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Maps to the Stars (2014)
Slick direction and some good acting could not save this movie. The talents were wasted, and so was the time spent watching it. There was little to like in the story line, and nothing to learn from; it would be akin to watching the worst of reality TV. It started innocently enough with a young girl's arrival in Hollywood and the mystery surrounding her search there. Even the title suggested something light or, at worst, innocuous, since "maps to the stars" refers to the maps you can buy on Hollywood street corners that tell you which houses are occupied by the rich and famous. It ended up as an unwarranted view into the details of the lives of people no normal person should have any interest in. There wasn't even the guilty pleasure of a voyeur into the lives of the weird or wicked. These were just losers. So was the film.
How do you rate three 8s and a 1?
The first three seasons, with all the flaws and occasional unnecessary emotional outbursts, make for a good series, one that develops reasonably well over the time period. I'll give it an 8. The end of the third season works as a good ending for the series, though admittedly, one wants to see a bit more. Especially how the warm but sometimes conflicting relationship between Drs. Bramwell and Marsham develops. Warning! If you've read the other reviews, you've heard this before: Do not watch season four! Heed this warning. The Bramwell-Marsham connection turns sour and bitter. The elder Bramwell, now married, is never seen again. Young Sidney, helper in the Thrift, is gone and the building itself is completely different. Nurse Carr becomes mean-spirited. And Eleanor goes off the deep end, abandoning the true nature of the Thrift to (unsuccessfully) take on the cause of child prostitution, longing to marry the military man who seems to represent everything she has been fighting against from the beginning; the relationship is totally unbelievable. Worst of all, the drivel this fourth series calls a story lasts for more than an hour and a half for each of the two painfully dark episodes in this abbreviated season. And the credits shown here on IMDb seem to indicate that the writer is the series creator and most prolific contributor, and the director(s) have done shows in other seasons. What happened?! The direction is abysmal, the photography horrendous, and the interludes of terrible music are completely incongruous and inappropriate. With every extreme closeup (I think at one time Eleanor's one eye and mouth filled the entire screen), with every strange angle of the camera, with every scene too dark to see yet creating no mood or ambiance, I kept asking, "What were they thinking? Who did this? Why???!" There is no good cheer or humor in the entire fourth season, yet there is nothing that involves us or informs us -- other than the overall message that life was tough then and woman and children were exploited, which was handled well enough in the first three seasons. Now, instead, we get religious overtones and a preachiness that could sour the devout. All in all, the fourth season was unrecognizable, from the storyline to the directing to the sets to the music. Even the acting was barely acceptable, and one has to wonder how the three leads who pushed on in a final season felt about their new characters. Since I give both episodes in season 4 a "1", I am forced to bring the show's rating down to "5"; best bet is to ignore the 4th season and take the first three, worth a healthy and hearty "8".
Retired at 35 (2011)
Full disclosure: I only watched one episode (I couldn't take more than that). What's embarrassing is to have a cast of long-time respected actors (George Segal, Jessica Walter and George Wyner) in such a series. There were certainly some funny lines, but someone decided that EVERY line was not only funny, but hysterical, so the entire episode is filled with distractingly uproarious laughter start to finish. An example: guy at the bar on the phone wants to impress nearby woman with his name-dropping and refers to Warren Buffet as "Buff-hay." Hysterical laughter. He goes on to explain that man is the inventor of the buffet (again, "buff-hay"). Hysterical laughter. Then his friend comes over and "explains the joke," saying, "It's Warren Buffet" (correct pronunciation). Hysterical laughter! I'm sure Buffet didn't invest in this one.
Even beyond my high expectations
The Israel series, Hatufim (Prisoners of War), which is all in Hebrew, is on DVD with English subtitles. It is one of the best TV dramas I have ever seen: tense, suspenseful, emotional, with superb acting and directing. Gritty and violent at times, wonderfully slow other times, and always dramatic; we usually wind up watching two episodes in a row. There are characters you like, others you don't, but you care about or are interested in all of them. The US version, Homeland, was taken from this Israeli original and is also excellently well done, but Hatufim is a lot different and stands entirely on its own; I think it's the better of the two. This powerful drama should be on everybody's watch list. A comment about the English subtitles: we found the same thing a reviewer on Amazon did -- the subtitles marked as English on the disc of season 2 (2012) for episodes 9-12 were only in Hebrew. On the advice of the seller, we tried the disc on our computer and (for reasons I cannot understand) the disc played with the English subtitles! The final episodes (13-14), like all the others except for that one disc, play fine on the DVD player.
From an 9 for season 1 to 2 for season 5
From the beginning, Damages has been slick, beautifully photographed and wonderfully acted. Glenn Close, for one, is superb all the way through. Season one was tense, tricky, well-written and suspenseful. The repetition and flashbacks were a little difficult at first, but seemed to work; the approach felt very new. By the fifth season, the flashbacks seemed contrived and the endless repetition unnecessary. That, along with the many protracted scenes of long stares and needless dialog, made you feel as if a twenty-minute story was being inflated to 45 minutes. The writers/directors were toying with you all the time, as if that were the only purpose of the exercise. Behaviors were not just unexpected, they were unbelievable. The story line twisted around itself to the point of self-strangulation. I would have accepted a "happy" ending or one that ended in tragedy for at least one of the principles, but there was no ending, no resolution -- nothing that felt right. With this frustrating final season, I had to give a "fair-to-middling" rating to what started as a smart, good-looking series. Except for the inevitable cliffhangers, I expect it would have been best to stop after season 2 or 3.
Pot o' Gold (1941)
Music worth watching
The story line is not the best, but the movie is worth watching anyway. It starts off with a decent premise about a music-loving failing music shop owner (Stewart) going to work for his music- hating uncle. The uncle, who loves the big bangs from his "shot-with-guns" cereal factory is annoyed by the music of the big band in the building next door -- a building the uncle wants to buy but the musicians' house-mother won't sell. There's no question that when nephew Jimmy Stewart (not telling his relationship to the uncle) meets singer Paulette Goddard, romance will begin, then sparks fly, then the couple reunited. Old story, but still lots of fun. Unfortunately, it begins to unravel about half way through -- still humorous, but more preposterous. The movie does have some good character parts, and bits of swing dancing and other dancing, especially during the live radio show. What makes the movie is the music, especially in the beginning! Wonderful swing numbers, terrific harmony vocals, and a great barbershop quartet. I probably won't watch the entire film a second time, but I'll definitely listen again through the first half hour or so, at least through Stewart's introductory dinner with the entire ensemble in the boarding house.
A Dangerous Man (2009)
It could have been worse--but not much
If you like non-stop action and scene after scene of gun battles, then this film is for you. Steven Seagal plays a large, soft-spoken lumbering man whose martial arts hands (and legs) are quicker than the eye. He looks 20+ years and 30+ pounds past his prime. The character he plays is -- well, it's not important, because the story is so unimportant. It's just a vehicle for action and violence: explosions, knifings, bone breaking, head slamming, death by saw and emotionless executions.
I must admit this is not the kind of film I would normally watch, no less review. But I saw it because an old high school buddy had a prominent role (Jerry Wasserman playing a crooked cop; for the short amount of time he was on screen, he was fine).
The direct-to-DVD movie was a great vehicle for the special effects man (if you like those kind of effects) and he should have been well-paid. Certainly more than the writers or actors received.
The one decent thing about the film was the music. Actually it was a great score. Good enough for me to give a higher "score" to the overall film, raising it to a "2."