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Spoof on the British War Hero vs. very nasty Nazi Spy genre
I saw this when it first appeared on Showtime, and liked it so well that I got a VHS tape of the production. I have just received the DVD from Low Moan Spectacular and will watch it tonight. I regard this stage version as superior to the movie--all the clever tricks needed to compress the story to the confinement of the proscenium evaporate when you can film outside. This is farce, pure farce, relying on performers with great energy and perfect timing. You will find them here. I love this show, and if you see it, you will, too. (I am assuming that those who are not drawn to farce will never see it, thereby supporting my prediction--prophets generally deal from a stacked deck.)
The Search for General Tso (2014)
Fun, but something missing
Since I enjoy General Tso's chicken every chance I get, it was no surprise that I enjoyed this film. I was bothered about the omission of a pretty significant bit of Chinese food history in the U.S. While it is true that great numbers of workers were drawn here by the gold rush, not a few Chinese cooks came for the building of the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s. The eastern part employed a lot of Irish, but the western part was largely built by Chinese. They were sought not simply as cheap labor, but as experts in the use of gunpowder to blast right-of-ways through mountains. Unlike the Irish, who were hired individually, the Chinese were hired in gangs of 20, of which one was a cook. Part of the package deal was that the cook was to receive whatever supplies he requested, with the result that the Chinese enjoyed a much healthier diet than the "superior" Caucasians. After the railroad was built, Chinese cooks found work in logging and mining camps, as well as on ranches if the old television series, _Bonanza_ is to be believed. Chop suey probably got its start in a western logging camp.
Into the Wild (2007)
I feel sorry for the kid, but
He died stupid. I have lived in Alaska, and I picked up the DVD out of a nostalgia for the place. Apparently the producers did not bother about Alaskan conditions or the realities of "living on the land" before shooting this dog. We have an idealist who burns money and gives his college fund to Oxfam to feed others, but in his wending west seems never to turn down a free meal or a free ride, while turning down implied and implicit offers to adopt him by those who have lost children, and turning down sex from a 16-year-old (ethical, but a bit out of place in a hippie encampment). He gets good advice from all the nice people he meets (the only not-nice person in the film is the railroad guard who beats him) and apparently forgets it all on the spot.
In Alaska, it really gets silly. Apparently he is somewhere in the Tanana Valley, if his plant book is anything to go by, living in a steel bus hull lacking a window or two. I know a family who wintered in Tok (in that valley) in an insulated tent with no windows: they cut and burned a cord of wood _daily_ to survive (they did have a chainsaw). He apparently stops cutting wood entirely after gathering some sticks on a beach in California. Certainly, he lucks out in the matter of light--whoever abandoned the bus apparently left gallons and gallons of oil behind--he is never in the dark. Or without matches, for that matter.
He kills a cow moose, apparently with a .22, which is really wonderful shooting--moose have been known to pay about as much attention to .22 bullets as they do to yellowjackets. In good weather, he seems to spend his time mooning in the bus instead of hunting, fishing, or bringing in wood for next winter. When he gets desperate for food to the point of delirium, he eats the wrong plant and poisons himself.
It was depressing to learn that this was a "real" story, that a genuine kid apparently was this appealing and this dumb. I am sorry for his family who were, according to him, terrible parents. All of our parents were terrible in one way or another. Most of us get over it, at least those of us who live past 23.
The Last Unicorn (1982)
New Edition of DVD
For those who love this film as much as I do, there is a new DVD available with much better picture quality than the one that appeared a few years back. According to Wikipedia: "The 25th Anniversary Edition was released on February 6, 2007. Copies autographed by Peter S. Beagle are available through Conlan Press." My Wife and I watched this one last night and were charmed again by it (while noticing how much animation has improved in the past quarter century: we had watched _Flushed Away_ the night before. Smoothness of motion isn't everything, however, the characters, the treatment of myth, the substance of this film (Beagle's contribution) are what make it great. The best contribution of the Japanese animators is in the very lovely settings, rich as good watercolors. It came as a surprise that the film did not credit the voice talent, which is considerable; the cast list here on IMDb is probably the best you'll find.
Ladies in Lavender (2004)
Beautiful performances beautifully captured
I had never heard of this film before stumbling upon it at my favorite warehouse store this morning; I bought it because it had Judi Dench and Maggie Smith in it. They did not disappoint. Their performances as sisters were right on key--they have worked together so often and so well, they probably qualify as sisters anyway--as old women falling tenderly in love with a young Polish boy who washes up on their Cornwall beach in the late 30s. Daniel Bruehl plays the boy brilliantly, and a special treat is Mariam Margolyes as the sister's sturdy housekeeper. The ensemble is what one has come to expect from an English company.
The direction is relaxed and sure, the photography superb. The light, both in exterior and interior shots is shimmering and the colors rich. Seeing the coast makes me want to walk there before I die, yet the scenery is used to support the story, not merely decorate it.
Having made this, director Charles Dance can die happy, but I hope he makes a few dozen more films first.
Down with Love (2003)
Long on sets and costumes, short on pace and laughs
This is a film we watched because of Zellweger, whose work (Bridget Jones, Chicago, Cold Mountain) we admire greatly. However, she and the rest of the cast needed a Blake Edwards to make it move. Much attention was lavished on the period costumes and the hyperdesigned sets (all those pastels were a great deal funnier in Edward Scissorhands) and not very much on pacing. The split screen nudge, nudge, wink, wink passage was too obvious to be cute and perhaps not obvious enough to be funny. The sceen of the nerdy magazine owner attempting a seduction in the rake's mechanized apartment cried out for the brilliant ineptitude of a Peter Sellers: this guy was just clumsy.
The writers deserve some credit for this, too. I know that there is a theory of comedy that roots laughter in the spectacle of the "mechanical man", a being so confined by his limitations as to be risible. These characters go all the way to mechanical dead horse.
Only as a bore does this film rate more than one star.