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semioticz

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26 reviews in total 
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15 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Superb BioPic of and with Bette Davis: First Lady of Cinema, 16 June 2008
10/10

With a superbly blended mixture of actual footage of Miss Bette Davis speaking about herself and her life-long career in acting, friends, family, co-actors, footage from choice films, as well as footage from television interviews, this biopic by A&E's "Biography" is worthy of Cinema's First Lady.

The humorous aspects of Bette Davis' personality, on and off sets, are priceless featured moments of one of the most serious actors in screen acting's history. Unlike the spoiled "stars," who went to work acting in order to gain fame and fortune, who stomped off sets in fits of temper or while having childish tantrums, it is refreshing to learn from this biopic that Miss Davis could leave people with whom she worked and friends she knew well alike rolling on the floor laughing. When she goofed on the set, instead of bickering, instead of being an ego-maniacal shrew, Davis came up with hilarious one liners when she missed hers, like, "I've just given birth in the ladies room," (in response to her co-character's line, "What's so serious?"--the film crew can be heard cracking up in the background, while Davis herself is grinning ear to ear). That's one of my favorite aspects of Bette Davis' whole personality: how she could so easily deploy humor to ease others--even during the worst years of WWII.

To learn how bold & brave a 25yo woman was to stand up to Warner Brothers in pursuit of nothing more than good scripts reveals so much about Bette Davis' life dream. Davis doesn't leave her dream to our imagination. She tells Dick Cavett in 1971 that she was determined to be the best actress or quit. To imagine that a five foot two, eyes of turquoise blue woman could take on heavy socially controversial topics through the delivery of some of the finest scripts is daunting. Tiny as she was her shadow is towering today.

The only comparable biopic about US Cinema's First Lady is "All About Bette," brilliantly narrated by Jodie Foster: it's a bit more intimate and concise.

Don't stop here with this biopic: view them all in order to develop the fullest bodied vision of one heck of a woman. There's much more to her life than what meets the eye through her 100+ corpus of fabulous films. Indeed, Davis' contributions to humanity are yet to be sung.

Orlando (1992)
43 out of 52 people found the following review useful:
All Excess in a Full Blown Virginia Woolf Satire, 26 October 2007
9/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Arguably the greatest British novelist of the 20th century, Virginia Woolf, who invented "stream of consciousness" writing, composed the 1928 novel "Orlando" upon which director Sally Potter's exotic film is based.

Woolf's novel was written for & about the famous cross-dressing British heiress, poet, gardener, feminist, wife & mother; yet bisexual lover to many--Vita Sackville-West--who was one of Woolf's closest friends & perhaps her lover. Sackville-West's son, Nigel Nicholson, calls Woolf's novel "Orlando," "the longest love letter in the world." From Virginia to Vita. I view it as Woolf's way of saying to Vita, 'I know you. You're more than this world could ever be ready for; but, I love you for being who you are'. Instead of Woolf composing a biography, per se, she wrote a fantastical fiction. But, to any scholar of Woolf's & Sackville-West's lives (& I am one), "Orlando" is one of the best biographies ever written. Director Sally Potter does a splendid job of putting a very difficult & complex novel on film.

The narrator says of Orlando: "She's lived for 400 years & hardly aged a day; but, because this is England, everyone pretends not to notice." It's Woolf's biting satirical commentary on Victorian society, from a woman's perspective who, though owning her own publishing house & a truly great writer, was nevertheless oppressed by gender inequality. One of the giant points Woolf contends with is that Vita Sackville-West was an only child born into a 600 room castle; but, solely because she was a female, she could not inherit it. That's gender supremacism. These were two of the women historically spear-heading the way for women's equality through art & by living non-cooperatively with it.

The time span of the life of Orlando (Tilda Swinton) is from the 16th to the 20th century. Orlando starts out as a man to whom Queen Elizabeth I (the ever so queenly, Quentin Crisp) promises her estate as long as 'he' (Orlando-Swinton) never ages. Waking up in a changed sex in the 18th century, 'she' (Orlando-Swinton) learns that women are underprivileged. Especially when Orlando looses her property, since women were not allowed to own any. Woolf's dialog on this biographical point was the most painful of Sackville-West's life; Woolf makes it the height of her scathing satire:

First Official {speaking at Orlando the woman}: One, you are legally dead & therefore cannot hold any property whatsoever. Orlando: Ah. Fine. {stoically} First Official: Two, you are now a female. Second Official: Which amounts to much the same thing. {as being dead!}

Woolf & Sackville-West were of similar minds about gender inequality--outraged. Woolf rebels against it as Sackville-West did in real life by portraying Orlando as outraged, transgender & bisexual. Both feminist writers were profoundly critical of Victorian society's various forms of supremacism. So Woolf's characters bring that out; for example, through this single line uttered by the The Kahn (Lothaire Bluteau): "It has been said to me that the English make a habit of collecting... countries." (Wham, a direct hit upon British imperialism, Woolf style--a razor sharp, compact, one-liner that is also tongue-in-cheek amusing. Woolf was the shrewdest of 20th century British writers who used satire to express truths that make people able to grin & bear it. Woolf didn't want to be viewed as a mere street protester, in-your-face obnoxious & annoying. She was very much like France's 18th century philosopher, Voltaire (read his "Candid," to understand what I mean).

This was a word-smith with one of the most amazingly refined gifts for language & self-expression. That Woolf could provide satirical critiques of her own culture was quite rare. That she published hundreds of them is nothing short of genius not just as a writer but also as a business woman.

Back to the film: a famous solo performer, Jimmy Somerville (who plays an angel singing in falsetto, sounding like a castri, in the 16th & 18th centuries) used to be a singer for Bronski Beat & the Communards in the 1980's. Sally Potter, aside from directing, also did the vocals for the musical score that she co-wrote. The music is fascinating, exotic & indescribable. What an original CD!

Potter's movie grasps the key points of Woolf's novel by being filled with sexually dubious characters & relationships. For instance, Quentin Crisp plays a marvelous Queen; Charlotte Valandrey plays Princess Sasha, a young woman who dresses as a man; Lothaire Bluteau as The Khan has a friendship with Orlando that is highly suggestive of gay flirtations between 2 men. Jimmy Sommerville's voice is the epitome of queerness & dressed as an angel couldn't be more fey if he tried! Considering how Sackville-West played with sexuality & gender, plus, how Woolf was one of the few people who ever understood what she was doing, it is amazing that Potter was astute enough to not only comprehend both women, Potter also interpreted Sackville-West through Woolf onto the screen.

Since I'd critiqued Woolf's "Orlando" text in college, when the movie came out in the summer of 1993, I found it so true to Woolf's quick witted tones of political satire that I couldn't stop myself from cracking up with laughter out loud in the theater. If a movie goer doesn't know the true story of both the biographer's & the subject's lives, they won't get the scathing political points Woolf's made. Genius as they are!

Woolf & Shakespeare have great skills in common that come out through their vast libraries they left to us. That's another story.

10 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
Break Out the Violin for Streisand & Nolte, 22 October 2007
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Pat Conroy adapts a novel about a dysfunctional SC Southern family's traumatic events, with Barbra Streisand, into an Oscar-nominated intense role for Nick Nolte, who plays the leading man (Tom Wingo), to Streisand's (Susan Lowenstien) leading woman, NYC psychiatrist. The beginning twist is, Lowenstien is Wingo's sister's shrink who Wingo finds accidentally after his sister's suicide attempt. Wingo is not Lowenstien's client.

Wingo agrees to help Lowenstien by giving her family background information to help his mentally suffering sister. It becomes harder to recall that he's not her client when his post-traumatizing repressed memories are brought forth by Lowenstien in such ways that they expose his own mid-life crises & Lownestien's. Healing each other through their therapeutic talks, Lowenstien & Wingo begin to become romantically involved. They go so deep with each other mind to mind that it seems only natural that they express themselves to each other in physically tender ways, as well.

Though the film's climax involves memories of childhood post-traumatic sexual violence & their romance is bittersweet, Streisand, once again, directs another stellar film. She treats a very difficult theme, that is cinematically understudied as carefully (or perhaps carelessly over-studied), with the utmost tenderness as both a psychiatrist in role & a director. This time, her real son plays her real son (and a violin). Yes, for this movie, one does break out the violin.

15 out of 26 people found the following review useful:
Depp: My Favorite Pirate, 22 October 2007
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is not y/our typical Errol Flynn type of machismo, swashbuckling pirate; nor does he play another Disney Captain Hook. He's more like Fagan in "Oliver." Capt. Sparrow's ever so fey. That's his charm.

Though the pirates on the "Black Pearl" ship are dead & sometimes in their skeleton form they aren't scary enough for kids since this is a comedy.

The story line goes as follows: A governor's daughter is in charge of a young boy her own age who has been pulled out of the sea by her father's bourgeoisie crew. She notices his necklace is a pirate's & takes it from him to protect him from being hung to death.

But, the golden medallion is the last 1 of a pirate's treasure that has cursed the "Black Pearl" ship's crew. Without its return, with the blood of the boy on it, the skeletal crew remains dead, unable to feel any life in themselves; they are also not killable since they are already dead.

Capt. Sparrow (Depp), though a bumbling comical pirate who's bent upon owning the "Black Pearl," the ship the cursed crew stole from him, plays a marvelously lovable & lucky pirate who is the super glue that holds together the loose ends of the movie. Depp gives his cutest performance I've seen; he's now my favorite pirate! The script is clever; cinematography is fine; special effects are spot-on.

20 out of 27 people found the following review useful:
British Bourgeoisie Society & Double Standard for Women's Sexuality, 22 October 2007
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

1981 VHS & 2005 DVD are based uponby British novelist D.H. Lawrence's last (1928). In it's time, "Lady Chatterley's Love" was (re)viewed as "sexually scandalous"; so much so, D.H. Lawrence suffered continuously due to charges of obscenity. Like the (1928) novel, the (2005) DVD contains direct depictions of different-gender adulterous sexual intercourse. Many 'obscene' (at least for 1928!) sexual words are part of Lawrence's novel & the screenplay. As a result, the novel upon which the movie is based wasn't fully published in Britain, though it had long been available in other countries.

During the 2nd half of the 20th century, in 1960, Penguin books bought out the expurgated edition & was summarily prosecuted for violating the Obscene Publication Act of 1959! Even the trial was scandalous; though, the publishers prevailed & were acquitted. Their acquittal has been viewed by academic literary & cultural critics to this day as a catalyst for the new freedom of literature & artistic expression. Some critics have regarded Lawrence as the greatest British man novelist of the early 20th century (Virginia Woolf, the woman).

On to the film: it is equal to the novel in its sexological study of a paralyzed Sir Clifford Chatterley, who strongly advises his wife, Lady Constance Chatterley, to find a lover for herself in order to satisfy what Sir Clifford cannot ever give her, or so he thought: sexual fulfillment. (That belief would seem quite naive now since a wide variety of sexually satisfying techniques do not require a man who is paralyzed to be fully functioning! What is sexual & what is sexual satisfaction & pleasure has measurably changed since 1928).

Lady Constance Chatterley reluctantly takes her husband's advice, being quite young & beautiful. But, after beginning a very sexually intense affair with a proletariat man, Mellors, their butch & brawny country gamekeeper, Lady Chatterley's affair shocks her husband who suggested it & the high society in which they take part.

It is definitely not a movie for children because the sexual content is steamy & blatant. By contemporary standards, it is still a story of a scandalous love affair with an interesting plot; but, certainly the movie is not pornographic or unusual ("Asylum" is somewhat similar, for example). It is as much a sexology of 1920's British social class mores as anything else. Because it is a period piece that does examine an era & the moral standards of a particular class of a society, it is a more than notorious for its history of scandal: "Lady Chatterley's Lover" is loaded with Lawrence's observations & remarks about the mixture of mores for British bourgeoisie society & its double standard for women's sexuality.

Storyville (1992)
14 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Jason Robards, Piper Laurie & James Spader Weave Great Twisted Plots, 19 October 2007
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Cray Fowler (James Spader) is a Louisiana candidate for congress. Piper Laurie plays his widowed mother, Constance. Jason Robards plays his boisterous & lush drinking, influential uncle. Charlotte Lewis plays the Vietnamese Akito Karate instructor who the married-but-separated Fowler (Spader) winds up with on videotape in a hot-tub, somehow. The sex videotape could ruin his bid for public office.

But, there's much more to the plot than this: Fowler's father was a very wealthy & powerful man who wound up dead years ago in what was called a "suicide." His only son, Cray, is plagued by that part of his family's past. Therefore, he's an attorney who's on a quest to find some answers to his suspicions about his father's untimely death.

Let's just leave it at that but say the plots run parallel courses, thicken & braid together in quite fascinating ways.

The sex scenes are beautifully graphic, as Spader is noted for in most of his early films (especially "Crash" 1997". The younger actor Spader was cast as the lover-boy himself. Spader, Robards & Piper Laurie all portray extremely convincing characters.

The movie's got just enough of a bit of everything in it. White collar crime, murders, hot sex, 3 great lead actors, family betrayal, good & bad guys & gals, money & a constant pursuit of justice. This is a terrific flick! The scenes where Spader & Robards go at each other truly highlight how talented both actors are. I haven't seen two men acting out arguments with such emotive expression resembling the wrath scenes of the great Bette Davis. Whomever brought Robards, Sr. & Spader together has an inspired moment! I'm deliberately not telling you the best parts of the story. Those you've got to experience for yourselves. Mind you, this isn't spine tingling high suspense. It's clever twisted plot & truly great dramatic suspense.

Young Adam (2003)
9 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
McGregor & Swinton Can't Help But Steam Up the Scottish Barge, 19 October 2007
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In Glasgow, Scotland a young adult drifter, Joe Taylor (Ewan McGregor), finds work on the barge owned by Ella Gault (Tilda Swinton). Her husband Les Gault (Peter Mullan), is older, a drunkard, but the father of their son, Jimmy Gault (Jack McElhone). The Gault's marriage leaves much to be desired, for Ella especially.

In between transporting coal & other cargo on the River Clyde, Joe & Les are loading the hold with coal, when Joe spots a young woman's body floating face down. Since they fished her out of the water, Les curiously follows the newspaper reports about her: he's rather proud to have been involved in finding her body. Joe's a busy stud of a guy, either having sex with just about any woman who attracts him or reading books on the barge.

His sexual appetite & Ella's utter dissatisfaction with husband Les leads to quite a steamy sexual relationship between Ella & Joe. Les eventually finds out & leaves. The barge belongs to Ella which is a twist since the man has to leave, loses his income & his name is not on the property.

In the meantime, Joe flashes back to a former romance, with Cathie Dimly (Emily Mortimer), during the time while he & Ella have a "torrid affair." When the police arrest a suspect of the murdered woman, Joe becomes interested in the case. His memories, revealed to viewers as flash backs, disclose the truth about the death of the woman.

It is a suspense noir based upon the novel by Alexander Trochhi, a Scottish Beat poet. David Mackenzie directed the motion picture & co-wrote the screenplay with Trochhi. The movie was released in the Netherlands in 2003. It's rightly rated NC-17 for some (very) explicit sexual content, including full frontal nudity of McGregor & graphic depictions of sex acts between adults. The settings are gorgeous since the movie was primarily filmed on location in Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, Scotland, UK.

14 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Ewan McGregor as Desirable, Obsessed Garden Artist, 19 October 2007
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When Maneer Chrome (Ewan McGregor) is hired by a wealthy patron Thomas Smithers (Pete Postlethwaite) to create out of "chaos" a magnificent garden that reflects the family's aristocracy, Chrome has no idea that Mrs. Juliana Smither's (Greta Sacchi) 'kissing cousin', James Fitzmaurice (Richard E. Grant) has plotted to bankrupt the family so that he can finally have Juliana for himself.

While that is the apparent main plot, there's an intriguing ongoing subplot. Seems the Smither's daughter, Thea/Anna (Carmen Chaplin), thrives in the wooded 'chaos' with a home life that is so stringently ordered & controlled during the Romantic era. Chrome's going to completely destroy Thea's (as she calls herself instead of Anna) refuge: nature in the woods behind her home. This brings her to the brink of insanity, or so her father believes. Therefore, he calls in a (sadistic) physician (Donal McCann) to "cure" the young woman of her "ailments." Chrome is the only one in the picture who realizes that Thea's probably the only sane member of the family. So, in order to show her that he understands her need for the wild & freedom of nature, he builds into the garden a spring just for her. While this begins to endear him to her, Lady Juliana has begun to pay seductive attention to Chrome & the smitten Thea witnesses this. Juliana's attempts to seduce Chrome while her husband is away doesn't escape the notice of her pathologically jealous cousin James, either. Philippe Rousselot directs Tim Rose Price's screenplay.

This is an odd show that would seem more like a film coming from Lynch, Cronenberg, Nero or Waters. I keep watching it out of intrigue with the story's intricacies.

Warm Springs (2005) (TV)
15 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
3 Term US President FDR's Activism & Struggles with Polio After-Effects, 19 October 2007
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Franklin D. Roosevelt's struggles with late onset polio after-effects were largely kept out of the media from 1933-1945 during his 3 terms as US President. "Warm Springs" is an intimate drama starring renowned British actor Kenneth Branagh as FDR, Cynthia Nixon as FDR's very active & socially influential wife, Eleanor Roosevelt & US Oscar winning actor, Kathy Bates, as the physical therapist at Warm Springs, who treated & began to have remarkable results doing warm water therapy for people with polio after-effects.

Warm Springs is the name of the place where FDR began swimming in order to 'cure' himself of polio after-effects shortly before he became the US President. It was at first a motel with a large pool. But, after its able-bodied patrons were bigoted & ignorant enough to refuse to swim with the people with polio after-effects who FDR attracted to the Warm Springs pool, FDR convinced his wife & her brother to help him purchase the place & turn it into a polio treatment center.

It's a true story. One that has been kept 'under the carpet' for over half a century due to prejudices against people with disabilities. FDR believed his political career was over, due to his physical limitations that prevented him from walking without much assistance. Disabilities were viewed as character weaknesses, more or less, & would certainly not be becoming for a potential US President.

The film's director, Joseph Sargent, was fortunate to have a marvelous cast, a heck of a true story & fine screenplay about the WWII & Great Depression Era US President. Kathy Bates gives a superb performance as the Warm Springs miracle worker of physical therapy. Kenneth Branagh does not disappoint as the most convincing FDR I've ever enjoyed on the screen. Cynthia Nixon, perhaps, has the toughest character to portray because the real First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was larger than life before, during & after FDR took over the Presidency. I feel she succeeds with flying colors.

In all, "Warm Springs" is a fine historical film that could interest a wide variety of audiences.

24 out of 35 people found the following review useful:
Cronenberg Takes on a Classic Opera Espionage Twister, 19 October 2007
10/10

Jeremy Irons plays the lead role as French diplomat, Phillipe Bouriscot, who falls in love with an absolutely seductive Chinese woman opera singer (John Lone). As Irons pursues the diva he's attracted to, she toys with his foreign ignorance of the cultural differences between their Western & Eastern societies.

In a sense, she keeps the diplomat at a distance for 18 years while their affair continues by becoming his teacher of cultural difference. The romantic & erotic chemistry between the diplomat & opera singer is a very famous true story written by David Henry Hwang--"Madame Butterfly." There have been numerous stage & screen renditions of the story.

I like this (1994) version best because David Cronenberg is undoubtedly the finest director to deal with the most important topic in the story: gender bending. "M. Butterfly" is the Canadian Cronenberg's first Hollywood funded debut. The surprise plot of the sorted true love story is one of espionage. An adults only film, it is one of intrigue, sizzling romance, twists & turns, deception & betrayal.


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