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Hotel Transylvania (2012)
Finally, a cartoon Dracula for staunchly Jewish propagandists
Something smells rotten at 'Hotel Transylvania,' and it isn't all the ghoulish toons running everywhere.
It's the very cynical grown-up a*@-hole agenda it tries to ram down the throats of an otherwise seemingly innocent kids' movie - and its presumably unaware, unsuspecting viewers.
This cartoon's a vehicle for Adam Sandler, who's the voice of Dracula. But this Dracula's missing something.
He never has to worry about crucifixes or holy water - two of the usual top weapons against him - because in this blatantly "only Jewish ideology allowed" revision of the fable, crucifixes and holy water apparently do not exist.
The filmmakers can't pretend the reason for the omission was to keep things light for the youngsters - all the other major weapons against Drac are discussed or portrayed (garlic, wooden stakes, sunlight) - some in very powerful ways sure to frighten youngsters at least a little.
No, the conspicuously-absent crosses and sacred agua are clearly left out for one reason only - they are connected to Jesus Christ, and Christianity's belief he is the messiah of the bible.
Everyone has the right to their own beliefs, but revising fables to try to erase all references to Christ - then disguising it as mindless children's entertainment - leaves me checking out of 'Hotel Transylvania' with a pretty rotten taste in my mouth.
Death of a Salesman (1985)
Great characters and acting, but I question this plot line
It's rare when a writer creates characters as real, deep and engaging as Arthur Miller did here. It's sad, I feel, to see him throw a lot of that out the window because he wants a tragic ending more than anything else.
I feel Miller does that in "Death of a Salesman." In Willie Loman, he creates a very believable character we care about. The portrayal here by Dustin Hoffman is excellent.
I will not to spoil the end for anyone who hasn't seen it, but the conclusion is my chief objection. It does not feel believable for the character. It does feel imposed by the author, and it smacks of a young writer wanting to make a name by amping up the drama. History shows he succeeded; unfortunately, for me, somewhere along the line the point of truth is passed.
But there is a lot to like here. This production makes the bright red walls of encroaching apartments feel like more claustrophobic weight crushing the Loman family. Kate Reid and Stephen Lang are totally in character as the wife and son. John Malkovich turns in a bravura performance during the scene where Biff catches his father a little too unexpectedly in a Boston hotel room; it's hard to imagine anyone playing the scene more powerfully. At other times, curiously, Malkovich's Biff feels less a part of the family than the other characters.
That discovery scene between Biff and Willie is really enough tragedy for any one play; Miller didn't need more.
Midnight Cowboy (1969)
An enduring portrait of an unlikely friendship
Joe Buck (Jon Voight) and Rico "Ratso" Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) seem unlikely chums. Maybe that's part of what makes them so memorable.
Buck is a tall young man, healthy, ruggedly handsome, optimistic, naive. Rizzo is older, short, crippled, sick, usually oily, cynical. What brings them together is their struggle to survive, but also something more - their refusal to let the world beat them down no matter how hard it punches.
Buck, a Texan who's a cowboy in wardrobe only, decides to shuck his small-town, dead-end existence and head for New York City. He dreams of earning fabulous riches as a male hustler to older wealthy women; he soon finds himself being hustled by almost everyone he encounters, including Rizzo.
Rizzo is an embattled character fighting even for the right to cross the street (his famous line - "I'm walkin' here!"). His "apartment" and scavenger lifestyle take us, as viewers, into the depths of despair. The friendship he finds with Buck brings us to the opposite end of the spectrum. The humanity Hoffman is able to bring to this role is a real tribute to the art of acting.
The gritty, searing look at New York city street life this movie gives us feels too real to be entirely fictional.
It's also very much emblematic of its times, 1969. There's a party that seems a cross between Andy Warhol's scene and Ken Kesey's. Rizzo and Buck's sincerity make these glitterati seem like pretentious posers.
Another aspect very 1960's is the way director John Schlesinger and his team use sound and image to tell this story in ways that feel exciting and daring, especially from our modern vantage point, where, sadly, many of these techniques - such as crosscutting, montage - seem to have worked their way out of movie makers' vocabulary.
Some of the ways the lead characters' realism is built are quite subtle. For instance, Rizzo's visit to his father's grave. The dialogue robs even this occasion of the dignity it should have. Buck's nightmares about a past encounter with a girl named Annie, and flashbacks about being raised by his grandmother, offer some clues as to how he winds up with this 'career choice,' while still allowing room for some mystery that feels like real life.
By the movie's end Joe Buck has learned hard lessons from youthful mistakes, and suffered the pain of loss. But he has found something more valuable than the riches he dreamed of, something we feel will endure.
The city becomes a 3rd lead character, determined to take everything these two have - especially their dignity. That they hang on to it may be why these characters are so enduringly popular.
Almost 40 years later this movie has lost none of its power to affect.
It uses the trappings of a fedora-sporting detective (Jack Nicholson), on the trail of a mystery he doesn't realize he does not want to unravel, to tell a drama of a family destroyed by horrific deeds and secrets. The story remains timeless, ultimately, due to its illumination of the best and worst within us - and that enormous valley where most of us, like detective Jake Gittes, fall - somewhere in between.
I won't give away any story, but to give you some idea how powerful this is, I was never able to enjoy John Huston acting in a movie ever again because of his portrayal here (Noah Cross). The revelatory scene between Gittes and Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) retains its power to shock and disturb.
What makes this so potent, really, is the screenplay by Robert Towne. It's powerful in ways many movies never reach; and maybe no one writes more realistic dialogue than Towne.
The unsavory parts of the story are redeemed by the positive we get from Evelyn Mulwray, and her determination to carry on. Although the story doesn't end with her walking away victorious, her perseverance is really the heart of this tale.
20 years earlier this story could never have been told in a Hollywood movie; the excellence of this one movie - "Chinatown" - makes that entire fight to loosen censorship worthwhile.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
An intriguing mystery
The thing that struck me most the first time I saw this was what a good movie mystery it is. We're following a character down the street; something's around the corner, we don't know what it is, neither does he...
That's still one of my favorite things about it. It's also a lot about sex - but it all feels very cold for us in the audience; nothing ever feels sexy. When I thought over Kubrick's films, this at first seemed an odd choice. Then I realized he has depicted sex a lot - but always in very non-erotic ways. For instance, "Lolita" is about an older man's desperate desire for a young girl. But it's his doomed attempt at finding happiness through possessing her that endures in the mind, not anything sexual.
"Eyes Wide Shut" depicts many characters trying to, or having sex with each other - but never in ways that seem sexy. One undercurrent is that people are, or are trying to, feed on one another, in an almost animal-like way.
Another theme is a husband, Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) trying to find a safe sexual outlet outside of his marriage, outside his wife (Nicole Kidman). Perhaps reflecting the fears of the times, almost every one he finds turn out to be potentially deadly.
There's also a secret society engaged in satanic sex rituals.
We are left questioning whether or not a woman was murdered after she offered herself as some kind of sacrifice in the doctor's place, when he is uncovered as an outsider who doesn't belong at their party. Questions left unanswered include: why do they allow the doctor to see and learn so much about them? And why would this woman do this (if, in fact, she does)?
Sydney Pollack's character Victor Ziegler may be the clue to our unraveling what's happening just on a simple narrative level. Take a close look at what he's doing right before doctor Bill enters his upstairs chamber, at the first party . For me, it confirmed my fears of about what Ziegler tells the doctor towards the end of the film (a scene that has my vote as the most frightening, diabolical dialogue scene of the decade). We'd like to believe Ziegler is telling Dr. Harford the truth - but the assurance we would feel if we knew he was is denied us.
The mystery surrounding the secret society is more compelling than the story that frames it, so when the conclusion returns to the issues the doctor and his wife are trying to resolve, things feel less interesting. Maybe this was another joke Kubrick was making - obsessions over sex can sometimes leave one with anti-climactic feelings.
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
If you like Star Trek, DO NOT miss this on a big theater screen
If you've ever been a fan of Captain Kirk and his journeys with the crew of the starship Enterprise, I'd recommend beaming into the theater and checking this out 'cause I think it's their most exciting adventure ever - and it will never better than on a big movie screen.
I won't spoil any plot; but I must say, the potential of some of the stories and characters are now being explored and realized in their most dramatic ways ever.
The new actors playing these characters have found how to make them come alive. My only quibble is that Mr. Spock seems to now be written as more of a fussy tight-a** - he's so much that way it stretches being "logical." I realize they're just trying to pump up the drama, but he questions Captain Kirk's decisions so brutally it seems a serious effort to undermine him.
Zoe Saldana as Lt. Uhura - guys, look out. This lady is so pretty it feels like she ain't fightin' fair; every time I think of her I want to run down to the theater and see it again. But it lends believability, actually - why would men go on five-year space missions? With her on board, all questions are resolved. What's even better is that she does a great job acting - as does the entire cast. Kirk and Spock have perhaps their most dramatic, touching moment ever - you may need a hankie.
This is huge, giant fun - perfect summer adventure. If you like Star Trek, don't miss this.
Don Quijote de Orson Welles (1992)
Disappointing, but not without merit
This Orson Welles' version of "Don Quixote" may be interesting to fans of Welles or the novel. But I don't think it will convert anyone not already so into being either.
Things start out promising - exposition is handled quickly, and soon Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are off on their quest, Sancho grumbling all the way. Quixote declares his love for Dulcinea, despite Sancho's insistence she's an unattractive farm girl whose breath reeks of onions. Quixote battles a couple of his legendary adversaries, including the "monster" windmills. It's all realized well; the characters, portrayed with believability, come to life. We're willing to suspend disbelief for a few technical issues, like speech not matching lips, because Welles' unique style is working, using wide lenses, low angles and quirky editing rhythms to establish characters and setting in a way that lets us believe we're there.
That's the first 30 or 40 minutes.
The fun dwindles away rapidly when Welles inserts himself as a character, a famous (and "fat") filmmaker making a movie of Don Quixote.
For one thing, it undercuts the fictional world the earlier parts made endearing to us. For another, Don Quixote's story is pretty much abandoned from here on out, and the other story line - perhaps meant to be artistic, modern, self-reflective - goes absolutely nowhere, taking forever to do so. Welles never even encounters Quixote; the 'filmmaker' narrative line lacks any emotional or dramatic impact. It felt like wandering through a weekend art fair with no intention to buy a painting, and seeing nothing you liked anyway.
It sort of brings home how much is missing in terms of story to realize that any children's book-adaptation running even 10 pages long does a more complete job of telling the tale than what we get here - for instance, Dulcinea is never seen. Not that we should demand literal translations of favorite books - especially one over 1,000 pages long like "Don Quixote" - but there is too much missing, I feel, for things to succeed; we're left feeling uninvolved.
I deliberately didn't read about the troubled history of the production, although I'd heard some, because I don't think watching a movie should be like being a teacher flipping through notes before deciding if absences are excused or not. As playwrights say, if it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage; I prefer to evaluate movies in and of themselves.
The themes Cervantes explored in his book are barely touched on, if at all, no doubt from most of the story not being told.
I prefer to forget the second half and stay out on the Spanish countrysides with Don Quixote, Sancho, and Welles, still hopeful of saving the world from evil, still wanting to get this story in the can. I didn't regret watching it, but did wonder how such an incomplete story could stretch to 115 minutes.
La mujer murcielago (1968)
Not worth the time it takes to watch.
I bought this after catching the last 5 minutes on TV and thinking it looked like fun. How wrong I was.
It's a poor Mexican film thrown together quick to try to cash in on the popularity of the American TV show "Batman." But it has none of the excitement and adventure or even campy humor of that show - and definitely none of the budget.
I don't mind genre potboilers - but this one never gets even lukewarm. Car chases and spy scenes seem to go on forever. This is the longest I've ever seen it take for 79 minutes to go by. Much of the first half is so lackluster and dull it's unwatchable.
It does have woman wrestler Maura Monti as 'batwoman.' Her costume is most often a blue bikini that matches her cape, cowl, and boots. She is quite physically blessed, and does fill out the skimpy bikini spectacularly in all possible directions. It isn't enough to save the movie from being awful. Batwoman has a 2nd, less revealing costume, gray tights with blue shorts and yellow belt. No bat insignias appear anywhere on either outfit, a budget pinch clearly inspired by those pesky things called copyright laws. If it wasn't for the enduring popularity of Adam West's Batman, whose costume is cheaply copied here, from our modern vantage point it might not even be clear what character she's a rip-off of.
Things almost work up to the level of cheesy fun in the second half, with a mad scientist-made sea monster who looks like something from "Land of the Lost" that had an encounter with a can of red spray-paint. In a dismal anti-climax, Batwoman never fights him. It's all done so slapdash, low-budget and zero enthusiasm, I only counted one close-up of her face - the main character. The only moments of interest are Batwoman parading around in her bikini or tights, offering front and back views. If you're a heterosexual man you might enjoy Ms. Monti, but if you have a wife she'll probably be unhappy if she catches you watching this, as it is painfully obvious Ms. Monti's figure is the sole attraction.
Some movies become obscure or forgotten because few people who saw them wanted to do so again, and I strongly suspect that's what happened to "La Mujer Murcielago." The only copy I could find was from Rare Movie Depot; it was taped off a telecast and the logo for that is on display in the upper right-hand corner throughout. They claimed it had English subtitles (it's in Spanish) but it doesn't. If your enthusiasm for all things 60's Batman and healthy women in bikinis tempts you to buy this, I'd recommend instead heading to any populated sunny beach, bringing a Batman mask, and asking a girl to model it for you. Not worth the time it takes to watch by any standard.