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I caught this movie on television after not having seen it in 40 years.
I ran it for 2 weeks while working as a projectionist in a second run
house in Connecticut at the time. First, you have a wonderful cast. Not
only the four principles but it's hard to imagine a bad movie with
Charles Durning, Jack Guilford, Val Avery, Leslie Ann Warren and Burt
Young in the supporting cast. As improbable as the script is everyone
seems to be having fun.
We are in the realm of the classic door-slamming bedroom farce comedies mated to the caper movie with a couple of lovable losers involved in machinations they cannot hope to understand. Consider it as a double bill with Woody Allen's Small Time Crooks. Michael Caine gets to hone a role as comic villain that will find its fuller expression In Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels. Basically, Harry and Walter is good, silly fun. If you want a great caper movie, Watch The Sting or Topkapi.
If you want something that will occasionally have you spitting popcorn while laughing, try this movie, sit back and enjoy yourself. just remember,
Nobody at all.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Several reviewers have noted the superb cast all of whom were working
at top form in this film. Robin and Marian is, in my opinion, the best
Robin Hood film ever made or that ever will be made. I would refute the
criticism that it is for an older audience. When I saw it first I was
27 tears old and working as a projectionist in a theatre that ran the
film shortly after release. Forty years later the sublimity of its
vision has only deepened though it was apparent right from the firs.
Let us now, however, consider its director, Richard Lester.
No director has ever had a career of perfect films but Lester's has a few more than many.Starting with The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film that showcased the antics of the Goons (yes, folks, there was a predecessor to Monty Python) and The Beatles' two movies, Lester built a style and competence in storytelling with a mix of humor, drama and great humanity. His The Three and Four Musketeers remain the best Musketeers movies ever made and Juggernaut is the sole disaster movie made in the late 1960s and 1970s that remains worth watching decades later. Add to those Petulia, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, How I Won the War, The Knack and The Ritz and you have a body of work of which any director could be proud.
We may love Errol Flynn's Robin Hood or Alan Rickamn's Sheriff of Nottingham but no prior or subsequent film is anything like as beautiful as this film. The whole film is worth watching for the scene between Connery and Hepburn when she discovers the battle scars on his body or for Robert Shaw's disdain of the ignorant noblemen who've come to him from Ian Holm's sniveling King John. Like the arrow shot from Nicole Williamson's bow in the final scene this film rises up into the sky and simply never comes down.
I don't care how old you are or at what stage your love for another has reached you do yourself and your lover a disservice if you do not sit down and watch this along with what I consider the rest of the eight most romantic films of all time: City Lights (1931) It Happened One Night (1934) The Philadelphia Story (1940) The Princess Bride (1987) Moonstruck (1987) Il Postino (1994) Afterglow (1997)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
First, let me point out what's good about the movie.
BB-8 is a clever re-imagining of the R2D2 we have long known and loved.
I think that Daisy Ridley will be a fine Luke Skywalker.
John Boyega gives a good performance. He plays a soldier out of his element and unsure of everything that's happening to him well.
Lupita Nyong'o's Maz Kanata is the a great addition to the pantheon of memorable Star Wars characters. I hope that we see more of her.
I was very glad to see Max von Sydow in the opening sequence.
The special effects are expertly executed and J. J. Abrams keeps the action rolling.
If you're getting the idea that this review is going to damn the movie with faint praise, you're correct.
I was very hopeful when I heard that Lawrence Kasdan, who was responsible for the best script in the first three movies, The Empire Strikes Back, was going to be one script writer. The biggest problem for The Force Awakens is that the script is thin on ideas and character, long on action and the worse for it. For example, Han and Leia are now an old married couple. They are separated but still love one another. In the first three movies they expressed their love through a fusillade of shouted insults. In this script the fires that made their romance so delightful aren't just banked, they are thoroughly doused.
In the original three movies the Millennium Falcon was as much of a character as C3P-0 and R2D2. It was the bucket of bolts under constant repair. Han and Chewbacca did their best to keep from damaging it. In this movie the Millennium Falcon bounces off snowfields, wrecked spaceships, and miscellaneous other obstacles without any deleterious effects. The Falcon has suddenly become Supership, stronger than steel, faster than a speeding boson and it loses in the process. And, yes, there are two repair scenes but none after any of the scenes in which the ship should reasonably be damaged.
What we have is essentially a rehash of the original Star Wars script from 1977. There are a few variations and permutations but essentially, it's the same story. Supreme Leader Snoke fills in both for the Emperor and serves as the Dark Side's anti-Yoda.
For reasons that no one has explained the weak reestablished Republic is still an underdog fighting an inexplicably resilient empire. In real life we have our own difficulties keeping down resurgent fascism but it is a discredited, fragmented and derided force seventy years after World War II, not a force with vast clone armies and star destroyers patrolling the skies.
Does anyone in Hollywood have enough imagination to come up with some motive other than teen angst and rebellion against one's parents as a motive for a child turning to evil? At least Adam Driver has some acting talent unlike the execrable Hayden Christiansen but there are much more interesting possibilities to explore than Ben Solo's current motivations for becoming Kylo Ren. Thin script and little imagination again.
We always knew that there had to be someone who'd trained Palpatine to become a Sith lord and emperor. Snoke comes out of nowhere. Why? Isn't there enough evil in the hearts of men already to feed a near infinite number of dark sides? I understand that we've embarked on a saga that will see the redemption and probable destruction(when you have the script from Return of the Jedi already why write a new one?)of Ben Solo but wouldn't it be more interesting if we got a different story this time around? We expected to see R2D2 again but the script also fails us when R2D2 awakens. Why? If Luke Skywalker as a King Arthur figure sleeping on the Isle of Avalon until his people are in the direst need, that's fine, but put it in the script, please? Cutting one or two explosions to for some snappily written exposition might help.
I would love to hear Neil deGrasse Tyson explain the physics of a planet sized Death Star that either had to move through space (with what motors?) or risk running out of nearby suns to consume. Just because one can imagine a thing doesn't make it plausible and that goes double when the thing you imagine has to conform to basic physics.
And what's with Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron? Isaac is a perfectly adequate actor but his character in this film comes off as the proverbial teats on a bull. He shows up early on, disappears for great swaths of the film and then reappears to no great effect or consequence in the last third. Huh?
My current feeling is that J. J. Abrams is the unseen Jar-Jar Binks of this new series: the embarrassment that we all will wish would just go away. He knows how to handle action and CGI but can't properly direct actors. Without believable connections between the characters the series is going to fall flat.
So, if the new Star Wars saga is to become that wonderful continuation of a story we all love it needs a director who has some real interest in getting performances out of actors and a coherent and interesting script. Those things The Force Awakens does not have. I wish it did. I would hate to see the Star Wars franchise peter out because we never get to love Rey, Finn, Poe and even Kylo the way we did Luke, Leia, Han and Darth because there needs to be another crash or explosion.
Last night ABC revived The Muppet Show and shouldn't have.
I LOVED The Muppet Show original. it was a brilliant mix of satire, comedy, variety and just plain fun intelligently written and acted. If you don't remember the old show, just take a minute or two to go to YouTude and watch the very great Zero Mostel in the show on which he was the guest star.
Anyway, the ultra right-wingers have gone nuts (can they be anything else?) about some of the sexual innuendos and other more adult humor included in the show. the charge that it doesn't promote what some bigots consider to be "family values" is as imbecilic as it is predictable. That's not what was wrong with the show. Last night's offering was dull, utterly without pacing and largely mean-spirited, things which should have recommended it to the political far right. My guess is that Sam the Eagle's brief segment was the best bit of satire in the show and definitely offended the ultra right and fundamentalists.
Of course Kermit isn't really Kermit any longer. With Jim Henson dead, Kermit can't be the same but even Statler and Waldorf hadn't much heart. Frank Oz is no longer Miss Piggy. In fact almost no one involved in the original show appears in the new version. About the only joke they gave to Gonzo was so obvious and labored that the punchline was whatever comes after an anti-climax. Miss Piggy was reduced to being a garden variety diva instead of the over-the-top caricature of a diva we laughed at originally. It's been nearly 35 years since the original Muppet Show went off the air. In that time with caricatures of human beings like the Kardashians and Donald Trump it's become harder to go far enough to satirize human behavior but it's still not impossible. It does seem to be impossible for this new Muppet Show's writers. The sequence with Scooter and the guest star, Elizabeth Banks, wasn't funny and was simply out of character for Scooter.
The original Muppet Show captured the back stage frenzy of putting on any sort of show, the malfunctions, instant judgments on performances, ad hoc solutions to accidents and failures. Something was always happening and something was always happening on top of what was already happening. This version just seemed like another tired sit com. It reminded me of the story of the Marx Brothers during the filming of A Night in Casablanca, their last movie together. Groucho, Harpo and Chico were filming a scene where they were supposedly hiding behind a wall from Sig Ruman's villain chasing them when, as Groucho told it, he turned to his brothers and asked, "Why are we doing this? I don't want to do this any more." A Night in Casablanca was the last of the Marx brothers' films and a fairly sad coda to the great fun of their great films like Monkey Business, Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera. This rehash (I cannot call it a revival given that it was so lifeless) of The Muppet Show was a pale and sad reminder of how much we lost when we lost Jim Henson. It is not a thing to love as was the original.
I will keep watching a bit longer partly out of nostalgia and in the faint hope that someone on the writing staff may go back and watch the old shows and bring back some of the joy and pacing that made that original great so long ago. I have little expectation that this new version will rise to that sublime level but I'll continue to hope until this version's inevitable cancellation. Would that it were not so.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I am a storyteller who's been immersed in folklore, myth and fairy
tales since boyhood. The collected tales of the Brothers Grimm,
Alexandr Afanas'ev and others over the last 2 centuries are the way we
convey the wisdom, beliefs and ethics of the past to the present. That
said, I'm not a purist. The Grimms' tales had been revised many times
to make them comport with the prevailing religions and mores of the
tellers' changing times. I dearly love re-imagined classic material
such as Neil Jordan's The Company of Wolves (1984) or Terry Gilliam's
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988). The only versions of such
tales that I truly despise are the Disney versions. Give me Jean
Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast (1946) any day over the sickly sweet
Disney version. That said, after a weak start, I tried with all my
might to allow Once Upon a Time to grow on me.
I never watched Lost seriously. I found that show more pretentious and self-involved and just confused, never deep. I was always afraid this show would fall prey to similar script problems. Even so I had to give it a try.
That the first episode was weak isn't entirely a fault. The whole hour was exposition. We had to get from the story books to Storybrook before the real action could begin. The second episode actually had good transitions from past to present. I also wanted to be impressed the 3 main lead women.
And though I despise Disney-fication of fairy tales, I must say that turning Jiminy Cricket into a psychiatrist and a possibly corrupt one at that is a stroke of brilliance.
Ginnifer Goodwin's Mary Margaret Blanchard/Snow White isn't much of an actress sadly. She seems to have escaped directly from a senior class play onto the set of this show. I think it was Dorothy Parker who criticized Katherine Hepburn as having an emotional range of from A to B. Ms. Goodwin is much less gifted. Lana Parrilla's Mayor/Wicked Queen struts angrily about the set and snarls when she's not whining. She's neither wicked enough to be a wicked queen nor pathetic enough to gain sympathy. Her tragic back story is just a cliché. Ms. Parrilla needs a script and a verbal dope slap or two from her director if she doesn't give us a richer, more nuanced evil queen yet all she has is horrible, flaccid, clichéd writing. I knew that the show was in trouble when the writers' love affair with psychological; gobbledygook explained Lana Parilla's character as a poor, misunderstood victim of a more evil mother and thwarted love. I think the writers decided that she really does care for Henry and can't be all bad. But a fairy tale must have a focus of evil against whom all other must strive. Making Regina wishy-washy necessitates Barbara Hersey's Cora as the ultimate evil. Even this duplicative mess hasn't taught the scriptwriters a lesson and we're in danger of having Cora excused as an overwhelmed mom just trying to do right by her ingrate daughter.
I like Jennifer Morrison. Her Allison Cameron on House was one of a very few actors who weren't blown off the screen by Hugh Laurie. Her Emma Swan in the initial episode was one of the best things in the hour. However, she has no script worth playing and she's fallen into the trap of lazy actors who rely on standard expressions, mannerisms and deliveries if their directors aren't pushing them or they aren't pushing themselves. Unfortunately the writers haven't given her much with which to work. The crux of her problem is that there's just no chemistry between her and Jared Gilmore's Henry.
I've been a fan of Barbara Hersey's work for decades. Her best hope in this series is for Cora to find a quick death so that she escapes further embarrassment.
As for the men, what is Josh Dallas doing on camera at all? I understand that the show needed a pretty boy for Prince Charming he started the show in a coma and as far as I can see has never come out of it.
Robert Carlyle's Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold grabs the camera the moment he enters and holds it until his but too often descends into a lot of scenery chewing. Still even he can't work from the vast emptiness that passes for a script.
I've kept watching for about 2 and a half years hoping week in and week out that this show would grow into something extraordinary but I've given up. Just because these fairy tale characters are archetypes doesn't give license for them to be as flat as the pages of a story book. Rather it offers the opportunity to show us ourselves through them. The greatness of fairy tales is that they deal in absolutes. There is definite evil. There is definite good. Usually the hero or heroine of the story must make a journey of discovery from which he or she returns wiser, more mature and more powerful. Upon the main character's return he or she is equipped to overcome life's obstacles. There is precious little ambiguity. All clouds hanging over the characters clear and the couple, if there is one, can love "happily ever after" exactly because they have the experience to overcome difficulties that are far more petty than those they have already faced. Once Upon a Time founders about in a sea of ambiguity and bad writing and has just become unwatchable. It is infinitely less interesting than Grimm on NBC which also has far better writing. And it's a lot less go-for-broke exuberant and edgy fun than SyFy's Lost Girl. ABC needs to toll the bell, close the book and snuff the candle to exorcise this turkey from its roster even a second hour of the gawdawful America's Funniest Home Videos would be an improvement.
So now we reach the end of Harry Potter and the Tortuously Extended Franchise with the final installment of Harry Potter and the Deathly Pacing. Who is at fault? Certainly not the actors young and old who give very serviceable performances despite, in most cases, being given next to nothing to do. Director David Yates can manage some serviceable pacing when he needs to. I rather think that the fault lies less with an unimaginative director than with the author and producers of whom Rowling was one. Ultimately I attribute this film's failings, as I did in Part I, to greed. Deathly Hallows, Parts I & II might make a very good 2 and a half to 3 hour movie. Instead they combine to form a deadly dull 4 hour and 36 minute snoozer. Take just 1 scene as an example. Harry, on his way to confront Voldemort, uses the Resurrection Stone, one of the Deathly Hallows that he obtained in the preceding film. The ensuing scene is utterly superfluous. It does nothing but slow the action. At a moment when we need desperately to get on to the confrontation we are stuck with a convocation that does not include all the people who have been closest to Harry and spends minutes that pass like hours in soulful looks and some babble that we and Harry all knew already. It is a waste of celluloid or disc space or whatever medium is appropriate at the moment. Even Rupert Grint and Emma Watson are given precious little to do in this film but I'm not sure that is a fault as much as I enjoy their acting. This film is, after all the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort, the moment toward which we've built over the 7 previous films. It's more than time to focus on Harry and Voldemort to the exclusion of most of the rest of the cast. Still, that's not what we get. We get much tying up of loose ends with interjected back stories that only contribute to the deathly pacing. We learn things that we should have learned in Half-Blood Prince and several other movies. Though those interjections may have been part of the 7th book they simply interfere with action of this film. We also get boxcar loads of exposition to explain plot twists for which no one ever laid the prior groundwork. The movie is a mess that completes the story but becomes a disservice to to the actors and fans. At one point late in the film Maggie Smith's Prof. McGonagall casts a weary, quizzical look in medium close up that seems more to say, "What am I doing here if not for the paycheck and how fast can I get back to the set of Downton Abbey where I actually can display my talent and craft." I feel for her. I do blame the directors to some extent but the producers and J. K. Rowling even more. From the start of the series the money people made great casting decisions and then put their wonderful actors in the hands of hacks like Chris Columbus and David Yates while giving fine directors like Alfonso Cuaron the boot after a single episode. Perhaps, one day once J. K. Rowling passes on to some other worldly Enchanted Forest, someone really competent who loves the stories will hire an elderly Daniel Radcliffe to play Albus Dumbledore in a really good remake of the series. I surely hope Harry Potter gets better treatment one day. He deserves it though he didn't get it here.
I suppose it was inevitable. As J. K. Rowling became a phenomenon her books got less and less editing though they needed it more and more. With the cynical, money-grubbing decision to make two films out of the last book a similar thing has happened. The triangular friendship and love of Ron, Hermione and Harry provides the personal, human tension of the over-all story but we all know that it can't be resolved until the last chapter/reel. The consequence is this movie bloated with empty calories to deprive us of the price of a ticket bought more to say we've seen the whole epic rather than because we've been truly entertained. We get a few loose ends tied up and a brilliant animated sequence telling the back story of the Deathly Hallows. Unfortunately more of the movie than any narrative line can stand consists of the three young people wandering the English countryside to no particular purpose except to pad out the space between opening and closing credits. At best the film is an over-long trailer for the final installment. Poor Harry and his friends haven't been this badly served since the series wisely, thankfully jettisoned director Chris Columbus and his attempts to drag the series down into the hell of Home Alone with witches. The best I can say of this film is that someday, in order to sell more copies of the series, someone may re-cut the films and combine Deathly Hallows Parts I & II into something like a watchable film. I have no confidence in that, however. The fashion is to add scenes that were left on the cutting room floor and, usually, should have made it to the cutting room incinerator. I am a father of the children of the Harry Potter generation and thus once removed from Potter-mania. Still I also have a deep affection for Daniel Radcliffe's and his Harry, Emma Watson and her Hermione and Rupert Grint and his Ron. I have watched them grow as I watched my daughters grow. Thus it's partly out of fatherly affection that I dislike this installment as a great disservice to three young actors who have worked hard and deserved better.
The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has always been fluff. After
all, what can one expect from movies derived from an amusement park
ride? Given that genesis the first two movies were a rather
entertaining ride. The over-long sequence of Jack in the bleached out
desert from which he must be rescued in the third film served as an
extended metaphor for the life that was visibly draining out of the
series. Now we are into a "walking dead" continuation of Capt. Jack
Sparrow's biography as it moves from bang to whimper to bleached
As a filmed amusement park ride the basic premise of the Pirates films is stringing together fights and chases like (black) pearls on a slim filament of plot. Unfortunately for On Stranger Tides the filament is absent. What we get is a disjunct pile of, to be kind, faux pearls. Each action sequence is brief fun but they all seem to be rolling around independently. First Mate Gibbs is back but only as a creaky plot device. The same is true of the male half of what becomes the couple in love sub-uh-plot that vestigially fills the gap left by the absence of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.
Rob Marshall's direction isn't much to write home about but it sometimes serves which is far, far more than I can say for the script, that missing filament. It starts out promisingly enough with picking up the teaser from the end of At World's End about the Fountain of Youth and even manages to end on the same theme for the most part. In between though we have hackneyed cliché after hackneyed cliché and nothing near as imaginative as the "fruit kebab" or water wheel sequences of past films. In the course of this attempt to construct a coherent movie the writers senselessly rip off past literature and movies from The Odyssey to Hans Christian Andersen to Moby Dick and even Splash. I searched in vain for a writer involved in the script who had a single original idea. In fact, even the the 3-D seems tacked on and the Spaniards who open the movie seem like an accidental afterthought.
Take, for example, poor Ian McShane's Blackbeard. He appears to have some magical control over his ship through the cutlass he carries at his side. We don't get any explanation even in exposition for this power. Does this power belong to Blackbeard? To the sword? Is it imparted by the ship to is captain? We never know. There's a reference to Blackbeard having been beheaded at some point in the past. It's there in the movie but it's one more loose...ah...pearl rolling around the pitching deck without a filament to make anything coherent of it. And Ian McShane is no Bill Nighy. There's as little energy in his Blackbeard as there is in the script itself.
Though the direction is pedestrian - deadly for an amusement park ride - and the script an incoherent mess that doesn't stop the actors from trying to inject some life. Johnny Depp minces around and tries mightily to extract some wit from the not-quite dialogue with which the alleged writers have afflicted him. Geoffrey Rush is a wonderful, delightful, talented actor despite the fact that he's been shamelessly ripping off Robert Newton from the first film in this series onward. Had there been some real point to his presence in this movie I'm sure that he could have delivered the kind of performance that made us so glad he'd returned in for At World's End. Penelope Cruz, besides being beautiful, is also a wonderful actress, just watch her in her films with Pedro Almodovar to confirm my opinion. In this movie she's mostly window dressing and the main attempt to replace Keira Knightley. Ian McShane is the actor for whom I feel both the most and least sympathy. He does what he can with the script pages he's given but I couldn't help wishing that he too had more of a chance to break out of the prison to which the lack of a script condemned him. Then I think that he could have made more of an effort. Perhaps it's McShane's fault but I think he could have done much better.
On Stranger Tides is worth the price of a matinée on a rainy afternoon. Johnny Depp is fun. Geoffrey Rush is fun too though less so. Penelope Cruz is beautiful and delivers the line which will undoubtedly become the quest and McGuffin for the inevitable fifth film. Still, unless Disney can find a good writer(s) for the next script and an imaginative director, I'll wait for Pirates of the Caribbean: To No Real Purpose to show up on cable before I watch it.
There are some legendary movie disasters. Some of them don't deserve their awful reputations. For example, Ishtar does have some moments worth watching and Heaven's Gate in the long, uncut version is a flawed work of great genius. Fool's Gold, however, is Ed Wood awful without any of the charm. From its imbecilic and derivative screen play to the drooling, slack-jawed direction and on to the execrable acting, from everyone including, incredibly enough, Donald Sutherland, this movie is a cold, drying turd that everyone should avoid stepping in. It is a laugh-less, humorless comedy and a plodding, somnolent adventure film. I'm sure that some recycler could make something out of the master, prints and various iterations of this movie; no one involved in its creation did.
One reviewer commented that he didn't know how this film ever got
released during World War II. It almost didn't.
First, you need to know that Hollywood actors, directors and producers were heavily recruited by the War and Navy Departments (the Defense Dept. is a post war innovation). These celebrities got to know a lot of the senior military personnel through their activities in Stage Door Canteens, the USO, recruiting and bond drives. Few were closer to the military top brass than Orson Welles, a close friend of Houston's.
Welles told this story on, I believe, a Dick Cavett Show in the late 1960s or very early 1970s. I repeat it as I remember it.
According to Welles the War Department censors did not want San Pietro released. They felt that the film was too graphic and that it might have an adverse effect on support for the war. Through Welles' personal friendship with General George C. Marshall he and Houston arranged a private screening at the Pentagon for Marshall, his staff and the censors. Following the screening Gen. Marshall stood up and ordered that the film be released. He said that it was an accurate depiction and that war was horrible. He felt that the American people needed to know that horror lest they romanticize war and become fond of a monstrous act of inhumanity.
So San Pietro was released. If Welles exaggerated his role, I can't say. Certainly Houston didn't contradict him. If I have misremembered the tale in some particular, it does not change the fact that San Pietro owed its release to the intervention of Marshall.
Even today San Pietro is worth seeing. As has already been suggested, it is a good complement to Lewis Milestone's All Quiet on the Western Front. I would suggest that it also ranks with two other great movies whose subject is World War I. Those movies are Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion and Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory. And, although it doesn't quiet rank with the three films already mentioned, Philippe de Broca's King of Hearts belongs in the insanity of war film festival we seem to be constructing here. Finally, I would point out that earlier wars are often stand ins for the more recent one as in M.A.S.H. Korea stood in for Vietnam.
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