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A depressing mess
I love Helen Mirren. She is a beautiful, mature woman and a fine actress. Unfortunately, like a role undertaken by the character Mrs. Stone in the story, she is far too old for this casting. Likewise, Brian Dennehy is far too young to be her "much older" and ailing husband. I do wonder if the original 1961 film with Vivien Lee and Warren Beatty had similar chasms of verisimilitude and belief to leap.
A failing, has-been actress and her wealthy and asexual or impotent husband take advantage of his bad health to book a face-saving trip to Europe. The husband dies en route. During her mourning period, Mrs. Stone is forced to occupy herself in Rome with post-war society, largely comprised of bitter and now-impoverished Italian royalty and a few lightweight and false-faced inter-continental "friends." I do not understand how Mrs. Stone's character unfolds and becomes so dependent upon the gigolo who has been assigned to compensate for her years without a sex life (and bilk her of whatever money he can) by a hungry Contessa. I also don't understand how she, starved in her marriage or not, is supposed to be so constantly sexually ready at the age of "50." Nevertheless, Mrs. Stone in some respects appears to be resigned to the loss of her youth and realistic about the affair; then, in the next moment, behaves like a lovesick girl. She has a great deal going for her and with her intellectual and financial resources one wonders why she did not move on voluntarily,geographically or romantically. She did not need to be lonely or immobilized. I suppose these developments say more about author Tennessee Williams, his mindset and prejudices, and his era than reality today.
One curious character throughout the movie is a young, homeless and starving stalker, who is every bit if not more beautiful than Paolo the gigolo. He does seem to worship Mrs. Stone, who is indeed a handsome and well-put-together lady for her age. She is aware of and appears to be repulsed by his constant nearness, as he is socially beyond redemption, not just in his impoverished disarray, but his vulgar and undisciplined habits.
The gigolo increasingly abuses and humiliates her, and inevitably breaks with her under pressure from the Contessa and perhaps his own restlessness. He has cruelly teased Mrs. Stone by comparing her to others of her ilk who are typically found with their throats slit.
The final scene has Mrs. Stone flinging the keys to the gates of her villa down to the homeless stalker. You see him approach her and her standing in wait with a pained face and eyes downcast.
I did not interpret this to be a romantic or sexual scene in the least. It was chilling and tragic. The phrase I used to my husband was "suicide by psycho."
Very Poor Adaptation
I hardly know where to begin. Not at all true to the story, really, except in the most superficial ways.
The screenplay writers took a fairly scary and almost believable yarn and ruined it. Billy Halleck was reduced to an unsympathetic, fat and selfish clown, a waddling caricature of the tortured protagonist in the book. The Gypsies play out the facile racist stereotypes of nastiness and evil incarnate instead of mysterious bohemians with a paranormal approach to vengeance.
The most egregious change, however, was the re-worked ending. The story's real conclusion was never going to win a popularity contest; had the writers remained true to the original plot, the authentic ending would have seemed as precisely chilling as it was intended to be, instead of comedic twist on a "Tales From the Crypt" episode.
King was probably more ashamed of this than Kubrick's version of "The Shining." If you saw this mincemeat of a film first, I hope you will give the book a chance someday.
Easy Rider (1969)
I found this film virtually unwatchable when it was originally released and it hasn't improved upon my recent viewing.
It was a spoiled rich kid's cherry-picked and clueless version of hippiedom and the cultural movement of the time, and failed badly at conveying its own self-important conclusions. Embarrassing to those who were actually out on that road or living in those communes or just sincerely doing the lifestyle(s).
The only spots of interest to me were seeing the young, (pre-crazy) Phil Spector and Toni Basil. The bloopers and continuity problems were manifold, but the one I didn't see mentioned elsewhere on this site was the constantly changing length of Wyatt's (Peter Fonda)hair: long, short, longer again, very short...
Much was made about the dramatic final scene. I thought it merely gratuitous and stereotyped (which is in itself ironic given the tacit motivations).
Across the Universe (2007)
Ticket To Ride
I first laid eyes and ears on the Beatles at age 11, and consider myself a charter member of the era and a volunteer protector of the legend. This was unapologetically the music of my young life. This is the music I introduced to my children, and God willing, will teach my grandchildren.
Fresh vocal and instrumental arrangements of the group's most famous songs, formed together as a story of young love in the midst of civil unrest and war, made interesting with fantastic choreography and special effects, and fun with Beatles allusions, were enough to hold me spellbound, laughing, crying, and overwhelmed, for more than two hours. It was a fantastic roller coaster ride and I wanna do it again.
In only the briefest moments was I disappointed or puzzled by some of the minor clichés and unnecessary puns, and in others, stunned with the intuitive RIGHTNESS of the images.
Since another commentator already mentioned it, I LOVED the funereal procession of soldiers carrying the Statue of Liberty to "She's So Heavy." You don't need to be an intellectual to interpret the message of patriotism as a crushing burden in those times. The use of "Strawberry Fields" was a deeply moving metaphor, as well, but I won't spoil it for you.
Some of the negative critical reviews, I suspect, were written by persons who either did not live the era or somehow expected the movie to deliver a profound, all-encompassing insight not demanded of other entertaining movie musicals. Someone even foolishly compared it to the ditsy long-ago Sgt. Pepper movie (with the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton), leading me to suspect that they had seen neither. No, you will still need to be a scholar of the Beatles, the 60s, and the Vietnam War in particular, if you want to begin to know "what it all meant."
But for those who simply want to enjoy a quality musical and visual production set to the images and music of their young lives, yet told fresh and anew by young talents, you will be very pleased. It resonates with love, care and respect, just like a ringing George Harrison guitar hook over a burst from Ringo's solid drums, leading into a soaring Lennon-McCartney harmony.
Out of Africa (1985)
A Dream of Africa
My favorite movie of all time, hands down. I watched it for the first time in the theatre. As it ended, the audience sat motionless and quiet for several beats, then burst into loud applause as the ending credits rolled. I'm not always so prophetic, but I was incredibly moved. I said to my husband, "We've just seen the Academy Award winner." If I had no other basis for recommendation, I would say the breathtaking cinematography and transporting musical score would make a viewing worthwhile (case in point: the main theme playing as Denys Finch Hatton gives Karen Blixen her first airplane ride, and we what she sees, as God must have seen it). But these are merely the window dressings.
There are two movie cuts floating around, which I tried to pursue through Universal, and then Disney. Forget it. Suffice to say there is a theatrical version and a Disney TV version, with little consequential difference to the plot except that the latter edits out a little of Karen's physical lovemaking with Denys and slightly expands her intellectual relationship with Farah; which to some degree helped buttress the development of his absolute devotion to her.
The screenplay resembles Isaak Dinesen's semi-autobiographical book very little; even so, she did not tell the whole truth in her book. You'll have to get over it, except that I think the character development suffered the loss of Blixen's deep involvement with the displaced Kikuyu tribe working her coffee plantation. Also, without an understanding of the historical times, it would be too easy to say simplistically that this is a woman trying to live within the terms of a marriage of convenience and then compensating with pursuit of a doomed passion.
What was crafted out of a mishmash of a more-or-less factual account and director Sydney Pollack's vision is still a beautiful love and adventure story in the midst of British colonial rule and an earlier, more racially and sexually biased era.
Klaus Maria Brandauer as Baron Bror von Blixen (whew! - who called Karen "Tannen," adding to my initial confusion) perfectly portrays that fun man you like immensely but could never really trust with anything important like your feelings. He along with several of the key male figures and symbols in this movie will eventually bow in respect to the "man" Karen Blixen becomes despite his often shabby treatment and other travails, because she rises above it all and perseveres. Redford plays mostly Redford. His Finch Hatton's sense of independence is fragile and illusory and will ultimately cost him dearly.
There are a couple of continuity problems that bother me to this day, including the disappearing-reappearing champagne and the continually retracking parade marchers, but for the most part few expenses or attentions to detail were spared, especially in the lavish costuming. "Bare-breasted native women" will unfortunately also make their National Geographic appearance.
Even so, Out of Africa is a treasure with a half dozen or more perfect and unforgettable scenes; a movie as long as this review, but I hope you'll agree, worth your patience.
The Human Stain (2003)
This movie did not make it for me, a key reason being a totally unbelievable spoiler I won't divulge here, revealed so late in the screenplay it is almost a "so what?" I couldn't get beyond the poor casting choices. The august Anthony Hopkins has no business in this role, on several counts, not the least of which is his mature unsuitability, with or without Viagra (mentioned and mispronounced several times in dialog), as a sex object for anyone-much less a younger and beautiful character played by Kidman. Sir Anthony, the romantic leading man days are over. And you still haven't managed to throttle the British accent after all these years. The viewer also cannot believe that the character Hopkins plays could possibly have any interest, on any level, in the tawdry, sub-vocal Nicole Kidman character, played to her usual unidimensional perfection. The chief stain here is on the professional reputations of all concerned.
The Music Man (2003)
Lovers of the original Robert Preston-Shirley Jones-Buddy Hackett film may have issues with the differing strengths and weaknesses of casting for this Disney remake, but I was pleasantly surprised to find myself warming to Broderick's reedy tenor and Chenowith's twangy nasal speaking voice (her singing voice must have Shirley Jones gagging in stunned envy) as the story caught me up again.
First, I have to get this out of the way: Matthew, I adore you, but since you are determined to become a one-man comedy-musical franchise, please...learn a few new facial expressions. My highest praise for your acquired dancing prowess and the way your voice has developed (very touching and pretty in the soft reprise of "Til There Was You"), but youth is passing away and you can now afford to relax and rubber your mug a little more for effect.
Production values are high, and the choreography is interesting and skillfully shot, including what had to be a "Flash Dance" double moment for Broderick during the Marian the Librarian number.
Cameron Monaghan (playing the Ronnie Howard part of Winthrop Paroo) is a ringer for Johnny Whittaker of TV's "Family Affair." Victor Garber and Molly Shannon are strong support as the quirky Mayor and Mrs., but the tall and robust 40-ish Debra Monk's casting as mother of the petite, blonde 30-ish Chenowith is unfathomable, especially since her singing isn't very strong, either. You have to suspend disbelief in the age range between Mrs. Paroo and her children and their physical non-resemblances.
Three major plot points are not adequately established: That Harold Hill (and his musical dream) is singularly responsible for breathing new life into River City; that Hill has given Marian reason beyond the therapeutic effect of that dream upon her little brother Winthrop for loving Hill despite his being a despicable con man; and that the band members have had enough experience with their instruments to play even badly as they do in the finale.
And with these and other weaknesses showing, the miraculous finale comes and you buy it, hook, line and base drum, with a tear in your eye. Just as Marian buys the shady Hill as the newly reformed love of her life. The Professor has triumphed again.