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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
MEGASTAR TALENT Already at Age 22, 24 December 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Frankly, I worked as a talent scout for a very well-known Beverly Hills theatrical agent way back in the late 1970's, looking for new star material performing in local plays and comedy houses, anywhere from Redondo Beach to Bakersfield.

Shane Ballard was born in 1981 and died in 2004. So young when this was produced in 2003. But he already had THAT quality.

John Candy, John Goodman, Robbie Coltrane... Shane Ballard.

In one way, you could look at this entire documentary as a screen test. The film works for one reason and one reason alone - It's all Shane.

On another level, the documentary is an understated and therefore incredibly affecting portrait of the United Backbroken-States of America.

The 'War on Drugs' has been a farce from beginning to end, as Shane intuitively realized, seeing small-town law enforcement corruption up close, in his face -- extremely personal, with the murder of his mother by a DEA informer who had 'diplomatic immunity'. The fact that bigger government entities are involved is off the radar screen for most people.

Shane's comment in the last scene shows him wondering at the fact he wasn't knocked off before Voting Day - "People in this county have been killed for much, much less." Strangely enough, other reviewers here assume he committed suicide, as they seem to accept the coincidental detail that the director of the documentary, Mr. Ron Tibbett, died about the same time in a car accident.

Excuse me, this is small-town Mississippi. Things haven't really changed much since "In The Heat of the Night," for those who get their feel for reality from the movies. Actually I was doing some research in rural Missouri in 2006, and I discovered the Ku Klux Klan is alive and well, though little talked about. Even when a black man who had moved into a white neighborhood had his mailbox blown up by a bomb. Missouri isn't Mississipi - or is there really any difference now? West Coast/East Coast/Middle America... "The Homeland", as we call it now. Right.

Charles Manson is the co-star of "Citizen Shane". Like the other big-name criminals who fascinated Shane, including Hitler, all these very vocal social deviants are like the canaries who sing their hearts out because the atmosphere around them is so toxic. IMHO.

Charlie was a lot more highly thought of in Hollywood/Hollyweird than recent rewritten history would have us believe. The title of the hit series wasn't "Charlie's Angels" for nothing.

Of course, the drug-culture-business in the television/film industry only merits a 'shocked' news story every decade or so, and then all the major players meander back under their rocks. Others, like O.J. Simpson, and like Charles Manson, play the fall guy... Watch the Big Bad Wolf, thanks to script writers in the LAPD. Join the chase. Draw the wrong card? Go to jail.

People love a public lynching, and they don't bother connect the dots at the crime scene.

Shane, we hardly knew you. But you knew us. Peace.

11 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
Jessamyn West's Book Title Was Wrong: "Love Really Is What You Think", 22 October 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Here we are in 2008, and the pendulum of sexual misunderstanding has swung both ways now, in a few generations. Once, homosexuality was despised. Now, increasingly, homosexuality is advocated as an enlightened preference. Propagating the human species is not a priority in what is perceived as an era of over-population. Besides, we have test tube babies today, and cloning people is probably already being practiced behind closed laboratory doors.

What has remained the same in the past 40 years, however, is that people regard sex, in whatever form it takes, as the main priority of life. The pharmacies can't keep enough Viagra on the shelves.

"Tea and Sympathy," is only 'dated' for those people who don't realize that both the play, and the film, deal with the subject of love. Love is not sex. Sex is not love. You can have love without sex. You can have sex without love.

Perhaps, in some future era of civilization, if we don't blow ourselves up first, the time will come when caring so much for another person that you are willing to sacrifice your future for him, or for her, is more than a Quixotic fantasy. Actually, this has been the cultural ideal on and off for centuries. Ancient Greece and Rome glorified sex and demeaned marriage, as our role models seem to do; and their orgy palaces fell into ruins in the dust of time. Later, in the Middle Ages, the troubadours sang of romantic, idealized love. By the 1600's, as the incredible book "Don Quixote" humorously demonstrates, chivalry was already dead, a laughing-stock, totally divorced from reality. In Victorian and Edwardian England, sexuality became schizophrenic - incredible debauchery existed side-by-side with the kind of love story personified in the lives of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, on Wimpole Street.

The two World Wars of the 20th-century despoiled and degraded many lives, on a wide scale never before seen in history. The film goddesses of the Silver Screen could play a whore one week, and a nun the next. Schizophrenia continued to reign, alive-and-well.

But now, we are immersed in a pornographic dream.

From that standpoint, of course "Tea and Sympathy" is dated. Some commentators here on the film even go so far as to entirely make up scenes which never occur in the movie, right out of the whole cloth of their own fantasies. No, in the last scene Laura never unbuttons her cardigan; and Tom never fondles her breast. More proof that people claim to see things that don't exist simply because they expect to see them. Even 'eyewitnesses' to major news events often don't really know what they're talking about.

If this is a cult film for homosexuals, it is because they see what they want to see in the movie, and not what exists. Clearly, Tom Lee is smitten with Laura long before the film starts, just as his first love was a blond schoolteacher when he was only twelve. Laura's line to his roommate: "Maybe Tom is deeply in love" could only apply to Tom's feelings toward herself.

What is to be learned from Maxwell Anderson's sensitive writing, as well as from Tennessee Williams' best work, is that love is the main thing, and that we choose those whom we love because they meet our psychological and emotional needs, and many times we are not even consciously aware what those needs really are. Reynolds, for example, although he was certainly ambivalent in his sexuality, still truly wanted a good woman to be his wife, which is why he married Laura and fully loved her in his own way; but he also needed patient help right from the start, whereas Laura was slow to realize his dilemma and, being admittedly a selfish woman at times, nursed her own hurts as their relationship deteriorated, quite apart from Tom's involvement at all. Her husband ended up a broken man, not because he was a frustrated, repressed homosexual, but because he had failed the love of his life and couldn't trust himself not to do the same again with another mate.

In "Tea and Sympathy", and in reactions to the film for the past decades, we see how the norms of society can entrap all of us, at both ends of the spectrum.

26 out of 27 people found the following review useful:
Know Thyself - Not An Easy Task, 11 October 2008

In 2007 in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, a male teacher with seniority was politely asked to resign by the high school where he had worked for several years because his personal website (where his name did not even appear) contained suggestive photos of himself and his lover; it was somehow found and reported on to the principal. So you see, the premise of "The Children's Hour" is not at all out-of-date!

What is absolutely fascinating about this film, and what makes it unique in all the dramas which have been made on the subject of homosexuality, is the treatment of the road of self-discovery taken by these two very different women.

MacLaine wants Hepburn to buy some new clothes in an early scene, because she remembers how stylish her friend liked to be in her university days, and she even shares the memory of her first sight of Hepburn, when she said to herself, "What a pretty girl!" By the time the action of this movie begins, these two women have already lived and worked together for at least ten years. There was university together. Then, they both started teaching and accumulated several years' worth of experience; and it must certainly have taken a while to save up the money to set up the private girls' school of their dreams. That is a long relationship, a very committed relationship. Many similar career women in the 1960's, back to the 1870's (!) - famous women novelists, scientists, musicians, artists, poets - are now casually described in academia as lesbians, if they had any kind of a lengthy partnership with another woman at all. It has become a fashionable, politically correct label. But are these labels accurate?

Years ago, a sisterly friendship was accepted as just that. Now some kind of sex act is required and assumed. Nobody is supposed to be able to exist without regular orgasms. Nonsense! The culture has turned us all into Pavlovian dogs who salivate on cue. It is not true that 'everybody is doing it.' It wasn't true in past generations, and it isn't even true today.

The women in "The Children's Hour" were not 'doing it' either. But the movie is thrilling because it is not concerned with the spasms of body parts, but with the deep things of the heart.

MacLaine adored Hepburn, and always had. Hepburn was surely conscious, at some level all those years, of that adoration. Every lasting friendship between two people has unspoken dynamics, reasons why the individuals relate strongly to one another, key roles they play in each others' life story; sex may or may not be involved at all.

But, in this case, we can be sure that sex was involved, at a repressed level to start with. MacLaine came to realize that even touching Hepburn's hand was a pleasure which formerly she had chosen not to analyze too closely.

Mary, the awful, precocious schoolchild, whom we have seen reading some 'dirty book' in bed at night with a flashlight, evidently got her hands on something very graphic indeed, and this is what horrified the grandmother when she whispered what she couldn't say aloud, in the back of the rich old lady's limousine. There was more to this account than merely a story of 'kissing'.

As MacLaine says in her own great scene, somehow that monstrous little girl had sensed by intuition 'a grain of truth' to wrap her lie around. That 'grain of truth' becomes a snowball, by the end of the movie. MacLaine has confessed her love for Hepburn. Without histrionics, but with quiet honesty, Hepburn has confessed the same to her friend: "I love you, too." And Hepburn, even faced with total vindication and financial security from the libel award, never once considers contacting James Garner and putting their marriage plans back on track. Why not? The answer is that she herself has slowly come to a realization of her own need to make a life with MacLaine. She goes for her walk, ready for the future ahead.

But it is MacLaine, looking lovingly out the window at Hepburn, almost blissfully, secure for the first time that she is loved and valued by the person she cares about the most, who still knows that the future ahead for the two of them will entail a higher price for her than she is willing to pay. She cannot face the inevitable physical expression of her love for Hepburn. She is also burdened by a dysfunctional family background, with her only relative being the crazed, delusional aunt who has sponged off of her, and then let her down when she ignored those telegrams pleading for her to come back to testify for the two of them.

MacLaine and Hepburn do know, as they reveal in one of their final conversations, that there are lesbians, someplace, out there somewhere, who do accept themselves and who do somehow make lives for themselves. But MacLaine says, "We are not like that."

Hepburn has the strength to try. MacLaine isn't strong enough.

This is what Hepburn senses as she walks back towards the house, as she has been thinking things over on her walk. The aunt's calling out, looking for MacLaine, makes her really alarmed. But by the time she breaks down MacLaine's door, it is too late.

Hepburn's second walk, after the funeral, so purposefully reminiscent of the previous walk, is the quick step of a soldier, marching to battle. She is not afraid. And she is free to make any choice she wants. The stick figures of the townspeople standing at the edge of the graveyard can never touch her again.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Bad Boy Welles Told The Truth, 2 October 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Orson Welles' "THE STRANGER" is the farthest thing from a Hollywood 'sell-out'. This is not Welles' making a stereotypical thriller for a major studio, and just trying to get into the good graces of film executives. Welles decided that he would take this story and run with it. He delivers a touchdown, challenging the preconceptions of his audience, daring to be the first to show heretofore unreleased military footage of concentration camps, and in his own masterful performance presenting a leading man who is totally corrupt, totally evil, without a single redeeming quality.

Post-WWII America was enthralled coast-to-coast by the famous traveling Christian tent revivalists, of whom Oral Roberts was one of over a hundred very young and charismatic 'miracle workers'. And in a decade which saw wildly successful major film productions of Christian classics like "The Bells of St. Mary's," "The Keys of the Kingdom," and "The Song of Bernadette," here is Welles actually having the gall to have his own character strangle a man on his knees who is praying for his own salvation and asking God to forgive his sins. Incredible! Do you realize how many people must have sat there in the theater in complete shock?'

Let's remember also that two of Loretta Young's best pictures from this era were the Christian-themed "Come To The Stable" and "The Bishop's Wife." Welles never ran away from taking a risk.

The story concept of Nazi war criminals' hiding out in America, by the way, was definitely based on fact. This scenario was hardly the propaganda other writers here have decried. As pointed out in one other review, "Operation Paperclip" was a full-fledged, well-financed, and historically documented recruitment campaign conducted by American and British intelligence to facilitate the move of Nazi scientists, doctors, psychiatrists, advertising geniuses, and economists into teaching posts in major U.S. universities. None other than Henry Kissinger himself was involved, and he cut his teeth on this kind of dirty work.

Welles broke a taboo of silence. His movie's Nazi war criminal goes to teach at a boys' New England prep school, instead of Yale, where the Bush family, and other American political figures, had so many interesting contacts through the "Skull & Bones" society. It was the grandfather of "W," Prescott Bush, whose financing of the Axis military brought him up on charges before a court of law. Welles' little monologue at the dinner table is noteworthy not only because he mentions Karl Marx was a Jew, but because he makes reference to the occult religious beliefs of the The Third Reich. Who would have thought Welles was a 'conspiracy theorist'?

It is a mistake to assume that Welles did not have creative control over this project. Please note that both Welles and John Huston were 'uncredited'. In actual terms, this means they did a major overhaul together of the script. Accordingly, consider the line delivered by Robinson while screening the shocking war footage for Loretta Young. "The prisoners were given showers first to open up the pores of their skin to receive the gas." Then a shot of the famous long white room appears, with rows of shower fixtures which apparently emitted both water and Zyklon B lethal gas. Hollywood doesn't like outspoken men, not then, not now. It was Welles' picture so it was his career that took the fall, not Huston's.

Welles certainly had his self-indulgent side, and pushing the envelope on controversial issues satisfied his ego, I think. As for his acting, it was always dangerously on the verge of going over-the-top, and what a magnificent ham he sometimes allowed himself to be!

In "THE STRANGER", however, Welles keeps himself under control, and so is able to keep his audience guessing. Almost to the very end, here is one viewer who wondered if the loyal devotion of the agonized Loretta Young would finally get through to him, and if he could grow to love her in spite of himself. To his credit, Welles used those 'blank stare' close-ups of his to feed into this possible emotional ambivalence.

The love scenes between Welles and Young are brief, but intense. It is clear that Loretta Young's character is under the sheer physical spell of this man. Welles, on or off camera, was magnetic to women, and this handsome "stranger" would have been completely unlike anyone else she had ever known. Compare Welles to the other men at the social gatherings in the film, her father's friends, young lawyers, members of her social set. She had fallen in love, all right. Oh, regarding Welles' later disfiguring weight gain? I believe it was deliberate, the same way De Niro put on the poundage for "RAGING BULL" years ago. Welles had been a sex addict, and this was his way of breaking the cycle, channeling his robust appetites towards gourmet food instead. Brando did the same thing. As these men grew older, they wearied of the chase.

The glowing performance of Loretta Young in this film seems to divide reviewers radically. Perhaps it is because she is so unique as a 'lady,' even when her feelings were passionate ones (compare the younger Loretta Young paired with Gable in "CALL OF THE WILD"). She is so 'different' that she makes people uncomfortable. Young was not a seductress or a vamp. I remember well the story that she forbade any profanity on her sets. She has an indefinable quality which evidently can be misinterpreted, making her a 'bad actress' in the eyes of some.

I take with a grain of salt the rumor that Agnes Moorehead was Welles' first choice for the Nazi-hunter role played with such relish by Robinson. I can only say: 'Thank God' she didn't get the part. It seems reverse sexism is politically correct these days, looking ahead to November 2008,regardless if someone is right for a role or not.

1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Commentary After Death of Paul Newman, 29 September 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Granted that Tennessee Williams is listed on the credits as co-writing the screenplay, but having worked for studios and agents in Hollywood, and understanding contracts, I can tell you that Richard Brooks probably wrote the screenplay and Williams had his name on it also because that was 'the deal' - it gave legitimacy to the project. It does not, by any means, signify that Brooks and Williams actually collaborated on the screenplay.

That being said, I am writing this the week of Paul Newman's death from cancer, the week of all those heartfelt tributes, the week of all those in memoriam videos everywhere.

If you ever read any honest autobiographies by Hollywood actors, you will find that all of them, including Laurence Olivier by the way, once they have reached the pinnacle of fame, eventually conclude that their 'career' was a sham, a put-on, something which accomplished nothing in the world at all except giving people temporary emotional highs, a life of 'work' which would be something a healthy adult would be ashamed of as infantile. Olivier described the 'art' as being a prostitute, since the common denominator of film is the audience's lust for one star or another.

So Paul Newman in "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof" delivers a performance which is carefully tuned to stir both women and men, even though the homosexual content of Williams' original play is consigned to a subtext. The motivation for Newman's sexual estrangement from Elizabeth Taylor simply doesn't exist in the movie. Who needs valid motivation, Brooks must have thought, if you can distract the audience with gorgeous Taylor and her failed attempts at seduction?

The story of Skipper is a convoluted mess I dare anyone to really make sense of in any way, and that goes for both the heterosexual and homosexual versions. Somebody would have flunked Screen writing 101 if they had turned this in, but with Williams' name on the page, and the director Brooks putting in his two cents, we get stuck with it. What we have here is a totally inept adaptation of the play, which leaves the audience to flounder around trying to get some kind of satisfaction out of lecherous eying of the leads, as well as the trite treatment of yet another whining 'unloving father' saga, and the trite treatment of yet another 'death comes to all' pseudo-revelation.

Rather than great drama, "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof" is reduced to 'dime-a-dozen' clichés. No wonder Tennessee Williams told people not to go to see it.

Paul Newman gives a shallow performance. As other commentators have noted, he does not portray an alcoholic, but a pretty boy having a few drinks, and the drinks never affect his movements or his speech. If you want to see a portrayal of an alcoholic, watch Ray Milland in "The Lost Weekend". Or watch Clark Gable in "The Misfits". Newman can't hold a candle to either performance, and he doesn't even try!

To excuse this by considering Taylor's remark that Newman hasn't lost his looks even though he drinks, doesn't help the case. A handsome man who is an alcoholic wreck is still handsome and still desirable. Brooks' allowing Newman to take a pass like this, just so he can look like a matinée idol, proves the director had no intention whatever of doing right by the play.

Newman gets to lose his temper, flail his cane around, smash some pottery. This is not acting.

However, in today's bland movie culture, I suppose young people are impressed by this. It used to be called "chewing up the scenery".

Newman's legacy is his charitable work. He realized better than anyone that his acting career for over 40 years gave him wealth and fame he had never really earned. And so he tried to redeem himself with 'good works'. I believe Newman also had a death wish, but he didn't die driving a race car, although this was his 'second' career. He eventually looked to helping children, and thank God for that.

As for the 'famous marriage' of Newman and Joanne Woodward, whose movies together were one soft porn piece after another, one interview they did together in their old age really tells the full story. In New Orleans, in the early years of their marriage, Woodward had spotted an extremely large bed in an antique store. She said she just had to buy it, once she found out that due to its 'extra-large size,'it had been used in a downtown brothel. Both Newman and his wife smiled for the camera as she shared, with a laugh, that the bed was still upstairs in their master bedroom. Consider that story a fitting metaphor for the whole Hollywood travesty.

There is such a thing as a good play. Drama can indeed provide an experience which develops personal maturity and a heightened appreciation of human values. As for myself, I don't accept counterfeits. Don't expect "big stars" to deliver the real thing.

Conquest (1937)
4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
A Neglected Masterpiece, 3 September 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As a classic film buff, age 57, I had never even heard of "Conquest," but now I have discovered this neglected masterpiece. Obviously, some viewers can't get the point of the film. If this sort of reaction was typical at the time of the film's release, and if audiences could not grasp Garbo's increasingly sophisticated choice of roles in "Ninotchka" and "Two-Faced Woman," the fact that she retired so early in her career becomes less of a mystery.

Immediately after the Opening Credits, the text on the screen explains that this is the story of a love affair, not a historical dramatization.

What is very surprising is that this affair began in a very striking way, which is never discussed, but rather ignored, or even distorted, in plot summaries. It presents an unflinching portrayal of loveless passion and loveless betrayal, and perhaps is too realistic to be welcome in a culture which glorifies the consummation of physical passion as an end in itself.

Early in the picture, Garbo is an honorable married woman who has refused Napoleon's attentions and illicit overtures. She finally accepts a mission urged upon her by desperate Polish patriots, to use her feminine attractions as an inducement to prevail upon Napoleon to guarantee her country's independence. In a private audience with the Emperor, she declines the role of seductress and instead eloquently pleads her cause. But not only is her request ignored, but she is forced against her will to submit to him.

All this is presented dramatically with great taste and subtlety, but the sober humiliation of her defeat is written all over Garbo's face at the beginning of the next scene. Stoically, she must then suffer even further as her older husband, robbed at once of his pride and the joy of his marriage, announces he will annul their union, and she will never see him again. There is a clear time lapse until her next meeting with the man who has ruined her life.

"Conquest" does not become a romance, there are no swelling chords in the film score, there are no breathless avowals of rapture in the film at all until Napoleon's exercise of power - naked, self-absorbed, egotistical power, in this case over a woman - is replaced by the finer feelings of a man who has recognized shamefacedly his own weakness and comes to value someone who can offer him both forgiveness and love.

The tragedy of power, turning eventually in Napoleon's make-up into blind megalomania, brilliantly portrayed by Charles Boyer, is treated expertly in the second half of the movie, although some reviewers have criticized this section as boring and slow-moving. On this basis, mercilessly probing psychological dramas such as "Macbeth" and "King Lear" are also a waste of time.

Napoleon sees, but does not see, the self-sacrificing courage of the young revolutionary who attempts to kill him. He sees, but does not see, Garbo's shocked disillusionment at his cold-blooded calculations for a royal marriage. He sees, but does not see, the final, heartsick, angry despair of a dying soldier on the doomed, frozen march from Russia.

And he sees, but does not see, his adjutant's wide-eyed expression, bordering on accusation, as the ship carrying Garbo and her son plows through rough seas leaving Elba. Napoleon has cut short her visit of reconciliation to send her on an errand to his secret allies, knowing that the carrier of his previous message has been murdered.

The bottom line of "Conquest" is that a deeply-abiding, human love relationship co-exists with human frailty, and it is transfigured by human loyalty. In the lives of two people who are truly committed to each other, these and other disparate elements are the hidden currents. The world only sees a couple from the outside. The genius of Clarence Brown's production, and that of any creative artist approaching this classic theme, is to reveal the mystery of all these complexities and many dimensions, with the utmost sensitivity and respect.

This is one of those films which is worth several viewings. It is for grown-ups. It is a truly beautiful piece of work by all concerned.