direction (because some of the actors in this film had proved track records or have proved themselves since), and one tired trope after another, this film would work better as camp or a satirical spoof of the genre rather than being an honest attempt to enlarge the original story.
I haven't checked the credits of the screenplay's writer or writers, the producers or the director, but I have the sense this had either the same people involved or at least similar people as gave us such dreck as cheap Sunday evening TV fare as the 1970s "Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mystery" series, another example of using a set of successfully written stories as the kernel around which to build unwatchable TV.
I gave this a 4/10. I've given better ratings to productions that looked and seemed far worse than this. However bad they were, those independently produced films usually run on a shoestring budget likely cobbled together by gifts from friends and family and obviously didn't have anything close to the budget or resources this film must have had available. At least the independently produced films usually manage to convey their story and their sense of truth, while this movie is simply an inanity.
Dream On (2013)
Good Plot, Poor Execution
My very first impression of "Dream On" as it began was disappointment. Fortunately, it didn't end there.
Disappointment because it was clear this was a very low budget affair. The filming medium was very poor, and it gave the film an immediate feel of being little more than homemade. That needn't destroy a film, in my opinion; however, there is no getting around the fact that part of the value and quality of an artistic offering of any kind is affected by the materials used to create the art. Poor materials do not necessarily result in bad work (e.g., the famous Watts Towers in Los Angeles). Unfortunately, this movie suffers very badly from the very poor cinematography.
To leave it at that, though, misses some things that may be worthwhile to a sensitive viewer. Told with humor and (I believe the Brit word would be) cheek, it is a poignant, heartfelt story which rings emotionally true, and that is no small feat in a film. It certainly can't be accomplished without decent writing, acting (particularly the two male leads), and directing. Though now a middle-age gay man, I have no doubt that as a teen and a young man I would have found this film quite powerful because the experience of love flowing and unfolding so naturally would have felt like something I yearned for as naturally as water to drink. The way the story ultimately plays out makes that love all the more powerful and urgently felt. I will add that even now, decades and many miles and roads later as a grown man with a spouse of many years, that love and those feelings are real, natural and beautiful and the truth of that is captured in this film.
Unfortunately, the movie is rife with problems that do not lessen the value of this story, but badly devalue its telling. It is, as mentioned above, badly served by the media with which it was made and some poor production and script editing. There was a natural ending for the film about 10 minutes before it ends, but a wrap-up scene is included and a very bad misplaced attempt at humor is badly misplaced and completely deaf to the continuity, the tone, character development and even the pace of the story.
On a final note, I viewed this, as nearly all watchers have or will, on a DVD. As American viewers I and my viewing companions sometimes had difficulty understanding the dialog given the seemingly heavy accents. We were unable to find any subtitles, so I am sure there are things we have missed or failed to appreciate because the dialog was misunderstood. I suspect there are even folks in the UK and Ireland who would find them useful.
The Great Gatsby (2013)
Fitzgerald Meets Jim Henson's "Labyrinth"
The husband and wife team who made this film worked hard to get all of the historical details correct, but anything that is good about the film gets lost in the unrelenting use of overpowering "Hollywood" film techniques.
It looks like an overproduced Disney-Jim Henson-George Lucas-Wes Anderson computer-generated fairy tale. F. Scott Fitzgerald meets Jim Henson's "Labyrinth." I have nothing against "Labyrinth," Henson, Disney, George Lucas or Anderson. In fact, they are all genius filmmakers, and I've loved many of their films, but "Gatsby" is not a fairy tale story. It is a story meant to be about real people in an actual place and time, in this case, New York and its environs during the pre-Crash Roaring 20's.
I'm sure many will defend the film by saying that it is trying to capture and express the quality Roaring 20's with its lavish, decadent, no holes barred orgiastic parties, boozing, gangsters, money lending and trading. But this picture is all psychedelic party with no pathos.
In "Steel Magnolias" the character Shelby describes her wedding colors as "blush and bashful." Her mother clarifies that she means "pink" and it looks like somebody vomited Pepto Bismol all over the church. That's what happened here. The film makers don't know when to stop. They are so enamored of CGI, 3-D, and any other eye-popping technique at their disposal that they use every crayon in the box — over and over and over again. They ruined this the same way George Lucas ruined the nearly unwatchable "Star Wars" prequels: by stuffing and cramming the movie with technical production magic.
As a result, nearly everything else is lost amidst the mess: the characters, the zeitgeist, the time and place, and the story, not to mention any subtlety — from a novel which is essentially one long lyrical poem.
The movie is also overwrought from beginning to end with ridiculous over-stylized tropes, like choreographed scenes of footmen throwing open doors in unison and swooping in and out of scenes like a Broadway cast of chorus boys.
With one grand exception the acting is quite good. In fact, the depiction of Tom Buchanan is probably the best I've seen. He is the best portrayal of the boorish, bigoted, entitled, old money American blue blood I've seen. Leonardo DiCaprio's Gatsby is also a very good portrayal of the character. (Gatsby remains a chimera to the end of the book, so any reasonable portrayal is open to interpretation.)
Toby Maguire's portrayal of Nick Carraway, the story's narrator, is just awful, though. I've liked Tobey McGuire in everything I've seen him in, but whether it was his acting or the direction, his portrayal of Nick Carraway is ham-fisted, awkward, and silly — even embarrassing.
Rather than portraying a detached young, upper crust (the character of Nick is from a "good family," monied and well-off though nothing on the scale of Jay Gatsby or Tom and Daisy Buchanan's riches) war veteran who is just four years removed from the horrors of mechanized mass killing, Toby Maguire's Nick Carraway looks and sounds like an adolescent on junior high summer break in a world of adults. That's a shame because I suspect Maguire has the acting talent to actually get the part right.
Lots of folks criticize the film's use of rap and hip hop music. Even though I don't like hip hop personally, I understand its use here. Hip hop is the jazz of our day. After a hundred years, jazz has become too historic and canonized to capture and signify the original edgy, and sinful character of the counter-culture of that era. The idea, for me, worked — for a little while. Just like everything else in the film, though, it is overused and overwhelms. It becomes as distracting and annoying as someone pushing his way past your seat while you are trying to watch the film.
The basic story of Gatsby is there, even if not the romance, poetry and lyricism of the novel, but despite its best efforts, and sadly because of them, the story and certainly much of what makes "The Great Gatsby" great is nearly lost amidst too much, far too much, overproduction. Less is more.
1000 Ways to Die (2008)
Trashy and Tasteless
When I heard of this show I thought it sounded like an interesting concept. However, watching it really disappointed me. The running commentary is glib and flippant, more interested in blaming, degrading and making fun of the victim than it is portraying odd yet real ways in which people's lives end. Given that that these are purportedly reenactments of real actual deaths, the running narration and enactments of the deaths make the show tasteless and trashy. It doesn't even rise to the level of camp.
You may enjoy the program, but given the obvious loathing the show has for what its creators deem idiots and losers, I can picture its producers taking glee from their viewers' deaths, thinking them to be idiots if they are watching.
Everybody dies sooner or later. Don't waste what is left of your life watching this. You'll live to regret it. (1 out of 10)
Short Time, High Impact
I'm fortunate enough to get to see short films through a program on public television called "The Short List" which seasonally features selected short films from around the world.
Wow! What a dramatic impact in such a short time. In the space of about 10 minutes this film builds to a point of high suspense. Also, inside of that time, we are introduced to man, given insight into his character, shown the wide variety of emotions that pass through him -- all without a word from the actor. The other major character in the film her own triumph in acting on two levels: someone who is acting as though she is acting.
Mysteriously, as of this writing more than half of the raters have given this film the supreme rating of 10, but its overall IMDb rating hovers around 4.0. Huh???!
This is a great little film. Its makers should proud and you should be so lucky as to see it.
Rag Tag (2006)
I hate to write a bad review about what is apparently a genuine and authentic attempt to make a film. Some films are just so patently awful that skewering them is almost cathartic. This is not the case here. Rag Tag is about two friends, Rag and Tag, who come from different backgrounds, are separated as children and reunited as adults.
While it has a potentially interesting story and there are a few laughs and even a few sweet moments, these few and far between assets are lost amidst poor directing, filming, editing, acting and (at least in the showing I saw) bad sound. I went to this film on this site's high rating (an amazing 7.7, as of this writing), but it definitely wasn't worth my $10. Save your money and give it a pass.
La môme (2007)
I have been an Edith Piaf fan for a number of years. I fell in love with her music upon first hearing it and grew and grew in my admiration and love of her talent. I'm not so fanatic, though, as to know every detail of her life and to have read every biography, so I was interested in seeing this film. I even cried a tear or two at the end.
Despite that and the praise it has received, I have some major reservations about it.
First and foremost, the film makes her look like an empty shell, a mannequin who is thrust upon the stage which emits an incredible voice, but the famed vitality of this little woman is never shown. Instead, the image is that of someone who is a shell of a person. I've watched performances and interviews of Piaf up to the year before she died and though she looks like a grandmother by her mid-40's, she is still vital, animated, dynamic and very much alive, not the crippled, bent-over, near-death empty vessel this movie suggests. I have no need to protect the reputation of Edith Piaf. If she was a fall-down drunk and addict, so be it, but this film seems to give what I understand to be a false impression.
Second, perhaps one of the most interesting chapters of her life, that of World War II, is completely omitted. From what I know she worked with the French Resistance. She is known to have helped POW's escape prison camps and I have read that many Resistance fighters owed their lives to her. This movie never told us those stories and that too is a shame. In the film a French soldier is headed off to fight on the front and then suddenly it is 1947!
Finally, the film never really lets Edith Piaf shine. She is portrayed as such an addled wreck of a person and her performances are interspersed nearly like mere footnotes. I'm not sure there is one complete performance at any point. There is no sense she ever achieved greatness. That generations which never knew her (of which I was one), may leave this film never understanding why she was great is the greatest shame. I'm glad my son didn't see it as I think his reaction would have been, "What's the big deal, Dad!"
The Butterfly Effect (2004)
Truly Awful! Why Couldn't I Have Blacked Out?!
Poorly made film starring teen heart-throb Ashton Kutchner. Graphic yet unrealistic violence -- kids are slammed with lethal blows only to bounce back up again. Why it's Bugs and Road Runner!
Homophobic inferences and dialog. Awful dialog and acting.
I am amazed that it has a 7.7 rating as of this writing, but perhaps that is mostly from the teen set. If you are an adult and have any kind of intelligence, don't say you weren't warned. No kid should be watching this film anyway.
Perhaps, though, the NY Times (David Kehr, 23 Jan 2004) said it better than I could: "Even by the lax standards of January film releases ... 'The Butterfly Effect' is staggeringly bad." Also, "It includes several scenes of graphic violence, many directed against children and animals." Yes, this train wreck of a film even includes snuff film violence with animals.
The Painted Veil (2006)
Wow! I Didn't Know They Still Made Films This Good
I saw this film well reviewed here, and I could not have been more pleased in my viewing of it. Wow! What a great film! It is a slow and steadily paced human and interpersonal drama. These are very real and human characters and watching the dynamics between them unfold as the plot moves back and forth is like watching a flower unfold. This is a beautiful and haunting film. If you let yourself go along for the journey you will find yourself caught up in the lives and experiences of these characters and the drama will get inside you and under your skin.
Most of Edward Norton's films (e.g., American X) are just too violent for my taste. I was very moved and pleased to be able to enjoy his famously fine acting in this film. The rest of the cast is just superb. I knew I was in for a treat as I watched Liev Schreiber, Diana Rigg, and Toby Jones appear on the screen.
The cinematography of the Chinese landscape is stunning. Definitely a film worth seeing on the large screen before it goes to the small screen.
I didn't know they still made films this rich and good.
I was fortunate enough to have recently viewed this film at the Philadelphia International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival (PIGLFF). I am mystified that as of my writing the movie's current rating is 4.9, despite the fact that 75% of the voters gave it at least a 6, and 67% of the voters gave it a 7 or higher.
The story arc begins enigmatically as three different strands of he same tale and resolves into a heartbreakingly beautiful tale of the longings of the human heart, loss, and the will to reach into and beyond oneself. The movie's title not only represents the heart's search for home but also, I think, the conflict being worked out on screen within and between its characters. It respects the religious faith of its characters while also demonstrating that religion can be rigid, self-protective, and calcified dogmatism.
Some of the shots, external and internal, are strikingly lush and colorful.
The cast consists of several wonderful veteran actors, including Michael Learned, Chris Sarandon, Bonnie Hunt,and Tess Harper.
If you need helicopters and explosions, this film will not be your cup of tea. (I think this film is of a high caliber and should someday be broadcast on PBS, if it dared; but if PBS won't do it, perhaps HBO or Sundance will.) If you are willing to sit a bit and be told a cleverly crafted tale that explores the human heart, I heartily recommend it to you.