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La Pointe-Courte (1955)
Varda's first film launches the French New Wave
La Pointe Courte is a small jut of land on the east side of Le Canal de Sète, which connects L'Étang de Thau to the Mediterranean Sea. In the mid-1950s, it harbored a small fishing village (perhaps it still does, for all I know) which provides the setting for this film. Written and directed by 26-year old Agnès (née Arlette) Varda, this, her first and perhaps her best film, is credited by some film critics and historians as the first in the French New Wave.
A young (24) Philippe Noiret plays a native of the village who returns from Paris after many years for a short vacation. Heretofore, I was familiar with Noiret only with some of his much later films. Silvia Monfort, with whom I was previously unfamiliar, and who had one of the most unusual faces I've seen on film, plays the disillusioned Parisian wife who joins him five days later to discuss their marriage.
What's interesting about this film are its two intertwining parts. One part, shot in a familiar narrative style, concerns the everyday life and concerns of the villagers. The other part depicts the conversations of the couple in an artistic style full of fascinating images and interesting camera angles, a style which takes full advantage of Varda's photographer's eye. (Varda used three different cinematographers on this shoot, but I don't know which of them photographed which scenes.)
Varda chose the location for the film after a visit there for an assignment as a still photographer. What I liked best about the part involving just the couple were the slow pans of the environments, almost as if Varda were trying to capture the characters' surroundings in a series of stills. On the other hand, I found somewhat disturbing the obtrusive soundtrack of a clarinet, which went counter to the notion that a soundtrack is supposed to enhance the mood of the scene, not play against it as I found this to do. Perhaps that is part of what accounts for this being credited as a New Wave film.
Star Spangled Banners (2013)
A musical 4th
In typical Hallmark movie fashion, there's conflict followed by redemption. Here, Mayor Mom (Mercedes Ruehl) pulls a fast one in an attempt to prevail upon her children, a former music trio known as the Banner Project, but now estranged for a decade, to save their hometown, along with the family's relationships.
Christian Campbell is given top billing, but Brooke White, insofar as one can discover, is the only professional musician in the group, having been a fifth place finalist on American Idol, now with several albums under her belt.
I enjoyed the music enough that I bumped my rating of the move up one notch, and even bought the 4-track soundtrack EP (released under the U.S. title for the movie, "Banner 4th of July".)
A wonderful, heartwarming family documentary
This is a family film in more ways than one.
The Dirksens are dairy farmers in Indiana. Dairy farming is a family affair, a year-round, never-a-day-off occupation. Dairy farmers get no vacation.
Imagine if one day you found a couple small airplanes had landed in your alfalfa field. Alfalfa is a cash crop in the sense that it's feed for your dairy cattle, and alfalfa doesn't abide traffic. Two pilots, Andrew King and Frank Pavliga, who like to perpetuate the barnstorming tradition, and who landed merely to take photographs, might have had reason to be apprehensive when they spied the farmer's pick-up coming toward them.
But Farmer Dirksen was not upset. He, and the two young sons with him, were intrigued by the airplanes. The barnstormers relaxed. They gave the boys rides. It turned into an annual affair, and the barnstormers became like family to the Dirksens.
As the family grew, so did the annual air show. By the time this documentary was made, nine years later, antique cars were added, with food and entertainment; and the event became a town picnic with a crowd in the hundreds...and still on the Dirksen farm.
For the children, the anticipation of airplanes landing in your field once each summer to put on a show and give you rides just might be bigger than anticipating Santa Claus.
The Secret of Crickley Hall (2012)
A Halloween Treat
The Secret of Crickley Hall
This ghost story from beyond the pond toggles regularly and frequently, without notice, across the pale between Then and Now. (Mixed idioms are intentional.)
Then is at a private orphanage in 1943 Devon, at a time when children were bused from London to escape The Blitz. Primeval's Douglas Henshall plays the evil headmaster.
We start out, however, in the Now. Mother ("Eve Caleigh", played by Suranne Jones) and her five-year old Son have a special, even psychic, connection. Son disappears from the playground when Mother falls momentarily asleep. Mother is disconsolate for months thereafter.
Approaching the one-year anniversary of Son's disappearance, Father ("Gabe Caleigh", played by Tom Ellis) gets a job out west (in the aforementioned Devon of the novel), and the family takes the opportunity to move, in hopes of escaping the sad memories at home. The house they choose is the now-abandoned orphanage of Then; and Now, of course, it's haunted by ghosts of children and staff who died in a long-ago "flood".
(The couple have two other children, both girls, one preschool; and the school bus which collects the older one for classes is labeled, "Manchester", per the location of filming.)
Once ensconced in the haunted house, Mother finds and reassembles a screw-driven toy top like one I had as a child, but mine was less fancy than the one used here and she uses it to reconnect psychically with her lost son, believing him to be still alive. From here, she employs extraordinary means to find him, beset all the while by Henshall's haunting.
This U.K. miniseries is an enjoyable Halloween treat, and I was happy to be able to watch the entire thing as a three-hour TV movie on BBC America the day before its scheduled U.K. broadcast.
(Note: This review is dated October 29 in my files, indicating the original scheduled airing in the U.K. It was not yet available for voting on IMDb then, hence my tardiness in submitting this review. December dates on previous reviews suggest that the U.K. presentation may have been delayed a month beyond the original scheduling.)
The Dog Who Saved Christmas (2009)
Oy, vey! Another talking dog movie!
Oy, vey! Another talking dog movie!
At least, except for the scenes in the pound, there's only one of them.
Lana, as barkless K-9 certified Zeus, has to be one of the most docile dogs in the business. Her main talents seem to be the ability to open unlocked doors (while the family is away) and to stick her head under a closed toilet lid to drink from the commode.
On the plus side, the human stars include one of my favorite TV-movie actors, Elisa Donovan, married here to Kevin James' look-alike and "King of Queens" brother, Gary Valentine. TV's Superman, Dean Cain, plays the head crook, while forever-sexy Adrienne Barbeau is the neighbor lady with, OMG, a talking cat!
Oh, and have I mentioned the talking mice?
All About Christmas Eve (2012)
All About Aiden & Eve
The two previous reviewers have already pointed out features I would have mentioned:
The "Sliding Doors" plot parallel
Diana DeGarmo appearing as herself, singing "Cantique de Noël" in English (i.e., "O Holy Night")
In addition, I would note that this is Chris Carmack's second appearance this season as the leading man in a Christmas movie, along with "A Christmas Wedding Date". So far, this is the more highly-rated of the two (and rightfully so, in my opinion). Previously, I'd seen him only as "the other guy," or in some other minor role.
Finally, here are some things you might not have seen if this had been a Hallmark movie:
The cheating boyfriend in bed with another woman
Two drag queen barflies (also mentioned previously)
Haylie Duff's cleavage (I don't remember that from 7th Heaven!)
In short, here's a different bit of fun from the "typical" Christmas tale.
Note: Carmack's character's name is spelled Aidan in the IMDb credits, but that came up with a spelling alert when I typed it, so in my summary, I used the "corrected" form, Aiden, since I never saw the spelling on the screen. Eve's full name, however, appears both spoken and in print in the film; her fist name is Evelyn, but unfortunately, I can't remember the surnames of either lead character.
Naughty or Nice (2012)
My Christmas movie recommendation for 2012
Even though I judge TV movies on a more lenient scale than theatrical movies, I don't know how IMDb gets a weighted average of only 5.9 for this when the arithmetic mean = 7.8, and the median = 8 (after 88 viewer votes). Whatever! This was my most-anticipated, and the best Christmas movie I expect to see, this season.
Why was this my most-anticipated movie of the season? Simply because it stars one of my favorite actors, Hilarie Burton (okay, I'll admit it: I think she's hot she's not only a good actor and nice to look at, but she also has attitude, self-confidence, and a sparkle in her eye), as Krissy Kringle (of Candy Cane Lane, no less don't worry, it's explained in the movie). And, no, she's not Santa's daughter, as one might expect, if you've watched as many of these Christmas movies as I have.
In all my reviews, I have never given the producers due credit, but in my honest opinion, they deserve it here.
1. They got Rickie Castaneda, who gained experience writing three of last year's Christmas movies (two sixes and a seven on a scale of ten, in my opinion) to write a relatively non-formulaic, more-clever-than-usual script, both in structure and lines.
2. They hired Lindsay Chag as casting director, whose list of credits is longer than your arm, and who assembled a wide cast of well-known actors, including for supporting roles; and in a special case of inspiration, got "Alex Keaton's" parents from TV's "Family Ties" to play Krissy's here.
3. Finally, they had David Mackay, a veteran of mostly theatrical films, direct. The result is pitch-perfect performances, with nary a hint of overplay.
In short, even though I haven't yet seen all of this year's offerings, this is the one I recommend.
How to Fall in Love (2012)
Rated +1 for the instruction manual
Why is the teenage dork always named "Harold" (who grows up to be an accountant)? Talk about Hollywood stereotypes!
"Ugly Betty's" Eric Mabius, playing a grown-up Harold White, finds that Annie Hayes, his homecoming dance date when they were freshmen in high school, has returned to town, and is unable to find employment in her chosen profession as party planner. Annie is played by Brooke D'Orsay, of "Royal Pains" and "Drop Dead Diva" fame.
At the prodding of a buddy, Harold tries to hire a dating coach, but it doesn't work out. Instead, he hires Annie to become his coach (it helps to supplement her waitress income), and she does such a good job that at one point, the student winds up teaching the teacher.
The ending of this movie is preordained from the outset, but it gives the viewer a nice ride along the way. It also works as a decent how-to dating guide for nerds everywhere.
A slimmed-down Kathy Najimy plays Brooke's co-worker; and prospective first date, Gina Holden, never looked better.
Ashes to Ashes: Episode #2.1 (2009)
Series 2 vs. Series 1
This is not a review in the usual sense. It is rather a comment on certain improvements in the look of the show, particularly in certain members of the cast, from season one to season two; and here under the first episode of season two seems the most likely place to place it.
The reasons for these changes cannot be known definitively by an average viewer removed in space and time from the making and the original showing of the episodes, but possibilities could be a better budget, personnel changes in the crew, or makeovers by cast members themselves.
Of these three, the only one we can pin down for sure are crew changes documented here, i.e., the addition of Nat Turner as co-costume designer (with season one's Rosie Hackett), and an entirely new makeup department.
So, for example, is Chris Skelton's lighter hair in season two a make-up change to make him more attractive to Shaz Granger (Montserrat Lombard), or merely a new look for the actor himself (Marshall Lancaster)?
Be that as it may, the most striking upgrade is the costumes for our heroine, Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes).
In season one, Alex would wear the same clothes throughout an episode, for "days" on end. In season two, not only are her clothes a step up in style and quality, but she actually changes them from "day" to "day" (i.e., she wears a nightgown to bed instead of crashing on her couch).
If this program is new to you, you might have fun seeing what other differences or costume anomalies you can spot.
Victims and good guys are stupid, perps are whacko
This review is full of spoilers, so if you don't want to read spoilers, stop now.
Not all "Lifetime movies" are bad, but this one is a "perfect" example of why movies of this genre are often frustrating and annoying.
Our heroine (Marguerite Moreau) holds a doctorate, but wanders alone into places she doesn't belong and into obviously dangerous situations, without backup.
Her husband (Richard Ruccolo) remains in a precarious spot he could have easily escaped, even after the movie's whacko starts talking crazy.
Even the detective goes looking for the perp unprotected. Doesn't he own a gun?
The only mystery here is whether the killer is the mother (Abby Brammell) or the son. The mystery is gone in time for us to see the killer's final attempt.
Good actors do their best, but are wasted on a script demanding illogical behavior.