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Under the Skin (2013)
A major disappointment
Michel Faber's novel, "Under the Skin", is a remarkable book. There is nothing else quite like it. Naturally I was looking forward to seeing a film adaptation.
Of course I expected to be disappointed. But I didn't expect to be quite so bored. While there are some interesting bits here and there, there's no tension, and the camera lingers forever on many shots. I watched this on Amazon streaming, and there were several times when I thought the connection had stopped working.
If I hadn't read the book, I would have had almost no idea what was happening. The movie does not really adapt the book, just borrows part of the basic premise, but even so I got the overall idea. But while the book presented a bizarre, fascinating mystery that unfolded continuously, with the reader never knowing what lurks around the next corner, the movie is empty of surprises and goes nowhere.
I highly recommend the book; but see the movie first. That way you won't be disappointed.
I've watched four or five episodes of this because my roommate says it's "the best show ever." I can't imagine what he finds entertaining about this. It's standard-issue boilerplate network TV, chock-full of cookie-cutter dialogue, wooden acting (especially by the lead actor), stock situations you'd expect to see in any adventure show ... in fact I would say this is one of the worst shows I've ever seen.
Frankly, I'd rather balance my checkbook or work on my income tax than sit through another 30 minutes of this pitiful excuse for a show. In fact, my roommate is watching it now, while I've found refuge in my office to ... ah, balance my checkbook. Trust me, it's far more entertaining than "Arrow."
Deja Vu All Over Again
Through most of this excruciatingly dull picture, I felt like I had seen this movie before. It brings to mind such duds as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. It started off well but quickly became tedious. The same old stuff I've seen in a dozen superhero movies.
Of the three Marvel adaptations released this year, I liked this one the least. Thor was fun; X-Men First Class was a bit overlong but not bad; but this one was tough to sit through. I played a couple of games of Words with Friends while I was watching, and was really glad I didn't get stuck in a theater with this one.
Nice try, I guess, but the story doesn't engage your emotions on any level and is strictly by the numbers. If you haven't seen this yet ... you probably already have.
That Forsyte Woman (1949)
Watchable Hollywood Version
I originally saw this in the early 70s, after having seen THE FORSYTE SAGA on TV, and reading the first three books. Shoehorning two books' worth of story into a two-hour movie makes mincemeat out of the plot, but the essential details are preserved.
It was a crackup for me to see Robert Young, then widely known as Marcus Welby M.D. I was used to seeing him as an old man; but then he looks old for the part anyway, and overacts to compensate for it.
However, Errol Flynn is excellent as Soames, and Walter Pidgeon brings the necessary gravitas to the role of Jolyon. Harry Davenport is fine as Old Jolyon, although I can't quite erase the image of Dr. Meade from Gone With the Wind.
It's not a very good adaptation of Galsworthy's story, but on its own merits, it's well acted and edited, with handsome production design and nice pacing. It's fun to watch just to compare it with the more successful TV version.
The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009)
I enjoyed the first movie. It wasn't great, but it was entertaining. So I rented NEW MOON.
Within two minutes, I knew I'd made a mistake. Some movies start slow, but this one starts just plain boring. It's like watching ketchup ooze out of a bottle.
I stuck with it for an hour, but within 15 minutes I was reading reviews on the IMDb on my cell phone, as I needed something to do to kill time while I was waiting for the picture to be over. Finally I decided there was no point in waiting and shut it off. The prospect of another 90 minutes of this abyssal ooze was too daunting to even consider.
It's not like I have to have wall-to-wall action. Some of my favorite films are "deliberately paced." What I do need is some kind of a plot, or interesting characters, or something other than terminally brooding teenagers gazing vacantly into space.
Yes, I was a brooding teenager once, but that doesn't necessarily put me off in a movie. What does put me off is being bored.
Perhaps fans of the books will find something of interest, but as entertainment, this film is rock-bottom.
If I were to rate this movie for its intelligence, I'd give it a 1. The dialogue is cookie-cutter, overwrought and insipid. The performances are largely one-note and the constant pounding of the theme that war is great, war is glorious, and violence is bloodless gets pretty annoying after a while.
I'm not a stickler for historical accuracy --- I'd rather that the movie be entertaining. However, 300 has almost no basis in reality and clings to its comic-book origins with melodramatic ferocity. Its think level is close to zero.
Having said all that, this is still an entertaining and visually dazzling action film, with an eerie, otherworldly look that is oddly captivating. Gerald Butler and Harry Hamlin do all that can be asked of an actor (I'd say Hamlin's performance here is more convincing than his Perseus in CLASH OF THE TITANS, but that's not saying much).
Based on its entertainment level, I give this a six, which offsets the annoyance of listening to all the pompous chest-beating and infantile dialogue.
For my money, the original film, THE 300 SPARTANS, is a much more interesting picture. At least it gives you some idea of what actually happened (according to Herodotus, anyway) and it doesn't take itself so doggone seriously. Watching 300 is like being in Basic Training with a Marine drill instructor screaming at you.
This a love it or hate cult film. Either you force your date to sit through it, or your date forces you to sit through it. Perhaps, if you're lucky, you will both hate it or you will both love it. The last person I dated loved it, and of the handful of uninteresting films I sat through for her sake, this took the cake. 103 grueling minutes of stupid, unfunny jokes, nonsensical plot, this is an incoherent, muddled collage of random non sequiturs, and is painful to sit through. This is the kind of movie that makes you want to get up and wash the dishes, just for a little excitement. Dull beyond belief.
And the worst I did to her was make her watch ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL.
Great Expectations (1981)
The Whole Story
This is the first adaptation of "Great Expectations" that covers the entire book. Over 12 30-minute episodes, Dickens' novel is faithfully transferred to the screen.
The only downside to this is that the novel does ramble a bit in places and therefore, so does this series. There are a few superfluous characters and sub-plots, so it's a little slow and talky in places. On the other hand, you do get the richness of detail that is missing from theatrical productions and some of the other television versions.
The best thing about this production is that Estella is portrayed perfectly. Both Patsy Kensit, who plays the young Estella, and Sarah-Jane Varley, who plays the adult part, portray her exactly as I pictured her when I read the novel all those years ago. It's not so much a matter of how the actresses look, but how the part is written and how the roles are performed.
Joan Hickson's Miss Havisham is definitive.
I'd recommend this highly to any fan of the novel. It's long, but it's well worth it to have the whole story rather than a condensed version.
Star Trek (2009)
Entertaining, but silly
The new Star Trek film is entertaining and enjoyable, as long as you don't pay too much attention to the gaping holes in plot logic. For the most part, the early versions of all the familiar characters are well cast, with the notable exception of the ultra-geeky Chekhov, whose fake Russian accent is atrocious.
Chris Pine turns in a solid performance as the young Jim Kirk, perhaps the most demanding role. He's a three-dimensional, believable character, although he's asked to be even more of a superhero than he was in the original series. Let's assume that the older Kirk was tempered by experience and let it go at that.
It took me a while to stop thinking of Zachary Quinto as Sylar; he can't quite keep the creepiness out of his voice. But he looks the part of Spock, who naturally can't be expected to have the warmth that the older character projects.
Nice to Sam Neill as Christopher Pike.
The major weakness of the film is its use of shaky-cam/quick editing. As in the Bourne sequels and the last James Bond films, the action sequences are virtually incomprehensible. You get a general idea of what's happening, but it all flashes at you so fast most of it is a blur.
The plot won't stand up to much scrutiny. A renegade Romulan from the future blames the older Spock for the destruction of his planet, and seeks revenge not only on the planet Vulcan but Earth. It seems odd that, having come back in time, he doesn't try to alter events to save his world, but he's not playing with a full deck. A bigger problem is that he's a bland, uninteresting villain with little screen presence, and as little screen time. His ship is much scarier than he is.
What will likely be most controversial is the retconning --- retroactive continuity. This means changing the backstory from earlier shows and films. And this film takes it all the way: when the story is done, none of the original ST episodes will ever happen. There will be no visit to Talos IV for Captain Pike; no visit to Vulcan for Spock to deal with his "pon farr." (And what are Vulcans supposed to do about that now, anyway?) We're left with a brand new parallel world, presumably so sequels can be made without having to mesh with previous continuity. This is something new; it's a bit like Kirk's solution to the Kobyashi Maru simulation ("it had the virtue of never having been tried".) A fun film, likely to frustrate true believers in its utter disrespect for continuity, but enjoyable enough for those willing to take it at face value.
Battlestar Galactica: Hero (2006)
By the numbers
To all the people who laud BSG as great television, as superb drama that is superior to traditional SF, I present this lame, supremely unoriginal episode as an example of why I disagree.
There is not a shred of plot or characterization in this episode that hasn't been done a dozen times before, on TV and in film. The military commander sacrifices his friend, who survives, and agonizes over his decision. And of course the friend, who escapes from the enemy, is actually allowed to escape to cause dissension and doubt in the ranks.
Despite the welcome appearance of Carl Lumbly, who I haven't seen since "Alias", this plodding and predictable episode is a prime example of why I'm unable to stay interested in BSG for any length of time. Periodically there is a good episode, but then they keep turning out photocopied crap like this, and the thought of watching another episode fills me with dread.