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St. Elsewhere (1982)
important evolution of medical drama
St. Eligius is a poor Boston teaching hospital often derided as St. Elsewhere. It refers to the perception that it's the elsewhere where unwanted patients and staff end up. Dr. Donald Westphall (Ed Flanders) is the kindly chief of medicine. Dr. Daniel Auschlander (Norman Lloyd) is the constantly dying chief of services. Dr. Mark Craig (William Daniels) is the pompous arrogant chief of surgery. The show starts with Dr. Victor Ehrlich (Ed Begley Jr.), jokey Dr. Wayne Fiscus (Howie Mandel), caring Dr. Jack Morrison (David Morse) and serious Dr. Philip Chandler (Denzel Washington) as residents. Helen Rosenthal (Christina Pickles) is the head nurse and Luther Hawkins (Eric Laneuville) is the always present orderly.
Medical dramas have been around since forever. There are medical mystery procedural, movies, and also soaps. St. Elsewhere serves as an important transition into darker and more realistic TV hospital dramas paving the way to later shows such as ER. It follows multiple parallel intersecting stories which some are procedural and others serials. It also doesn't hurt that some interesting actors are on the show as regulars as well as guest stars. It doesn't have many female doctors which keeps the romantic intrigue at a minimum. It was another era. I remember liking the lesser character Peter White who seems to have a darker hidden side until they made him a rapist. The most lasting effect is its evolution of the medical drama although its most memorable aspect may be its controversial and much-derided finale. It's definitely a problematic ending but I refuse to deduct points for it.
The Fundamentals of Caring (2016)
Selena actually funny
Ben Benjamin (Paul Rudd) is withdrawn and struggling after a tragedy. He is avoiding his wife Janet who is desperate for him to sign their divorce papers. Elsa (Jennifer Ehle) hires him to care for her bitter, rude, sarcastic son Trevor (Craig Roberts) who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Ben and Trevor go on a roadtrip to see American roadside attractions and Trevor's absent father. Along the way, they pick up foul-mouthed hitchhiker Dot (Selena Gomez) and pregnant Peaches.
Paul Rudd is playing sad in this one. He still retains some irreverent aspects but his sad core suppresses the humor in the early going. Selena Gomez turns out to be the funniest one in the bunch. It has a group of broken characters played by appealing actors. It's aiming for quirky depressed heart-warming and it's mostly fine.
All the Pretty Horses (2000)
It's 1949 San Angelo, Texas, John Grady Cole (Matt Damon) loses the family ranch after his grandfather's death and his mother sold it to live with her new husband in San Antonio. He convinces his friend Lacey Rawlins (Henry Thomas) to go with him to Mexico to find ranch work. They are joined by young Jimmy Blevins (Lucas Black) along the way but are uncertain of his trustworthiness. After some trouble with Mexican locals, the boys split up. John and Lacey get hired onto the large ranch owned by Don Hector de la Rocha (Ruben Blades). John takes an interest in the Don's daughter Alejandra Villarreal (Penélope Cruz).
Billy Bob Thornton's directions are luscious melodramatic romantic epic. It's a little long and winding. There are certainly ways to tighten it up but Thornton doesn't seem interested. A tighter edit could raise the intensity. The acting is generally good. This is a romance novel spilled onto the big screen.
Last Knights (2015)
weak sword adventure film
Commander Raiden (Clive Owen) and his knights serve honorably and loyally to their lord Bartok (Morgan Freeman). With his son dead, Bartok assigns Raiden as his heir. Bartok refuses to pay a bribe to corrupt minister Geza Mott of the empire and is executed for it. With Bartok's estate and men scattered, Geza Mott fears revenge from Raiden. Raiden falls into a state of drunken depression despite Lt. Cortez (Cliff Curtis) and others' best efforts. Eventually, Raiden's slide convinces Geza Mott of his lost of will.
At first, the oddly international cast and the non-specific history led to me to wonder where and when this takes place. Eventually, I accepted its non-specific alternate-history world but it's still bothersome. The story is terribly slow and lacks intensity. It does have an interesting turn which is clearly telegraphed. The film is simply tired. There are lots of CGI and action in the third act but they are mostly lower level. By then, it doesn't matter anyways. This is a weak sword adventure film.
young and wet
In 2000, David Wain and Michael Showalter have gathered an interesting cast. Some are well known. Janeane Garofalo is an early recruit and Christopher Meloni is surprisingly funny despite his darker on screen work. Many others are lesser known. For example, Bradley Cooper is only two days out of school. Most have not hit their future highs. Amy Poehler is lovely and fun. Paul Rudd is a charmer. Everybody is forced to live the camp life for real. It rains way too much especially considering the movie takes place on one sunny day at camp. There is the SNAP game where the cast and crew have to guess at the rules. They are young and new. They become great friends. It really was summer camp for these people. One really wants to join them. At first, the movie floundered both critically and at the box office. Eventually, it becomes a cult-classic especially considering the star power before their rise.
Cheap Thrills (2013)
waiting for the shocking twist
Craig Daniels (Pat Healy) is a failed writer married with a baby struggling to make ends meet as a mechanic. His family is getting evicted. He loses his job. He goes to a bar where he runs into old high school friend ex-con Vince (Ethan Embry). They are joined by Colin (David Koechner) and his trophy wife Violet (Sara Paxton). It's Violet's birthday and Colin wants the guys to be her present. He starts making unusual dares for cash. The dares escalate until it gets out of hand.
The premise has some intriguing potential. It moves as expected while I waited for a shocking twist. The movie fails to surprise me but it's still intriguing enough. Embry and Koechner are terrific. Healy walks the line between a lead to root for and a character ready to fall off the deep end. The movie works up to a point but it does need that fun twist to put it over the top which never comes.
The Guilty (2013)
same old song
The body of 4 year old Callum Reid, who disappeared from a neighborhood barbecue five years earlier, is found near his home. DCI Maggie Brand (Tamsin Greig) leads the investigation after leaving his missing person search due to personal problems years earlier. The mother Claire Reid (Katherine Kelly) and her family are devastated. As the show flashes back and forth, there are secrets revealed.
This is another British dead-child show. It has yet another maternal primal scream. It's a story of small town dark secrets. I certainly like Tamsin Greig. The extended flashbacks don't always add to the tension. The most compelling and memorable scene is actually the Brands being confronted by their kid's teacher about his suspected autism. It came out around the same time as Broadchurch and is deficient by their comparison. It's fine by itself but it's the same ole song and overshadowed by its competition.
The BFG (2016)
not Spielberg's best
Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is a 10 year old English orphan. At the witching hour, Sophie spots the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance) who takes her to the Giant world to avoid her alerting the public of their presence. The BFG is actually a vegetarian and the runt of the group. The other giants are bigger, bullies the BFG, and eat human beings. The BFG collects dreams and Sophie comes up with an idea to warn The Queen by manufacturing a nightmare about the human-eating giants.
The Giant world is intriguing both visually and in substance. There may be some holes but it still works. Little Sophie has the required cuteness mixed with a pluckiness. Rylance is great. The adventure could be a lot more adventurous. There is turn before the third act which takes the magic of the story and plants it squarely into the modern world at a specific time. There is one fun joke but mostly, the story loses its magic. There is a way for the movie to fully satisfy its dark fable core but it seems to lose that thread. The movie is still fine but it's missing a truly heartfelt drama. The major difficulty is any comparison to Spielberg's earlier classics. The feeling is different and this will not be one of his celebrated best.
Gruff Richard (Lionel Stander) drives his heavily wounded companion Albie to the English seaside. He finds George (Donald Pleasence) and his flirtatious French wife Teresa (Françoise Dorléac) vacationing at their island castle and takes them hostage. As Richard waits for his gangster leader, George's annoying friends surprise them with a visit.
This is black and white, and Roman Polanski's second English film. Jackie Bisset has an early minor role. This is an art house film with an eccentric blend of surreal comedy and thriller horrors. Everybody is a little off-center but not quirky enough to be funny. There is tension but it never really rises. Lionel Stander is terrific with his powerful presence. It does need George and Teresa to cower in order accentuate the terror but they are odd characters. They don't act right but it's not surreal enough to be intriguing. This is an eccentric indie.
Red Shoe Diaries (1992)
90s late-night erotic melodramatic pulp
Jake Winters (David Duchovny) is still heart-broken by the betrayal and death of his girlfriend Alex. He has placed personal ads in the paper as Red Shoes asking for diaries from women to better comprehend. He reads the material he receives at the start and at the end of each episode with his dog Stella always at his side. In between, there are the pulpy erotic romance stories with some fleeting softcore nudity told by the women's diaries.
Zalman King uses his movie of the same name as a launch point for this late-night erotic cable show. Duchovny gets to walk around at the docks pretending to read letters. It is what it advertises to be. It is cheesy and pulpy. There are scantily-clad hot women with little or no clothes. It is an after-dark lounge with impossibly hot people getting it on. Some of these women are actually known with real acting experiences or other exposures. There are plenty of nude models, and B-movie actresses like Audie England or Joan Severance. It's the 90's and it filled that softest of 30 minutes porn needs. The stories are nothing special to write home about but they could be a lot worst.