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A Review for Another Carol
Thrilled to see the all-star "movie star" cast appearing in this piece, I watched this on TCM as part of their A Christmas Carol -a- thon. I didn't go into the movie expecting too much because I know it was made for TV and would be a very government film akin to Frank Capra's "Why We Fight" series. I sadly realized 4 minutes into the picture that this would be no better than the government message film "I Want You (1951)".
I will not go into the how's and why's this made for TV "holiday" drama was made as it can be read in the synopsis and other reviews. I will not address the extreme pro-UN message it attempts to pound into the viewers heads. I will instead focus on the movie briefly from a technical viewpoint.
Before I go into the flaws, I will point out that the movie has a couple sequences that are disturbing (in a good way), absurd and in the deepest darkness of a black comedy...namely the Sellers sequence. Sellers as Imperial Me pits narcissism against tolerant generosity in a Wells-ian fashion reminiscent of "The Trial" or the perverse nature of the Salem Witch Trials. The art-house theater sequences of the Ghost of Christmas Present show an attempt was made to make the movie thoughtfully. Unfortunately the demands of the script ruined it.
Script: Too much talking. How can a script have too much talking? Normally dialog isn't an issue but it is when the actors don't know what to do with it. Statistics, factoids, history lessons, moral lessons, more statistics, more factoids, more lessons with more emphasis...repeat for 83 minutes.
Acting: Sterling Hayden doesn't. He wore the same blah face as Dana Andrews throughout "I Want You" periodically tossing in a forced expression that looked more like constipation than any emotion I can pinpoint. I was looking forward to seeing Ben Gazzara, Eva Marie Saint and Peter Sellers (in his first return to screen post-heart attack role). I will always stop a moment to keep an eye out for a young James Shigeta and catch a glimpse of a handsome, hopefully sober Robert Shaw. All of these actors proved time and again in many roles that they are capable and believable in most of them. Yet in A Carol for Another Christmas, no one seems to do anything except recite lines in overtly Victorian style. Pat Hingle seemingly ignores Hayden and is the most convincing speaker in the movie but his government laden dribble slowly swallows even him. By the time he gets to the statistics of the hungry he looks crazed and Hayden honestly seems to not know the cameras are rolling because his eyes, presence, emoting of emotion, depth and dimension are all vacant. Sellers did do a great job, but he was an orator, not interacting with anyone except the audience. He did his best in his short time on screen. It became obvious scene after scene that the script was badly written and the actors were getting bogged down in it and with Hayden to react to, they were without hope. What's sad was that the director didn't do anything to amend the situation but rather continued to capture the tired disgrace of a movie.
Lighting: Hard to believe someone would get this so wrong, but the interiors of the house are done with such hard lighting the stair railing casts shadows upstairs from *below* that make the upstairs walls look like a painted Arabian set. The Eva Marie Saint sequence is almost blown out, vastly over lit or possibly overexposed. With her super blonde hair, the DP should have dialed things down, but in what appears to be an attempt to compensate for the hats and scene look like the outdoors, the actors appear to be inside a nuclear reaction. The overall lighting schematic is one of excess or deficiency. The final sequence where Hayden goes to have breakfast with his black maid and butler, the faces of the latter two can barely be seen, and no distinction of expression is visible because they are not lit correctly. The interview with the Ghost of Christmas Present uses artistic lighting and reveals effectively, but it is lost in the bowels of this movie.
Direction: Nowhere. No attempt seen to take the film past the superficial level. Since this isn't the first film w/ its history to turn out this way, it's becoming evident that believability was less important than rote facts being stated on screen.
By the end of the movie, I wanted to take Peter Sellers' "Giant Economy Size" tin can gavel and knock some sense into it. If you enjoy forced government message films, (hey, some people do...i enjoyed some of the Why We Fight series) you should check it out. If you expect the actor immersion in the roles, you will be disappointed, though Sellers does manage a wicked glimmer in his eye. Perhaps it wasn't for the role but for the audience because he knew just how bad this movie would be.
Paranoid Park (2007)
An Open Letter To Gus Van Sant
Gus: I'm taking time out of my life to give you some words of advice from the heart. Quit settling for crap, Gus. Demand your casting directors hire experienced actors and not their 8th grade son's classmates. Don't cast just because they can stand on a skateboard. Cast high caliber actors and give them skateboard lessons. I saw you were going awry in Last Days but thought for sure you'd learned your lesson with Elephant and I never thought anything could be worse, but I was wrong. You had something in your hands, under your control, that could have been great, Gus, and destroyed it. It was heartbreaking.
Remember the basics. Something everybody learns their first session in film school: hire REAL actors. You can add a shot variety, interesting cinematography, decent music, compelling study on ethics and you have the recipe for a good film but if you throw in bricks where there should be actors, you're going to wreck everything. You're drowning your films, Gus, in bad acting. All the long shots of thinking, the super slo-mo shower water spray and splatter shots, the walking shots, the emotional shots are all unsuccessful because the person the audience is supposed to connect with never spoke believably from word one.
You can take 2 people and put them in a film where there is nothing but desert and it will only work if you have 2 people who can act, such as what you did with Matt Damon and Casey Affleck in Gerry. Put Gabe Nevins and Jake Miller in Gerry and it would have been painfully unwatchable, because there is NOTHING remotely believable about Nevins or Miller, no matter how fly their hair was. That also includes their looks at the camera that for some reason weren't cut out in editing. How could the same brilliant mind that made Good Will Hunting and Gerry settle for putting crap in his films? What are you doing, man? An audience cannot connect to a film unless the vehicle they use to connect with, the actor, is believable. Kids pretending to act while pretending they aren't, are just pretending...they are NOT acting. Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs would have been more believable and more interesting to watch, not to mention could probably have read better monologue.
Please Gus, you are talented and have a gifted vision. I can tell by the cinematography in your films what you are trying to say, the dilemmas your characters are wrought with, and how you try to show how loud life is in the quietest of moments and visa versa. Quit shooting yourself in the foot before the first frame rolls.
Friends and Lovers (1931)
Condensed Pre-Code Viewing is MmmHmm Good!
Though I don't rate Friends and Lovers (1931) high based on my harsh rating scale, I give credit where it is due. Friends and Lovers is a perfect example of how I feel films should have been made in the early 30s---condensed. (This comment/review, however, will not be.) The film, including titles, is 68 minutes long, yet it tells an engaging cohesive story with several locations, people, costumes, events, passage of time and action without weighing it down with the fluff that movies were full of during that period. By fluff I include but am not limited to: extended reaction shots, excessive beauty shots, far off stares (see Greta's films), eyebrow movement shots (see Norma's films), mouth and lips parting shots (see Irene's films), unnecessary walking, unrelated dialog extending screen time for the stars, etc. Yes, this movie does have a few gratuitous fluffs but it doesn't tack on an entire hour showing them. The movie doesn't feel "glossy"; instead, somehow, it feels real.
The studio was unstable bankrupt great depression era Selznick helmed RKO. Director Victor Schertzinger, who had been in film since the first moving frame, pulled poignant performances from his cast and provided the music. DP J. Roy Hunt strapped to RKO through all of its phases provided believable lighting for B/W film through many types of scenes both indoors and out, as well as smooth camera movement and action. Adolphe Menjou survived the silent years to give a decent performance as obsessed, possessed, ardently pining Geoff, Larry Olivier makes his stiff and subtle Hollywood debut in a fair size role as Ned, Lili Damita also from the silent era wasn't a blazing beauty or brilliant actress but she did her part allowing her accent and body to do the rest as Alva, Erich Von Stroheim though a little cheesy made being a sadistic and evil porcelain collector seem lucrative and fun as Victor, and Hugh Herbert as McNellis, trying not to trip over his on and off again accent, bounced through the film offering humor here and there to keep the viewer's emotions connected.
Film making is all about taking the viewer in, cold from the street with their own world in their mind, connecting with their emotions and transporting them to another place and time, taking them on an emotional roller coaster ride until the film is through. If at any time the coaster slows or stops, the viewer has time to realize themselves again, even if only subconsciously, and the film has lost them. If picked up again, the viewer must start over emotionally with the story. Condensing this film down to 68 minutes keeps the viewer's attention the entire time. The overall ride may be short, the sets may be cheap, the acting may not be the best, the plot may be thin, the music may be shallow, the dialog may be simple, but tell a story that efficiently and the viewer doesn't notice while watching. Should the viewer notice, it's not considered long because the next sequence is already speeding along with fresh new things for the brain to process. Plot of the film is simple on the surface though it has a few morality testing twists and turns. For what they had to work with, the plot was kept clean and cohesive, the shots were tight, the camera action was appropriate, the cinematography and lighting was believable, the sets weren't spectacular but scenes didn't last long enough to pick them apart, the tension was there, the emotion was heavy, the beauty was shown, the dialog was believable and the actors sizzled.
So much happens at a comfortable pace that I never once got bored or thought about anything else other than the film. I ignored a ringing phone. I ignored portable electronics. The film was paced so well that I didn't want to look away. I was completely surprised by how enjoyable the film was to watch, unlike so many pre-code early 30s films I have suffered through. (I'm an elitist film snob, so I will watch a terrible film just so I can say w/o any doubt I hated it.) If there is so much fluff in a film that I sit there and start counting how many steps the actress is making across every single room, on every single street, up every single stair and then start counting their stares, far off looks, exaggerated baby spot lit soft shots, and on top of it listen to senseless dialog that does nothing to forward the plot but included just so that the actress/actor is getting a certain percentage of screen time, I feel I'd rather have a root canal without anesthetic rather than sit through the rest of the film. For me to sit through an entire early 30s film without moving or thinking of anything else means the film is very special in some way.
In retrospect, I wonder: the novelty of the talking pictures was new, but it does make me wonder if viewers really loved the long lingering shots of the starlets or if they tolerated them. Did they expect them because they were paying money to be visually entertained? Does length equal value? According to rumor, the film lost $260k at the box office, though IMDBpro, AFI, or BFI don't offer any budget or salary info. Perhaps Friends and Lovers was shot with the same early 30s heavy fluff monkey on its back but given to a gifted editor that said NO to fluff. Regardless, this is a very rare 68 minutes that I was happy watching a pre-code film, and for anyone like me who barely tolerates movies of the early 30s because of the unnecessary fluff, give this one a watch. It's not the best film in the world, but 68 minutes isn't long in comparison to 2 hours of Norma's eyebrows going up and down.
Promise Her Anything (1966)
Hollywood was stumbling through of one of its worst times in film history: lush budget financial disasters drained studios dry, the end of the studio era left few to no actors or directors on contract, studios were selling land and movie props to stay alive, floundering studios were bought out, budgets for films were practically zilch, films were produced overseas to cut costs, influx of foreign films imported to the US compared to lack of exported films was debilitating, and birth of the made for television movies sets the stage for this mid-60's Hiller miracle, Promise Her Anything.
Having seen several of Arthur Hiller's films that I've enjoyed, most notably The Out-of-Towners and The Americanization of Emily, I was eager to see Promise Her Anything because of its rarity. I was pleasantly surprised. Is Promise Her Anything a side-splitting flawless comedy worthy of Oscar nods? No. Is it a unique piece of comic cinema making the most out of what little it had? Yes.
Promise Her Anything is unique because of the wide variety of subject matter presented to the audience in a single film, touching on anti-social anarchist topics like beatniks and independent mail-order "hoochie coochie" films, but it doesn't stop there. The movie tackles topics such as divorce, open sex, sex outside of marriage, a female's desire for sex, deception in relationships and goes into even more serious topics touching on single mothers, fatherless children, validity of child psychology, and exploitation of children. It addresses all these topics yet somehow manages to be cohesive and entertaining enough to watch through to the end. That credit goes directly to director Arthur Hiller.
Never a Beatty fan, Beatty's work is either good or bad but in Promise Her Anything, he shows he has the ability for comedy, screwball comedy, slapstick comedy all the while commanding a sincerity that makes his actions believable. I compare Beatty's performance as Harley Rummell to Cary Grant's as Mortimer Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace. Both films have a similar physical comedy style and situational content, but Beatty shows the same desperation to cover up the truth with balance, not exaggerating his performance as much as Grant. In a role which could have easily been taken over the top, Beatty keeps grounded and with Hiller's direction gives a performance that, for the role, is spot on. His repeated encounter with the sofa as well as numerous times hiding his equipment and actors somehow doesn't get old, and I found myself surprised at that. Beatty's charisma shows through every time, with a different feeling of frustration, desperation, or excitation that lends itself to making the scene feel fresh.
Leslie Caron made her natural vulnerability and determination shine equally in Promise Her Anything. Caron's role as Michelle O'Brien, a beautiful sexy single mother who captures the loins of every man that sees her, is the impetus for much of the insanity that ensues in the film and she carries that with grace and passion. Her determination to do what is right all the while going about it in a way that is wrong juxtaposes itself but she breathes the breath of life into that dichotomy. In a role that doesn't take advantage of her talents as a dancer or singer to entrance the viewer, Caron must make it through on acting ability, and with Hiller's direction, she does. Caron's real life gives her much to draw upon, grounding the part of Michelle and making her motives unquestionable while adding gentle nuanced truth to her performance.
Robert Cummings reprises his role, so to speak, as a bumbling psychologist who has far more problems than his patients, as in What a Way to Go, in which he worked with Beatty's sister, Shirley MacClaine. Cummings plays this type of role well and is capable of deadpan comedy without effort. His interactions with Cathleen Nesbitt who plays his mother in the film are memorable because the dialog is wonderful, though the acting and chemistry between them seems unnatural. The rest of the cast was believable considering they were actors playing actors in no budget "misdemeanor" mail order films.
Though the film looks like it was shot without a budget on super-16, it works. It looks rough and spontaneous which gives gritty texture to the film, offering the viewer an additional subtle layer of believability. The horrible over-extended rear-screen projection sequence could have been edited down, but otherwise, editing was quite tight, shot selection was good; use of fast motion was minimal and appropriate and not used as a comedic "fast-motion-is-funny" Munsters crutch.
The dialog was true to life, intelligent and clever. Every line is pertinent and on the mark. Michelle, thick with a french accent and European ideals, may have a humorous flubbed word or lost in translation moment but it is not over-used. Not only was the script fitting to the characters, the situation and the mood of the film, but it allowed the viewer to recognize the depths of the characters without much effort. For example: I caught myself trying to name the movie or novel that Harley would use lines from in everyday conversation. A man so immersed in the classics that he contextually and naturally speaks lines from the greats gives more subtext for Beatty and raised my respect for Harley the character. It made his ambition to become a real film maker "real". He wasn't an uneducated dolt happy with the work he was doing; Harley was educated and had aspirations of making great films. It takes a great script to convey so much with so little dialog in such a short amount of time.
Considering everything, I believe that Promise Her Anything is a good 60's era comedy that far outshines several others with bigger names and budgets, such as Cactus Flower and Dear Brigitte, though it still falls a little short to it's older sibling, What a Way to Go.
The Wind (1928)
A Controlled, Artful, Thoughtful Silent Film
I heard Lillian Gish's promo before the film showed on TCM, and I was intrigued to watch a film that so many promoters/distributors did not want to show, even with altered endings.
I've watched many silent era films, including those by Hitchcock, Murnau, Wiene, West and more, and I have to say that The Wind is my second favorite, a close second to Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari being my hands down favorite. It was refreshing to see a silent film without scene after scene of conversation narrowed down to one title card, over the top performances, odd camera direction and uncomfortable shots.
This film is a great example of a controlled film during the silent era. Gish was spot on, allowing Letty's insanity build but not in a grotesquely overacted way. Right before the end, when her insanity climaxes, she just touches being over the top but never flies on over. A place that Gish could have flown (or been blown) over the top but didn't is the Norther Madness scene with Letty and Roddy. I love how Letty looks surprised at how something as small and quick as a gunshot could do so much damage, after fighting off the giant overwhelming sandstorms for weeks. The subtlety in that shot, the way it was played, the steadiness of the camera, the wide shot conveying the vulnerability of that one small woman against a world of sandstorms and hostility, was captured beautifully in that very short but perfect shot.
I was very glad that Cora, played by Dorothy Cumming, was reeled in a bit and not allowed to appear possessed as the 'bad' women in silent films often did. Montagu Love as Roddy was dripping with disgust but not to the point of unbelievable. Lige, played by Lars Hanson, was a little stiff but not to the point of making the film uncomfortable. The rest of the supporting cast were good and gave the film a depth that was not overshadowing to the story but added just the right amount.
The jump cut when Letty is on the train in normal clothing to Letty suddenly being dressed in hat and coat was a bit jarring, but the rest of the film was edited and shot brilliantly. The comparison shots with the kids between Letty and Cora were done tastefully. The delicate way the two women were contrasted during the ironing/gutting scene was very simple yet showed women from two completely different places, both mental and physical that the audience could clearly understand w/o a lot of undue conversations. The many processed shots, especially with the Indian Ghost Horse, were excellent, the tornado special effect was done decently, and the sand shots added strong texture to the film. I could list many more wonderful shots, but I suggest you watch the film instead.
Considering how miserable the film was to make, how many difficulties the cast and crew had getting the film in the can and shown in theaters, I have to say that I am very glad they went through the trouble. I will definitely watch The Wind again the next time it blows through.
These Three (1936)
Best Child Acting in Film, Hands Down
This comment may contain general spoilers.
I swear this has to be the BEST child acting i've ever seen in a classic film in years, and i watch so many classics it's ridiculous. Sure, Mickey Rooney was a capable actor but sometimes I feel he IS acting. With the children in These Three, I was dumbstruck. William Wyler had his hands full w/ child actors in this film and Kudos w/ a capital K to Bill for pulling the best out of everyone.
Bonita Granville as Mary Tilford does a mind-blowing job grasping a tremendously dramatic role and she did it so believably and without force that her blackmailing threat to Rosalie and the confrontation scene w/ grandmother, and bulk of cast, I got goosebumps. She carried the part very much like Bette Davis in Of Human Bondage in her famous "wipe my mouth" scene. She did the scene so delicately, so conniving, with such convincing facial expressions and tonal inflections that I was spellbound. Marcia Jones as Rosalie was quite good herself to the point it makes me wonder what the poor girl was threatened with before the scene was shot.
I must say, too, that it is great to see Merle Oberon using her face in a way that doesn't make her look demented such as in Wuthering Heights. It was great to see her more natural, less possessed looking w/ her eyes. In this movie, she definitely was reeled in quite a bit and i credit Wyler for that. Miriam Hopkins was as beautiful, soulful and sad as ever.
Overall, I believe the child actor Bonita Granville stole the entire film, but I could feel Marcia's fear of her secret being discovered and punishment to ensue. I could feel Miriam's longing and Merle's calm sense of decency. As I said before, William Wyler managed to get performances that were spot on for the film, keeping the tone, believability and atmosphere as convincing as films of the 30s could be.
The cinematography was done very well, and Gregg Toland, who had his life cut short at 44, was very much a master of lighting and unique camera angles. A feeling of intimacy was established in a lot of the scenes in ways I can say I've never seen shot before. The 3 leads, standing in Ms. Tilford's living room on the day they go to find out what the issue is, standing side by side, and Toland puts the camera behind them. That little subtle angle conveyed so much emotionally that i'm surprised it wasn't mimicked over and over by every DP worldwide. He went on to DP such greats as Intermezzo, Citizen Kane, Little Foxes, and more, where his influential yet extremely subtle camera and lighting from These Three was turned on it's head, showing his extreme versatility.
This is a great film, especially for it's era. I'm a harsh critic, so I give it a 6.
Boy Interrupted (2009)
Remarkable people, Remarkable story, done Remarkably well.
Moving story delicately told by filmmaker parents about the struggle with a suicidal son suffering severe bipolar depression. Most should watch it for the story in itself, but as a documentary filmmaker, I look for things besides the story and I was very impressed at the caliber of film making done by Dana and Hart Perry who are obviously very close to the story. This is often the most difficult type of documentary to make.
The documentary is done quite well. Through the use of still images and home video of their son, Evan, and family in good times and bad, Dana Perry was able to set the emotional mood of their situation. At times it seemed their emotion was almost palpable, like the feeling of high humidity, when it feels as if the air is heavy on the skin. Hart Perry, as Director of Photography, lit beautiful interview shots in multiple locations and the interview footage was done top drawer. Editing style was appropriate for the film and allowed emotional lingering while blending interviews, home video, still images, and B-Roll cohesively. Title cards were used poignantly, and in my opinion, properly, and thankfully without spelling errors. Music was not overpowering and the selections were not heavy handed.
The interview selection was very revealing about Evan's life and problems as it presented itself to everyone around him, from his parents, siblings and grandparents to counselors, doctors, psychiatrists, teachers, friends, and even Evan himself.
The subject matter is dark but educational, and it reveals Evan did indeed have legitimate mental disorders and that his parents and doctors did all they could to help him live a normal life. I believe this documentary should be seen by all parents, especially when and if a member of their family begins to behave in erratic suicidal behavior. But I also feel this documentary would be touching to anyone who watches it just to see the story of the Perry family as they decided to share it with the world.
The documentary is done professionally and the viewer can become immersed in the story and remain so without any poorly done segments breaking the mood. It is considerably better than the similarly themed documentary "Does Your Soul Have a Cold" where typos abound, editing was lax, inappropriate footage included breaking the mood and so forth.
I recommend this documentary to everyone without hesitation.
7/10 I am a harsh critic, so for a documentary to be a 7, it has to be very good. I think the only documentaries that received higher ratings are Wide Awake by Berliner, Hear and Now by Irene Brodsky and the french documentary Night and Fog which was so quietly emotionally impacting I had to watch it in two sessions. I feel Boy Interrupted is far better than Born into Brothels, which is a highly acclaimed and popular documentary.
Taking Chance (2009)
Moving Tribute with Film-making Flaws
This comment contains general spoilers.
I truly appreciate content and intent of the film. As a prior military spouse of 13 years, I applaud the filmmakers for respectfully showing what the American military forces and military families experience that has been "hidden" for years. I appreciate the dedication to accurately showing the military ritual both for the living and for the deceased. With all due respect to the content of the film, it is full of flaws. I realize that people will object to this critique because of the raw emotional experience and connection they had/have with the film, and that is understandable. But it is my belief that content alone does not make a film. Acting, Directing, Cinematography, Editing, and using those to produce emotion in the viewer is the goal. I believe that this film used heavy handed emotional manipulation to prevent its viewers from focusing on just how poorly made the film actually is. In a good film, a viewer shouldn't become questionable about what footage they are seeing or who they are viewing on screen. If at any time the viewer is pulled out of the film, be it from over-use of emotion, too much recycled footage, unbelievable acting, poor shot selection or editing...it is a failure for the film maker.
Acting: "B movie" caliber actors. Kevin Bacon didn't have many spoken lines, and was able to tear up at appropriate moments, but when he was speaking, he came across as "acting" rather than being Strobl. I do take into account that he was probably played down on purpose in order to make the presence of Chance in every scene more prominent, but that doesn't excuse poor acting. Strobl is feeling a universe of emotion outside of his escort duty, but I never bought into his "survivor's" guilt stemming from his desk job, his second-guessing that desk job, or him wanting to be home safe with his family rather than overseas. I heard the lines, but Bacon simply wasn't believable. I felt like I was watching Bacon pretending to be Strobl. An example of how a character can convincingly emote without speaking is Tom Hanks in Cast Away. A similar emotional content example is the film Gerry, particularly Matt Damon's closing scene in the car. Damon doesn't say a word but the viewer knows exactly what he is feeling, as he seemingly oozes Gerry. Watching that scene, I don't see Damon pretending to be Gerry...he IS Gerry. Bacon remains Bacon.
Supporting Actors: The supporting cast in Taking Chance falls just as short, with the exception of Noah Fleiss. His brief screen time was strong. I was able to gather from his face that he had a connection to the deceased even before it was mentioned. Tom Wopat is still Hazzard County quality.
Shot selection: I realize that Strobl is reflecting on the honor and dignity Chase Phelps was given during his return to the states and stay at the military mortuary where his body was prepared, but to repeatedly inter-cut the same footage is, simply put, bad film making. I know the director probably wanted to stay away from the voice over clichéd crutch, but to reuse the exact footage shows lack of foresight. By the 3rd time I saw the wrist watch removed and cleaned, that footage had already lost its emotional impact and instead of being pulled into the film I was pulled *out* of the film because of the awkwardness of having seen it so much in such a short period of time.
Emotional manipulation: To put it bluntly, the "hidden motive" of every film maker is to manipulate the viewer into some type of emotional experience without the viewer feeling that manipulation. The standard goal is to get the viewer to "feel something", and once they feel something, you have them hooked and therefore can manipulate that however you want. Serious drama type movies often have humorous moments, because if the filmmakers can get the viewers to laugh, they can take that laughter and turn it into tears. An example is E.T.'s funny drunken dressed in drag afternoon soon followed by a very serious tear jerking scene. So to a degree, I expect to feel the attempt to be emotionally manipulated. But to take the content, and add EVERY slow-motion Bruckheimer "Americana moment", blend it Michael Landon's wholesome values moralistically emotional LHotP and the deep sentiment of Hallmark card commercials from the 80s, and you have a heavy handed movie that is being run on tears alone. I admit, I cried during the first 30 minutes of the film, but the last 50 left me *feeling* the manipulation to the point I was so hyper-aware of the manipulation I began to feel insulted. I'm pretty sure that insulted is not the emotion the film maker had in mind. I also became aware that I wasn't crying from what I was being shown, but rather my tears came from the *reality* of what is happening right here, right now, with military families around the globe today and every day. Film or no film, I can't see the "missing man" formation or hear gun salutes or Amazing Grace on bagpipes without weeping.
Though I could delve into cinematography and editing, I'm not going to go any further with this, as I believe I have hit on the main flaws in the film. Again, I do appreciate the attempt and how respectfully the content was handled, but this wasn't a short story; it was a film that could have been done better. With all of that said, I recommend everyone watch it at least once, if only to "witness" an honored military tradition that has been out of sight for years and to pay respects to Chase Phelps and all of America's Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who have served, who are serving, and will serve our country. But for God's sake, have a box of tissues ready.
Does Your Soul Have a Cold? (2007)
Good topic, somewhat amateurish production
"Does Your Soul Have a Cold?" is ultimately about the introduction of pharmaceuticals in Japan and the way depression is viewed "today" versus several generations ago. It also is an interesting portrayal of Japanese cultural differences and values placed on quality of life.
The documentary does have flaws. Many typos/grammar errors in the subtitles and title cards stand out which makes the documentary appear amateurish. The editing could have been tighter. The choice to keep a shot where children are attempting to disrupt the filming of the documentary seems out of place, especially since the subjects talk to someone off-camera and don't look directly into the camera. The kids jumping up into the shot looking into the camera is jarring and in a documentary of such an intimate nature, this shot and the interruption it caused seemed inappropriate.
Visually the documentary is cleverly shot and captures what I believe the director was attempting to show. The men and women which are the subjects of the documentary are interesting and diverse. The selection of several personality types and their approaches to their illness was educational.
The subjects themselves are intriguing, as all of them live a different type of life. Some live on their own, others at home. Some are employed and others aren't. Some have the support of family and others are alone. Some are in therapy and some are not.
Overall, the subject matter is good, but the documentary production itself could have been executed better. Check spelling and grammar before distribution, people.
I Want You (1951)
TCM's Osborne let me down & Why, Dana, Oh Why?
I am a classic movie lover, always tuned to TCM, and a serious Dana Andrews fan. I'm trying to watch every film he's done and thanks to TCM, I get the chance to see a few not available on DVD. After watching "The Satan Bug", (which nearly killed me) I just knew nothing could be worse, so I had hopes when I saw "I Want You" airing on TCM.
I tuned in to watch the film that Robert Osborne called an interesting film about the Korean War which addressed the topic of WW2 veterans called back to active duty and their sons being drafted, some immediately out of high school. Great idea for a story, time appropriate, potential to see how this guts the American family. It was described as similar to "The Best Years of Our Lives" with a different writer. Up until this film, I had great trust in ole Bob. He typically calls the films accurately, saying it isn't very good in a nice way if the film stinks, and advising if it is propaganda or government fueled, etc. This film was not described as being an educational propaganda film. Bobby Boy, you shook up my faith in you.
What the film turned out to be was almost 2 hours of boring "can't dodge the draft" conversations. Seriously. The entire film is propaganda. Here's the gist of it: You have older men who have served previously that want to be exempt but cannot. Young men with "bum knees" that aren't exempt. Young men who are the livelihood of their families that aren't exempt. You have older men who are the sole income for their families and cannot be exempt. You have people trying to say they are in college, or are too valuable to their work or families, the only child -- none of which are exempt. The entire film is people talking to each other about ways they want to avoid the draft but cannot. There is zero action. Mostly characters dressed in suits and ties standing around interacting with Andrews who is the central character in the film and is used as a propaganda sound-piece.
The film also addresses that young men who aren't old enough to have a beer in a bar are being sent off to war to be scarred for life and/or to die for their country. This scene was overplayed and under-developed.
Even the casting for the film couldn't raise this out of the cow patty pile. Dana Andrews sleep walks through his part, sounding like he's the sole source of information on a government issue training film. His heart obviously isn't in it. Farley Granger has a storyline with Peggy Dow that is confusing at best, but without material to work from, they fall deep into the pile of muck that is this movie. Great to see Martin Milner of Pete Malloy Adam-12 fame and Jim Backus who will forever be Thurston Howell III of Gilligan's Island, but bless their hearts, this couldn't have been a career booster unless it was considered paying your dues in the studio system. Somewhere in this stinker is Dorothy McGuire, playing a concerned protective mother to Farley Granger and Dana Andrews who is, incidentally, about 10 years older than her...and it shows! Heaven forbid she smells cloves or whiskey on anyone's breath.
Script: Stale. Unbelievable dialog. The movie goes straight from exposition into a mind-numbing boring that lacks anything to build to a climax.
Casting: Caliber of actors isn't the issue with this film as much as the script and lack of action in the film. Actors weren't connecting with their parts because there wasn't anything to connect to. Milner gave the best performance of the film when he explains he isn't trying to dodge the draft. Dow wasn't necessary to anything in the plot. Age is an issue with Andrews.
Cinematography: Basic studio lighting with a horrible opening sequence aerial shot that is running too fast. No real moving shots, mostly stationary camera. Filmed almost like a Leave it to Beaver TV episode, where the actors move but the camera doesn't. But I'll be honest, a nice complex crane, jib or dolly shot wouldn't have helped anything in this film.
Shot Selection: Dull. Mostly med-wide 2 shots resulting in a lot of talking torsos.
Direction: That-a-way. If the actors received any direction at all, it should have been towards the sound stage exit. As it stands, I don't see any evidence of directing the actors, neither through motivation or even career salvaging. It's difficult to believe that any director would ever have this movie pictured as their ideal finished product. They should have had Ed Wood direct this. Wood would have at least made sure the film had something watchable in it! It would possibly stink, but in a better way.
Editing: Strictly studio. Should have done something different w/ opening shot. Could have been tighter. Inter-cutting with some closeups would have made the scenes a bit more visually interesting.
This film makes the "Why We Fight" series look like "Gone With the Wind". It makes the government issued films of the 50s about home life, how to be a good wife, how to properly groom, how to give an effective public speech, how important a spring is, how to be a good employee, and the famous how to duck and cover all look Oscar worthy. "I Want You" would have been a perfect candidate for a MST3K riffing, but I believe it could have potentially killed the show. Someone please toss this film onto one of the garbage barges floating around and let it rot there before it can torture another viewer. Dana, I'll still be watching your films as surely none of the rest could be as bad as this. Oh, and Bob, I just don't know if I can forgive you for this one. Tsk Tsk Tsk.