Reviews written by registered user
|8 reviews in total|
Many years ago I unwisely took part in an amateur production of
Thornton Wilder's "The Matchmaker". I can still hear the mayhem created
by those of us who tried, and failed miserably, to achieve an American
accent and those (including, bizarrely, a stray Welshman) who just gave
up and spoke their native idiom. Luckily out home-town audience was
very forgiving and the local rag took pity on us.
This dire experience came back to me when I saw "Summer of the Seventeenth Doll", but even so, not having seen the original stage play by Ray Lawler, I didn't realise how badly it had been butchered until I saw a TV performance by the Melbourne Theatre Company. The first reaction of an Australian audience will be to switch off because of the hilarious mangling of their native speech by an all-star cast who deserved better and would have been more gainfully employed on another project. Maybe that wouldn't matter to a foreign audience, but then again, perhaps the resultant strange mixture of assorted Cockney, Bronx and other sounds would have a subtly disturbing effect on any listener.
Of more concern is the fact that the play's essence can't be divorced from its Australian roots, which include deceptively dry, laconic and understated speech cadences, without making it pretty meaningless. In fact it's the very antithesis of the overwrought, borderline- histrionic style of "serious" Hollywood films of the era. Anyone less like a laconic Queensland canecutter than the furiously emoting Ernest Borgnine would be hard to imagine. And switching the location from Melbourne to more photogenic Sydney settings, while trivial in itself, is symptomatic of the filmmakers' imperfect understanding of their vehicle.
I don't know that "Doll" is a great play, but it is a good one. However, given the need for some audience-pulling names there was no real prospect of doing it properly in 1959. The accent problem, which is just part of the underlying cultural mismatch, is not to be dismissed, and I've never heard an American or British actor come close to a convincing Australian accent - even Meryl Streep. Even nowadays, with many high-visibility Australians in Hollywood, it would be a problematic vehicle because at bottom it's pretty stagy. It's just one of those movies that shouldn't have been made.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Handicapped by never having read any of Jane Austen's novels, I can't
comment on the accuracy of this film adaptation, although I can
certainly see that its relatively breakneck pace must have entailed
considerable sacrifices in pace and plot development. A very obvious
example (to me anyway) was the way in which the actor playing Darcy has
to reinvent his character in a most unbelievable way - from arrogant
upper-class bastard to shy, misunderstood victim of a dysfunctional
upbringing in the space of less than two hours is just too big an ask.
It's a handsome enough production, though, and the frequent presence of farm animals reminds us that the Bennets and others of their ilk had to get their money somehow (preferably by the sweat of someone else's brow) - also the merest of reminders that the late 18th century was by our standards very much on the nose.
In the end, though, I was prevented from entirely surrendering to this movie by a few too many jarring notes. To begin with, Donald Sutherland made a most unsatisfactory Mr Bennet, giving every appearance of being a befuddled and incoherent street person who'd wandered onto the set and been offered the job by mistake. I spent the movie wondering where he kept his stash of rotgut liquor.
Add to this the fact that his wife and two of his younger daughters are so deeply annoying that you want to strangle them at every turn, and it's a wonder that they get invited anywhere (but they do).
I found the scene in which Darcy and Bingley arrive at the ball difficult to credit. Could two apparently untitled aristocrats really have precipitated such an abrupt, extended and total silence, verging on awe? I could believe members of the Royal Family having that effect, or even Darcy and his pal among a crowd of forelock-tugging peasants, but not county society, I would have thought. I'm open to correction on that one, though.
And I agree with the reviewer who wondered how the Bennet girl could fall for that twit Bingley. As played, young Bingley is a complete and utter gormless twerp, and not good-looking either. I'm inclined to think that Jane really was a little gold-digger.
Overall I enjoyed this flick. Perhaps this is because I knew very
little about Cole Porter and so had no real reference point for the
story, although I've often enjoyed hearing his songs.
Kevin Kline, an actor I don't usually care for, steals the show, and Ashley Judd is an able and most photogenic foil. The approach is inventive, the sets great, and the dialogue witty and perceptive.
A minor quibble - I agree that the presence of African-Americans in the chorus lines is anachronistic and jarring. It re-writes history with a vision of what we'd like to think was the situation rather than what really was, and by misleading audience members who quite possibly will know no better, does no service at all to the anti-racist cause.
A more serious flaw, though, is in the just-plain-inadequate performances of many of the songs, most notably an appallingly bad, tuneless rendition of "Begin the Beguine" by one Sheryl Crowe. What were the makers thinking of to allow such a travesty to escape the cutting-room floor? Are they all tone-deaf? I saw the film with someone who had never before heard the song, and no doubt like many other audience members she still has no idea how good it is. An unforgivable crime against good taste, in my book. And the less said about Elvis Costello the better, too.
The ending dragged, and the film would have benefited by having 10-15 minutes pruned from it. Either that, or replaced by (as pleaded for by the fictional Porter) one or two more numbers from "Kiss Me Kate". I'd have loved to see "Brush Up Your Shakespeare", for example, including the lines excised from the 1950s film (e.g. "If she says your behavior is heinous/Kick her right in the Coriol-anus...") Despite these reservations I enjoyed 90% of "De-lovely", and that's good enough for a 7/10.
A couple of good young actors, a nicely-photographed and reasonably
original setting, and the usual soupcon of taxpayers' folding stuff
aren't enough to make this one work. The plot, at least, is not
predictable, as it goes nowhere in particular - nowhere that I was much
interested in going, anyway.
The main characters are Heidi, a dysfunctional adolescent with the IQ of a potplant and rather limited sexual discrimination, and her love interest (if that's not too strong a word) Joe, a well-off farmer's son handicapped by that scourge of the Anglo-Saxon male, a distressing inability to articulate his feelings. He is, however, dark, good-looking and, so far as such things can be judged by another Anglo-Saxon male, sensitive.
Can Joe be saved from in articulation by a good woman? (Are there any in sight?) Can Heidi be saved from her self-destructive behaviour patterns? (Is there a therapist in the house?)
Do we care?
There are other characters, of course. Joe has a boofhead mate (seemingly no smarter than Heidi, an achievement of sorts) who hangs around with other boofheads and their bitchy girlfriends. There's also an Aboriginal family (close-knit and good-hearted, and with a handicapped child to boot); a gay farmer (handsome, sensitive and intelligent); a tragic widow (with heart of gold); and a chorus of young males (drunken, uncouth and insensitive). But no stereotypes, of course. This is an Australian film, after all.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
`Don't reveal the plot'.
Why not? Surely, by definition a movie whose appeal entirely depends on the viewer's ignorance of the storyline is unlikely to sustain a second viewing.
In the case of `Japanese Story', this is a regrettably well-founded fear, as the plot is threadbare at best, and towards the end pretty much nonexistent.
I went to see this one hoping that it might prove an antidote to most recent Oz flicks. I left sadder, but wiser. I felt like I'd just dined on a fancy meal in the latest Sydney restaurant favoured by the trendoid class. Colourful, artistically arranged, tasty in parts but ultimately unsatisfying and overpriced the sort of thing that leaves you wanting a decent 'burger for dessert. The scenery is impressive, the music plangent and atmospheric, Toni Collette's performance strong as always, the other actors workmanlike. All to little avail, though, when their stalwart efforts are sabotaged by an immature and unresolved script.
If a story spends time teasing us, it should deliver satisfaction, something that `Japanese Story' fails to do. Early in the flick we're set to wondering what this suited Japanese businessman is doing bumbling around the outback. It's certainly nothing to do with Ms Collette's software (and initially anyway, her underwear,)in both of which he displays zero interest. But hang on - the software sale is the only reason she's there in the first place. If all he wanted was a driver/guide, why not hire a pro? Why this elaborate setup?
The audience, it seems, is being invited to decide that something more than meets the eye is afoot, especially after Hiromitsu's oblique reference to fulfilling certain `obligations'. And, I might add, his rather un-Japanese foray into SNAG-ish soul-baring.
** POSSIBLE SPOILER HERE** And that's even before he gets into Sandy's pants or more accurately, she gets into his.
The audience, sadly, will be wrong, as it seems that the writers, if they've meant to pose the question at all, have lost whatever interest they might have had in answering it, or, carried away by visions of Pilbara landscapes, have just forgotten. What could have been a promising resolution, giving meaning and shape to Hiromitsu's quest, is never pursued. Even after the film's premature climax we're left thinking that a resolution could still happen. It doesn't, and eventually we reach the frustrating conclusion that it won't. For that matter, nothing much at all will, or has. By that time, unfortunately, the credits are rolling and it's time to go home.
If this is the best the Australian industry can do these days, perhaps it should think about hiring a few Hollywood scriptwriters. Unthinkable? Better than ending up dead in the water.
From memory, an American critic commented that "while there may be some
things that are better than sex, this movie is not one of them". He was
kind by half: this is a truly terrible film. Watching it, I began to
that I had walked into a first-year film school class, and not the cream
the crop, either. Time slowed to a crawl, a creeping numbness overtook me.
understood the true meaning of ennui. I would have walked out after 30
minutes, but as the car keys were in my wife's handbag that would have
taking the bus home. After an hour I wished I had. A filmic turkey, to be
avoided at all costs.
Good to see that I'm not alone in remembering this groundbreaking work. I saw it once only, when the Australian Broadcasting Commission screened it in the late sixties, but retain a vivid memory of its sheer gripping power - after the first episode I made a mental note to visit the bathroom BEFORE watching subsequent episodes. I have a recollection that 'TTAS' employed a real-time filming technique, in which each 90-minute episode represented 90 minutes of uninterrupted action; perhaps this, along with brilliant writing and acting, was partly responsible for its hypnotic power and emotional impact. I believe that the writer, John Hopkins, was also responsible for several episodes of an ahead-of-its-time British police series of the sixties, "Z Cars". It's a sad commentary on the state of television drama that in the 37 years since it was made nothing seems to have emerged to equal "Talking to a Stranger".
"Cane Toads: An Unnatural History" still ranks as one of the funniest movies I've seen. Don't get me wrong: in Australia's tropical North, cane toads themselves are no laughing matter, especially among despairing conservationists. This short film stands as a memorial to human folly in importing the beast from Hawaii in the first place to deal with a sugarcane beetle which in the event it had zero impact on, preferring to lay waste to the local fauna instead. It is also a monument to human eccentricity - less about the despised, amazingly opportunistic cane toad than the reactions it has inspired among the human populace. I still treasure the memory of the local resident who wanted his town council to erect a memorial to the outstandingly ugly amphibian in the main street - presumably on the grounds that nobody could think of anything else worth memorialising there. (Inexplicably, his visionary proposal received scant support.) Overseas viewers may not appreciate that to other Australians, the movie's eccentric cast of characters came as no great surprise. North Queenslanders actually take some pride in being a little different. I'd like to think that the lesson has been learned, but the news that ravenous 400-lb carp are being released into a Texan lake in order to deal with a water weed infestation gives me no confidence.